You may have seen ghee in the grocery store before or perhaps featured in an Indian cookbook. So, what is this ingredient, and is ghee good for you?
Let’s start with the basics. Ghee is one form of clarified butter. It has a long history in Pakistani and Indian cooking, and we’re now starting to see it in Western recipes too. Ghee isn’t limited to cooking either. It’s also used in Ayurveda, a form of traditional herbal medicine.
Like butter, there are some controversial aspects of ghee, including the saturated fat content and the fact that it is made from milk. Still, ghee isn’t all bad. It is a popular ingredient and may provide a variety of benefits.
So, in this post, we’ll weigh up the benefits and risks of ghee, with a focus on whether ghee should feature in your diet.
Is Ghee Good For You?
- The Benefits Of Ghee
- The Health Risks Of Ghee
- Ghee Versus Butter
- How Do You Make Ghee?
- Ghee On The Keto Diet
- Grass Fed Ghee Versus Regular Ghee
- Final Thoughts
The Benefits Of Ghee
Can Help With Nutrient Intake
You’ll never hit your daily nutrient targets from ghee alone, especially as your serving size will often be small. But, the nutrients do still help.
Plus, as a source of fat, ghee can help your body absorb fat soluble nutrients. Cooking vegetables with ghee, for example, can increase the nutrients that you absorb, giving you a healthier meal.
It Could Decrease Heart Disease Risk
The saturated fat in ghee suggests that it is a poor choice for your heart. Yet, in moderation, ghee offers more benefits than you might expect.
One reason for this is the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) that’s present. CLA is an important fatty acid that may decrease the risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart failure.
Ghee may also increase levels of HDL cholesterol, without raising LDL cholesterol, an effect that helps to lower heart disease risk.
Another reason is that you can use ghee instead of the processed alternatives that we often rely on, like vegetable oils and margarine. Those products are often high in trans fats and omega 6 fatty acids, making them poor choices for your health.
It Is Easy To Store
The clarification process used to make ghee removes milk solids, giving ghee a much longer shelf life than butter. You can actually store it for months outside of the fridge.
This feature makes ghee ideal for times where you don’t have a fridge handy, like camping. Ghee is also useful if you constantly forget to put butter back in the fridge.
However, you do need to be a little careful, as ghee only remains shelf stable if you don’t add extra moisture. Using the same knife or spoon in your ghee, for example, will add just enough moisture to make it spoil faster (so, avoid double-dipping!).
You can keep ghee in the fridge too. This works well if you don’t use it often or if you’d rather not worry about extra moisture.
Ghee Is Very Low In Lactose
Lactose is a type of sugar in dairy foods that many people can’t digest well. If you’re lactose intolerant, then consuming dairy may give you symptoms like diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, bloating, and more.
Thankfully, some dairy products are naturally low in lactose. Most people with lactose intolerance can still enjoy some low lactose dairy foods without symptoms.
Butter itself only contains trace amounts of lactose, while ghee contains even less lactose, as the milk solids have been removed. This makes ghee an easy choice for cooking and spreading on your bread, even if you’re lactose intolerant.
May Improve Gut Health
Ghee also contains butyric acid. This is a short chain fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory properties. It can help the cells in your intestines and promote repair of intestinal walls. These features are important for improving your gut health – and good gut health is thought to be beneficial in a variety of ways.
Doesn’t Contain Carbs
Because ghee is basically just fat, it is essentially free from carbs. This makes it ideal for anyone on a low carb or keto diet – or if you’re decreasing carb intake for any other reason.
Might Decrease Inflammation
The relationship between food and inflammation is always complex. Most foods contain a variety of chemicals and compounds. Some of these may increase inflammation, others may have no effect, while yet others may decrease inflammation instead.
And, just to make things more complicated, the inflammatory effect of one food may be influenced by what else you eat at the same time.
As for ghee, the fatty acid butyrate may provide a variety of benefits, like decreasing inflammation, improving your immune system, and more. The CLA we mentioned earlier could help with inflammation too.
The best way to get these positive benefits is to focus on a whole food diet, one that contains few processed foods. This way you’re naturally getting many anti-inflammatory foods and avoiding foods that promote inflammation.
It’s Fantastic For Cooking
Ghee has a higher smoke point than butter, making it an excellent choice for cooking. Plus, you still get that delicious buttery flavor that complements many ingredients.
Research also shows that ghee is safer at high temperatures compared to many other cooking oils and sources of saturated fat – producing less of the potentially toxic compound acrylamide.
The Health Risks Of Ghee
It’s A Source Of Saturated Fat
The saturated fat in butter and ghee is one of the main reasons that these fats are vilified. Ghee is worse than butter in this area, as it contains around 10 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, versus 7 grams for butter.
We’re often told that saturated fat directly increases cholesterol levels and heart disease risk. Yet, the field isn’t as straightforward as that. In practice, there are different types of saturated fats, people respond to such fats differently, and saturated fats exist in a variety of foods.
This is why you see different effects from including ghee as part of a balanced diet than you do from a diet that’s high in refined sugar, processed foods, and saturated fats. In fact, saturated fat might even have a place in a healthy whole food diet.
Still, this is still a field that’s under active research.
It’s tough to know exactly how saturated fat influences the body, given there are so many differences between people and types of food. Plus, studies are often observational, so they can’t determine cause versus effect.
What we can say right now is that some saturated fat in a healthy diet is likely to be safe. This means that you should be able to use ghee regularly and take advantage of its benefits – as long as you treat it like an ingredient, not a health food.
