How do you distinguish between a fad and a true health food? Ghee is one of the stars of my kitchen. It is clarified butter, and one of my favorite saturated fat sources. Basically, it is no trend because it has literally been used for thousands of years—possibly as far back as 2000 BC.
Ghee was originally used in Indian cooking to prevent butter from spoiling in warm weather.
Today, it is a healthy fat source that is popular in the Paleo diet. It also has a high smoke point, which means ghee is among the better oils for cooking. Furthermore, it is suitable for people with sensitivities to lactose and casein. Overall, ghee is great for bone building, digestion, weight loss, and reducing inflammation throughout the body.
Read on to find out just what ghee is all about, including its nutrition facts, health benefits, how to make it, and its main difference from butter.
What Is Ghee (Clarified Butter)?
Ghee is unsalted clarified butter; however, you simmer it a little longer to bring out the natural nutty flavor of butter. It is cooked slowly to allow the milk solids to settle at the bottom of the pan. When the milk solids, sugars, and water are removed, we see the basic difference between ghee and butter.
The oil is strained and continued to heat until the milk solids turn golden brown, before being discarded. The caramelization of ghee is what gives it the distinct taste. After this process, ghee is nearly 100% fat. In Hindi, ghee plainly means “fat.” Traditionally, ghee is made from cow or buffalo milk.
Ghee has been used within Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and it was believed to promote both physical and mental purification. In a similar way to coconut oil, ghee is a multi-purpose fat source that can even be used topically for treating rashes, burns, and dry skin and scalp.
Clarified butter has a very impressive nutrition profile, especially when it comes to fat. In particular, about two tablespoons of ghee contains 72% of the recommended daily amount of saturated fat, and 35% of the recommended total fat. It also contains 14% of recommended daily vitamin A.
There are also trace amounts of protein, vitamin E, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, folate, choline, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium.
The following is a comprehensive ghee nutrition chart with information for about two tablespoons of ghee or 28 grams (g) of the saturated fat.
|Total Fat||22.7 g||35%|
|Saturated Fat||14.4 g||72%|
|Monounsaturated Fat||5.9 g||N/A|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||0.9 g||N/A|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids||88.2 mg||N/A|
|Omega-6 Fatty Acids||764 mg||N/A|
|Vitamin B2||0.01 mg||1%|
|Vitamin B12||0.01 mg||1%|
|Vitamin E||0.6 mg||3%|
|Vitamin K||2 mcg||2%|
* N/A—Not Applicable
Ghee vs. Butter
What makes ghee better than butter? Ghee has a unique nutrition profile without containing casein or lactose. Ghee also contains medium-chain and short-chain fatty acids, and butyrate in particular. Butter will contain 12% to 15% medium-chain and short-chain fatty acids, whereas ghee contains 25% or more of these fatty acids. Also, unlike butter, ghee does not burn while frying, and has a smoke-point of 450° Fahrenheit.
People sensitive to lactose or casein can tolerate ghee since these allergens are removed. Symptoms of casein allergy are far more dangerous, and include hives, congestion, and swelling of the mouth, tongue, face, throat, or lips. Lactose intolerance symptoms may include gurgling, cramps, vomiting, nausea, gas, and bloating.
5 Health Benefits of Ghee
What are the health benefits of ghee? For starters, ghee made from grass-fed cows is high in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). CLA is considerably higher in grass-fed beef and products made from their milk. Initial studies indicate that CLA may help reduce cholesterol, high blood pressure, inflammation, body fat, and tumors. Ghee may also increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K.
What other ghee health benefits do you need to know? Not only does ghee have a high smoke points, but it improves digestion, supports weight loss, builds stones bones, reduces inflammation, and it may benefit diabetics. The following is further detail of these key ghee health benefits.
1. High Smoke Point
As mentioned, ghee has a high smoke point of 450° F. As a result, ghee is considered a healthy fat for cooking. The smoke point is an important cooking oil or fat measurement, and heating oils above their smoke point can increase free radicals and destroy essential phytonutrients.
This is important since the majority of high-smoke point oils are genetically modified cooking oils that are unhealthy for human consumption. Some of these include corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and peanut oil. In addition, many fats change their fatty acid structure when heated. For instance, olive oil has a lower smoke point and should only be added to sauces or dressing after the cooking process.
