Is Peanut Oil Healthy? Here’s What You Need to Know
With so many different types of oils available on the market, it may be hard for consumers to determine which oil is best for their health. Information on the web surrounding oils can also be confusing and even conflicting at times, making it even harder for users to understand the exact benefits and uses of each type of oil.
In the last decade, cooking oil alternatives have become increasingly popular as consumers seek new ways to limit the risks associated with commercial cooking oils. One of the most sought-after options is peanut oil, a popular oil commonly used when frying foods and in some medicinal products.
While peanut oil does have valuable health benefits that make it a great substitute for sesame oil and other oils, it’s no secret that it may also be linked to a few health risks. That is why we have taken a detailed look at this cooking oil alternative to help you decide whether you should add it to your diet.
What Is Peanut Oil?
Peanut oil is a vegetable-derived oil made from the seeds of the peanut plant. While it has received a great deal of attention in recent years, peanut oil has actually been around for decades.
In the United States, peanut oil experienced a surge in popularity in the early 20th century during World War I and II as other common oils became scarce due to food shortages during these periods. Peanut oil is also popular in other parts of the world, especially in the Far East where it has historically been a common ingredient in Asian cuisine.
Different Peanut Oil Types
Depending on processing and manufacturing, peanut oil can have a wide range of flavors and uses. The four main types of peanut oil include:
- Refined peanut oil is bleached and deodorized. This type of peanut oil is typically used in restaurants to fry foods like french fries, chicken, and other meats.
- Gourmet peanut oil is unrefined and normally roasted. This is considered a specialty oil due to its preparation, which gives it a strong nutty flavor.
- Cold-pressed peanut oil is made by crushing peanuts and forcing out the oil. This method retains more flavor and nutrients than refining does.
- Peanut oil blends are mixed with less expensive oils like soybean oil and often sold in bulk. Peanut oil blends are more affordable and usually used for frying foods.
Peanut Oil Uses
Depending on its specific preparation, peanut oil can be used in a variety of ways. Most people have turned to peanut oil for frying because of its high smoke point (437 ºF), which means it can hold up to high temperatures needed for frying most foods.
Another reason peanut oil is an excellent alternative for frying is that it does not absorb flavors or aromas from foods that are fried in it. As a result, peanut oil has become a favorite in large-scale food operations where different types of foods can be cooked in a fryer before the oil is replaced.
Although most types of peanut oil have a neutral flavor, some varieties, like gourmet peanut oil, are processed to retain the nut’s distinct flavor. These types of peanut oil are often used as a dressing in salads and other dishes for added flavor.
Peanut Oil in Medicine
In addition to its uses in the kitchen, peanut oil has also been used in medicine due to its potential benefits. Pharmaceutical companies use peanut oil in products manufactured for both internal and external use.
While the use of peanut oil in medicinal products is becoming more common, there are no proven benefits as studies on peanut oil are relatively new.
Peanut Allergy and Peanut Oil
If you are allergic to peanuts, you are most likely safe to consume peanut oil. This is because the main trigger for allergic peanut reactions is peanut protein, not oil or fat. To avoid any risk of an allergic reaction to peanut oil, look for refined peanut oil, which has negligent amounts of residual protein. The refining process separates the protein from the fat, making highly-refined peanut oil safe for those with a peanut allergy.
While refined peanut oil is generally safe for those with allergies, other varieties of peanut oil usually contain enough peanut protein to trigger an allergic reaction. If you or someone in your family is allergic to peanuts, it is recommended that you consult with a doctor before purchasing peanut oil or consider a substitute for peanut oil.
How to Store Peanut Oil
Depending on how you use it, peanut oil can have a moderate to long lifespan. An unopened container of peanut oil can stay fresh up to two years if stored in a cool, dark place.
Peanut oil that has been used for frying can also be used again if stored properly. Make sure to only store used peanut oil if it has not been overheated (past its smoke point) and if all food particles have been removed. Store the used oil in an air-tight container and keep it in a cool, dark place, or refrigerated. Stored, used peanut oil can last up to six months.
Is Peanut Oil Healthy?
Peanut oil has been linked to various health benefits due to it being high in “good fats.” Peanut oil is also rich in Vitamin E, which has many potential benefits. Because of these presumed benefits, peanut oil is generally considered a healthy alternative to other types of oils.
Benefits of Peanut Oil
While studies on the long term effects of peanut oil are still being conducted, research suggests replacing regular cooking oil with peanut oil can have a significant impact on your health.
Great Source of Antioxidants
Due to its high Vitamin E content, peanut oil is considered a great source of antioxidants. Antioxidants like Vitamin E protect the body from substances called free radicals, which can cause damage to cells and lead to diseases including heart disease and certain types of cancer.
May Prevent Heart Disease
Peanut oil is rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA), which are considered “good fats.” While there is no conclusive evidence, there is substantial evidence that unsaturated fats can help reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, a review by the American Heart Association found that limiting saturated fats and increasing unsaturated fat intake could lower the risk of heart disease by as much as 30%.
Peanut Oil May Improve Insulin Levels
Research suggests unsaturated fats may play an important role in blood sugar control. A recent review of 100+ clinical studies found that replacing as little as 5% of saturated with polyunsaturated fats can significantly reduce blood sugar levels. The same study also suggests replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats can help insulin production and secretion.
Peanut Oil Risks
Although there are studies that support peanut oil as a nutritious alternative to cooking oil, studies have also found potential risks associated with it. If you are still wondering, “Is peanut oil healthy?”, the following should give you a more comprehensive answer to that question.
High in Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Along with omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fats are essential to health. Experts agree that the ratio of omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats should be somewhere between 1:1 to 4:1; however, most modern-day American diets contain 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.
Research suggests these high levels of omega-6 fatty acids can lead to inflammatory diseases, though it should be noted that research surrounding this particular topic is still ongoing.
Prone to Oxidation
Oxidation is a reaction that causes harmful substances like free radicals to form when exposed to certain conditions. As opposed to saturated fats, unsaturated fats are more susceptible to becoming oxidized due to their higher number of unstable bonds.
Polyunsaturated fats in peanut oil can become oxidized simply by heating or exposing the oil to air, sunlight, or moisture. The free radicals formed when peanut oil is oxidized can lead to conditions like premature aging, heart disease, and even certain cancers.
What Is a Good Substitute for Peanut Oil
While peanut oil may be a healthier choice than other cooking oils, it is still far from being the healthiest alternative. If you feel peanut oil is not for you, try a peanut oil substitute like grape seed oil or sunflower oil.
A great substitute for peanut oil, grape seed oil offers many of the benefits of peanut oil but with a milder flavor. Grapeseed oil is also a good choice for searing and sauteing. The only downside is that it’s on the pricey side.
Like grape seed oil and other peanut oil substitutes, sunflower oil is on the pricier side. Sunflower oil is a healthy substitute for peanut oil thanks to its many benefits and the fact that it can also be used as a replacement for butter in baking.