The Calorie Content
Ghee is fat and little else, which makes the calorie content high. You get roughly 130 calories in a tablespoon of ghee.
While calories in food aren’t the be-all-end-all, high calorie foods can still disrupt weight loss efforts. After all, it’s easy to eat more than you intend, especially if you’re smearing ghee on hot toast or baked potatoes.
It’s A Dairy Product
We can’t forget that ghee is a dairy product and relies on milk. This could be reason enough to avoid ghee, depending on your perspectives.
The arguments against dairy should be familiar, so we’ll only cover them briefly here.
- Adult mammals don’t drink milk. Apart from humans, mammalian milk is only used to nurture babies. In fact, our ability to digest milk as adults is the result of a mutation.
- Many people can’t digest dairy well or at all, often due to lactose intolerance. However, this issue isn’t highly relevant for ghee, as it contains trace amounts of lactose.
- The dairy industry is cruel. Humane farms are better than most, but milk production still involves getting cows pregnant regularly and separating them from their calves.
- Dairy products might cause inflammation and other health problems. The evidence here is very mixed with some studies finding benefits from dairy and others finding harm. These outcomes might be influenced by differences between studies and also the way that people respond individually to food.
There is some support for all of these issues. However, dairy has plenty of benefits too, including the ones we’ve already highlighted. You’ll need to decide for yourself whether the positive features outweigh the negative ones.
Ghee Versus Butter
Ghee is made by heating butter until it separates and then removing the butterfat. Doing so removes most of the milk solids and protein, giving you a pure cooking fat.
Ghee has a similar flavor and texture to butter, so you can use it in much the same way. You can even swap one for the other, using ghee in recipes that call for butter and vice versa.
Still, there are some differences:
- Ghee contains more fat than butter, which increases the calorie content too. The difference isn’t dramatic but may add up if you use ghee regularly.
- While ghee and butter taste similar to each other, ghee has a slightly sweet aroma and nutty flavor. This works well in many recipes, adding a delicious extra layer to the flavor profile.
- Ghee is ideal as a cooking oil. It has a higher smoke point than butter (around 485°F, compared to 350°F for butter) and may produce fewer toxic compounds when heated to high temperatures.
- Ghee is almost entirely lactose free.
- Butter needs to be stored in the fridge most of the time, while ghee can be kept outside of the fridge for more than a month.
How Do You Make Ghee?
Ghee can be easily found at local stores, but you can also make it yourself. Homemade ghee is sometimes cheaper than the versions from stores. More importantly, homemade ghee tends to taste much better. It’s somehow purer and cleaner.
Making ghee at home isn’t too difficult. You start by heating butter in a pot over a low flame, so that it melts and starts to bubble. As it does so, the color and consistency tend to change, giving you a light brown or golden color.
During this process, the milk solids start to separate at the bottom. Separating the fat from the milk solids at this point will give you clarified butter. For ghee, you need to let the butter cook for longer, so that the milk solids brown. This gives ghee a slightly different flavor than other types of clarified butter.
You can also add flavoring ingredients into your ghee, like herbs or spices.
For more specifics and plenty of images, check out this post from Swasthi’s Recipes. The author doesn’t just provide details for making ghee from store-bought butter. There is also information about starting with cream.
Ghee On The Keto Diet
You’ll often see ghee featured on the keto diet too. It’s easy to see why, as ghee contains almost no carbs and has gone through minimal processing.
The keto diet focuses on cutting carb intake right down and getting most of your energy from fat instead. Fat-rich food features heavily as part of the diet, along with cooking oils.
While some keto dieters focus on monounsaturated fats, many rely heavily on saturated fats too, including butter, ghee, coconut oil, and MCT oil. These ingredients aren’t just used as cooking oils, but also as ingredients in foods like fat bombs, keto desserts, and even hot drinks.
Bulletproof coffee is a classic example here. This drink uses MCT oil and ghee, to create a fat-laden coffee that may boost your energy levels more than a regular cup of joe.
If you’re taking this approach, be sure to pay close attention to how your body responds. As we mentioned earlier, the impacts of saturated fat on health are still under heavy debate. There’s much that we don’t know, particularly about long-term saturated fat consumption.
Grass Fed Ghee Versus Regular Ghee
You might notice that some ghee products are marketed as coming from grass fed cows, while others aren’t. Grass fed ghee tends to be more expensive, but it might just be worth the price.
This is because the food that cows eat does affect the nutrient composition of their milk (and any products made from their milk, including butter, yogurt, and ghee). Grass fed versions can contain a better balance of fatty acids and nutrients, making them a healthier choice.
There’s another angle too.
Cows are often fed grain-based diets that may contain soy and corn. Both ingredients can be genetically modified. While there’s little evidence that GMO feed affects cows and their milk, why not be on the safe side and avoid GMOs entirely?
When focusing on grass fed ghee, look for brands that say 100% grass fed. If the label just says grass fed or perhaps grass finished, then the cows may have been fed a combination of grain and grass, rather than just grass.
While ghee offers some clear benefits, it’s not a superfood. It’s still high in fat and calories, so you need to be careful with the amount that you use.
Then there’s the saturated fat. Even if saturated fat isn’t as bad as we assume, there are healthier sources of fat. This balance of benefits and risks suggests that ghee shouldn’t be your primary source of fat.
Instead, you might use ghee in some situations, such as for cooking, while turning to monounsaturated fats like olive oil in other situations.