If you’re trying to eat a healthier diet to reduce your risk of heart disease, you may want to take a closer look at the oils you cook with. Two of the healthiest oils for maintaining heart health are olive oil and canola. While canola oil is suitable for cooking foods at high temperatures, olive oil is limited by its lower smoke point which makes it difficult to use when high temperatures are required. Are there any other healthy alternatives? One oil that’s commonly used in cooking Asian cuisine is peanut oil. Peanut oil has a high smoke point so it can be used for high temperature cooking. In addition, it has a pleasing taste that can add additional character to a dish. What are the benefits of peanut oil? Is it a healthy option for cooking?
When it comes to the health benefits of peanut oil, the picture is mixed. When you first look at the fat profile of peanut oil it appears to be a heart healthy oil. It’s low in saturated fat, the kind that clogs your arteries, and high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats which help to lower cholesterol levels and have heart protective properties. The reason olive oil is a highly regarded oil from a health standpoint is related to its high concentration of monounsaturated fats. While some experts tout the health benefits of peanut oil, studies have suggested that the benefits of peanut oil may not be as “golden” as previously thought.
Some earlier studies where peanut oil was given to animals in experiments showed that this oil with its heart healthy monounsaturated fats actually promoted the formation of plaque in the coronary arteries. This was completely counter intuitive to what the researchers thought would occur. After all, monounsaturated fats are thought to be healthy and peanut oil has plenty of them. Why the discrepancy?
After further research, it was found that a component of peanut oil called peanut oil lectin was responsible for this surprising effect. It seems that peanut lectins are sticky enough to attach to the walls of arteries and cause the type of damage that could lead to formation of atherosclerotic plaques. Although this effect has been seen only in animals, it certainly calls into question the health benefits of peanut oil from a cardiac standpoint.
To further confuse the picture, the health benefits of peanut oil does include positive effects on lipid levels. Studies have shown that eating a diet rich in peanut oil and other peanut products can lower LDL levels as well as total cholesterol. The question of whether peanut oil is overall good or bad for the heart is still unclear.
The bottom line? It’s probably not unhealthy to use peanut oil occasionally for cooking, but the health benefits aren’t as convincing when compared to canola and olive oil. If you’re concerned about heart health, it’s probably best to use canola for high temperature cooking and olive oil for lower temperature food preparation.