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What Is Ghee and Is It Actually Healthy?

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You're likely to have heard about "ghee" by now, the latest trend in butter that seems to be popping up just about everywhere, from bulletproof coffee and baked goods to veggie sides and sauces. (I mean, come on, even Kourtney Kardashian says she drinks ghee straight-up first thing in the morning!)

Beyond the name, which is already a little mystifying, there's also skepticism about the potential health benefits. This makes sense, as ghee is basically a fancier term for butter, right? Here's everything you need to know about ghee: what it is, whether it's good for you, and how (or if) you should be eating it.

So, ghee is a type of butter?

Ghee is a type of clarified butter made from buffalo or cow's milk. "Clarified" means it's been heated and purified. In a way, it is butter, but broken down in a way that gives it a distinct, nutty flavor and a more flexible structure. It also has no milk or water solids, which is why it doesn't need to be refrigerated like normal butter does.

Plus, it can withstand high temperatures during cooking. Why, exactly? Because it's pure butterfat—the natural fat found in milk, butter, and other dairy products. (Ghee has a smoke point of 450°F, while butter and coconut oil come in at 350°F). So, if you want a thicker coating on your veggie stir-fry, you can easily add some ghee to the wok and crank up that dial, explains Vanessa Rissetto, a registered dietitian based in the NYC metro area.

Having roots in Ayurvedic medicine (a type of holistic medicine from India), ghee has been widely popular in Indian cuisine for years. But with all the buzz about its possible health benefits, ghee has made its way to mainstream cooking in the U.S., says Rissetto.

What are the health benefits of ghee?

"Ghee is rich in short-chain and medium-chain fatty acids and butyrate, which can improve heart health and lower insulin resistance," according to natural medicine doctor Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S. And there is evidence that these medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are preferable to longer-chain cousins as they are more easily digested, meaning they offer up more readily usable energy for your body instead of being stored as fat. It's important to note that the fat in both butter and ghee are mostly less desirable saturated fat, however. (BTW, you should read up on this: MCT Oil: What Is It and Is It the Next Superfood?)

"Butter contains 12 to 15 percent medium- and short-chain fatty acids, while ghee contains 25 percent or greater," says Axe, which may explain why some experts say ghee is less of a detriment to your cardiovascular health than butter.

What's more, ghee is also high in fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, E, and D, he says. This is important because fat-soluble vitamins need fat for the body to properly absorb them, and since ghee also provides the fat, it offers up double-duty nutrition. Those with a gluten-sensitivity or an autoimmune disease, such as Crohn's or IBS, can have trouble absorbing vitamin A, so adding ghee to meals could help boost that intake, suggests Axe.

Heating and clarifying butter greatly reduces the lactose. So if you're lactose intolerant, have a dairy sensitivity, or just choose to limit your dairy intake, ghee is a practical alternative for those who still want that rich, creamy texture, says Rissetto. But ghee does have some great digestive benefits even for those who don't have sensitivities."Ghee is rich in butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid that nourishes the cells of the intestines, so it can heal the digestive tract."

To kick the benefits up a notch, go for grass-fed varieties, says Axe. Grass-fed ghee has more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may offer heart protection, reduce inflammation, and promote weight loss, he says. While the connection between ghee and weight loss has mixed reviews among researchers, one 2015 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine did find a potential link between ghee and better heart and metabolic health.

Should you be eating more ghee?

As ghee is high in saturated fat, it shouldn't be eaten in excess, so portion control is key, says Rissetto, who recommends sticking to 1/2 a tablespoon for a serving. "Too much saturated fat can clog your arteries and cause cardiovascular disease," she says. So, instead of ghee in every recipe—from brownies to baked chicken—make the swap in moderation. Otherwise, stick to a small pad of butter, or even better, heart-healthy olive oil. (FYI, adding beets to brownies is way better, anyway.)

How do you cook with ghee?

Because of ghee's high smoke point, it works well as a cooking fat for sautéing, and it can be used as a substitute for coconut oil when baking, says Rissetto. You can simply use it as a spread for toast, or you can incorporate it into baked goods for rich flavor. (Read this if you need a refresher on the pros and cons of coconut oil and coconut butter.)

Try adding ghee to stir-fry sauces, dressings, soups, or stews. You can also drizzle it on popcorn, or yes, even add it to your morning coffee. That little bit of fat will go a long way in boosting your energy, burning fat (yes, fat burns fat!), and keeping hunger at bay.

But, as it is purely saturated fat, and nothing in excess is great for you, portion control is key.

 

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