Ghee is a type of clarified butter commonly used in South Asia and the Middle East that features prominently as the star ingredient in many Ayurvedic medicines. Ayurveda is a 3000-year-old healing system that originated in India and is practiced around the world today. Ghee is thought to possess both cancer-fighting and anti-inflammatory properties as well as heart-healthy fats. When used topically, it’s a moisturizing dream, and even those with dairy allergies have found a friend in ghee. Could ghee be your best butter substitute? Paleo and keto dieters certainly think so. Let’s find out!
What Is Ghee?
Clarified butter is produced by simmering butter to separate milk solids and water from butterfat. During the process, water evaporates and a few solids float to the surface while others sink to the bottom of the pan. What remains after the solids are discarded is called clarified butter.
So what’s the difference between ghee and regular butter?
Ghee and butter both come from cow’s milk, so their nutritional content is similar. The main differences are:
- Ghee does not contain the same amount of dairy proteins, making ghee more digestible for people with lactose intolerance.
- Ghee has a higher smoke point than butter. Butter can burn at 350 °F, but ghee’s high smoke point occurs at 485 °F.
- Ghee contains more fat and calories than butter does.
With so many healthy unsaturated fats and vitamins, ghee is a highly nutritious cooking staple.
Ghee is high in calories, so moderation is key to capitalizing on ghee nutrition. One tablespoon contains about 110 calories, plus saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and protein.
Saturated and unsaturated fats have different effects on the body. The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in ghee help to lower bad cholesterol. Compared to butter, ghee has higher levels of the polyunsaturated fat conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has proven fat-fighting power.
Ghee is notably rich in saturated fat, with almost 8 grams per serving. The American Heart Association recommends getting no more than 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat, as saturated fats may increase the risk of heart disease when not consumed in moderation. This means that saturated fat intake above 13 grams a day may increase the risk of heart disease, so as long as you moderate serving size, you’re within a healthy saturated fat range.
Also consider that saturated fat is not inherently bad. For instance, the short-chain fatty acid butyric acid found in ghee has been linked to improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms, colon cancer, neurological conditions, and metabolic disorders.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, your total fat intake, regardless of the type of fat, should not be more than 20% to 35% of calories per day.
Ghee also contains vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K, and traces amounts of calcium.
Is Ghee Healthy?
Let’s break down some of ghee’s key health benefits.
Casein and Lactose-Free
This benefit applies mainly to people who have a sensitivity to casein or who are intolerant to lactose.
People with a casein allergy may experience strong reactions to dairy, including swelling of the face, mouth, or tongue. Those who are milk intolerant find it hard to digest milk sugar lactose, and symptoms are less severe; they include bloating, cramps, and headaches. Casein and lactose are removed during the ghee-making process, so it is easier to digest than milk.
Even if you are not intolerant, you might feel heavy if you eat butter, especially at night. Ghee is a lighter option.
Contains Healthy Fatty Acids
As noted earlier, ghee is loaded with butyric acid and CLA, two fatty acids that offer great benefits. Studies suggest that conjugated linoleic acid may have a positive effect on cancer, atherosclerosis, hypertension, and diabetes. Additional research shows that long-term intake of CLA may reduce body fat mass in healthy overweight adults.
Butyric acid, also called butyrate, supports the gastrointestinal system. Studies show that butyrate may have a therapeutic effect on inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer. Additional research demonstrates that butyrate may help to inhibit colon cancer and improve inflammation and intestinal motility. Another study concluded that butyrate intake may prevent and treat insulin resistance in mice. Butyrate also plays a key role in promoting a healthy microbiome. In the past few years, research has been investigating the stimulating effects of butyrate-producing bacteria on the human colon. This activity promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Improves Digestive Health
Additional studies have shown that butyrate may have therapeutic effects on constipation, such as reducing pain during defecation. Researchers have also discovered that butyrate may decrease visceral sensitivity in healthy humans. This condition plays a role in intestinal motor abnormalities and abdominal discomfort. In addition, butyrate may reduce intestinal inflammation and support mucosal barrier function by stimulating intestinal mucus production.
Supports Bone Health
Ghee contains vitamin K, which is crucial for heart, brain, and bone health. Vitamin K plays an important role in bone metabolism. Researchers analyzed the diet of more than 2,000 people and found that low dietary vitamin K intake was linked to low bone mineral density in women, increasing the risk of hip fracture. No association between dietary vitamin K intake and bone mineral density was found in men. Ghee does not contain a ton of vitamin K, but it can offer great benefits when combined with other good sources of vitamins.
Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Butyrate in ghee may inhibit inflammation. Long-term inflammation may lead to the development of chronic diseases. A study conducted in France showed that butyrate may reduce inflammation by decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokine expression. These anti-inflammatory properties could be applied to a variety of diseases connected to the gastrointestinal system, and possibly help patients with other diseases such as arthritis and even cancer.
Where to Buy Ghee Butter and How to Use It
Usually sold in glass jars, ghee is shelf-stable because it does not contain the milk proteins found in butter, although you’re likely to find it in the refrigerated section close to butter. If you do not find it there, take a look in the oil section. Whenever possible, choose grass-fed organic ghee to get the all-natural nutrients without artificial additives. You can also easily order it online, or you can make your own homemade ghee. All you need is grass-fed, unsalted butter!
Ghee holds up at room temperature for several months (some even say a year). Refrigerating it will cause it to harden, but it will soften up in your pantry.
Wondering how to cook with ghee?
You can use ghee for sautéing vegetables and replace butter with ghee when you bake, especially for dishes that require high heat cooking. You can also use it for recipes that call for cooking oil. As ghee is widely consumed in Indian and Pakistani dishes, why not try a South East Asian recipe to start? Like samosa!