2. May Benefit Diabetics
The short-chain fatty acid butyrate in ghee may also be beneficial for controlling insulin levels. For instance, a study published in the journal Diabetes in 2009 found that butyrate could prevent and treat diet-induced insulin resistance in mice. However, the research team added that more examination is needed to explore butyrate affects insulin levels in humans.
3. Improves Digestion
The butyrate in ghee also helps support the digestive tract, while acting as a detoxifier that improves colon health. As a result, ghee may be helpful for those with irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease. Consumption of ghee with fibrous vegetables is also a good idea. Fiber will convert into more butyric acid, which detoxifies and eliminates toxins from the body.
Ghee will also increase gastric acid and allow for efficient digestion. The energy from the medium-chain fatty acids in ghee will actually burn other fats in the body. In Ayurveda, ghee is believed to improve gallbladder function and jumpstart digestion. This all supports weight loss as a result.
4. Builds Strong Bones
Ghee also contains vitamin K2—a fat soluble vitamin that is essential for the utilization of minerals in the body, especially calcium. Studies show that vitamin K even builds bones more than calcium does. Proper vitamin K2 levels will support proper growth and development of bones, protect against tooth decay, and protect against atherosclerosis—also called calcification of the arteries.
5. Decreases Inflammation
According to Ayurvedic medicine, ghee benefits the body through creating a more alkaline system that decreases the overall inflammation in the body. It does so by lowering leukotriene secretion and prostaglandin in the body. It is the butyrate in ghee that is thought to decrease inflammation in the digestive tract, as well as throughout the rest of the body.
This is importance since inflammation is considered the root cause of many diseases today, especially arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancer types.
How to Make Ghee
Wherever you would use butter, use ghee instead. Ghee is often my fat source when sautéing vegetables with garlic and herbs and spices. Ghee can be purchased at more health food stores and grocery stores than other oils, such as coconut oil. Alternatively, you could also buy ghee online through a reputable company.
That being said, I highly suggest making your ghee, since it is so easy and much less expensive than the store-bought kind. Want to know how to make ghee? Follow this simple recipe below:
What You’ll Need:
- 1 pound of grass-fed unsalted butter
- A deep, wide-bottom skillet
- A wooden spoon
- Mesh skimmer
- Mesh strainer
- Glass jar
- Place the butter in the deep skillet over very low heat, and watch it melt. Leave it covered for up to two hours, or until the milk proteins have separated from the gold liquid. A white foam will form on top, while pieces of milk fat drops to the bottom of the pain.
- Gently skim the foam off with the mesh skimmer, and discard. Skim once more. The milk fats on the bottom will continue to brown, which help unleash the nutty flavor of ghee. You will simmer until the milk fat is golden brown, but not burnt. Keep on eye on it, as the ghee can burn quickly if you’re not paying attention.
- Next, remove from the heat and allow to cool at room temperature. Place several layers of cheesecloth in the mesh strainer or use a nut milk bag. Once cooled, pour the butter into the jar slowly.
- The ghee will firm up at room temperature on the counter, or keep refrigerated if you want spreadable ghee. When sealed properly, ghee remains fresh for several weeks. Ghee must be sealed properly since the fats absorb other flavors.
Final Thoughts on Ghee
Ghee is liquid gold. Not only does it have a unique nutty flavor, but it’s great for your health. It is a high smoke-point cooking oil, while it also benefits digestion, weight loss, bone health, and it reduces inflammation and may benefit diabetics. Ghee is also a good choice for people with sensitivities or intolerances to casein or lactose. It is also a good source of a number of nutrients, especially vitamin A and saturated fat.
It is no wonder why ghee has been used for thousands of years. Ghee also has a longer shelf life than butter, and therefore it will last up to six months in the refrigerator or up to the year in the freezer. The bottom line is that ghee is a perfect butter substitute, and can certainly be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Make it part of your diet today!
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Gao, Z., et al., “Butyrate Improves Insulin Sensitivity and Increases Energy Expenditure in Mice,” Diabetes, July 2009; 58(7): 1509-1517, doi: 10.2337/db08-1637.