Ghee has been front and center in Indian cooking and spiritual practices for thousands of years. In North America, however, its rise to fame has been much more recent. In the past few years, paleo, keto, and Whole30 diet enthusiasts have discovered that it can take the place of dairy creamers in coffee and make bone broth taste—and feel—more decadent.
What Exactly Is Ghee?
Ghee is a form of clarified butter. When butter is melted, it separates into liquid fats and milk solids. Once the casein protein and whey are removed, the substance left behind is ghee. Although ghee contains little to no lactose, it’s not dairy-free because it’s still technically butterfat.
To this day, ghee is one of the most widely used foods in India, as well as a common ingredient in Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian cuisines. Various holistic medicine practices and spiritual rituals also incorporate ghee.
Now let’s look at some of the powerful benefits of ghee.
1. It Can Help Decrease Inflammation
In Ayurveda, or the science of life, ghee is considered beneficial for the entire body. More specifically, it’s often recommended for inflammation, which stems from imbalances in the fiery and powerful Pitta dosha. According to Ayurveda, you can maintain and enhance health by knowing your dosha type—or your primary biological energy—and creating a lifestyle that balances it.
2. It Has a High Smoke Point, Which Means …
In cooking, a smoke point refers to the temperature at which an oil or fat starts to burn. Butter has a relatively low smoke point of around 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Ghee, on the other hand, has a high smoke point of around 480 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes ghee an ideal fat for crisping and browning—but not burning—foods.
Although deep-frying isn’t considered the healthiest cooking method, you can also deep-fry foods in ghee. And from a flavor perspective, ghee will not leave your food tasting bitter when cooked at a high heat. Rather, it will give food a slightly nutty, rich depth of flavor.
3. It Supports Digestive Health
Butyric acid is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that’s created when good bacteria in your gut break down dietary fiber. It’s one of the three most common SCFAs in your gut, in addition to acetic acid and propionic acid.
Butyric acid is also found in animal fats, vegetable oils, and foods like butter and ghee. Although the amount of butyric acid found in foods such as ghee is small compared to the amount your gut makes, foods containing the fatty acid have been shown to aid in digestive health and support people with digestive issues.
One study was conducted on 66 adults with irritable bowel syndrome, which affects the large intestine and can come with symptoms such as cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation—or both. During the study, one group of participants received a daily dose of 300 milligrams of butyric acid, while a control group received a placebo. After just four weeks, researchers discovered that those who took butyric acid showed a statistically significant decrease in abdominal pain.
Another study looked at the effect of butyric acid on people with Crohn’s disease, which causes inflammation of the digestive tract that can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition. At the end of an eight-week treatment, researchers found that nine of the 13 participants had improved symptoms after consuming a daily dose of 4 grams of butyric acid.
Although ghee isn’t a cure-all when it comes to digestive issues, its components can help decrease inflammation, which is important for maintaining a healthy digestive tract.
4. It Can Aid in Weight Loss
The 1990s popularized grunge music, the TV show Friends, and fat-free everything. The prevailing belief at the time was that dietary fat made people fat. As a result, food producers removed fats from food products and replaced them with sugars, refined grains, and other carbohydrates. The sale of fat-free products skyrocketed, yet more Americans were becoming overweight, contributing to an epidemic of obesity.
Fast forward three decades later and researchers have found that lowering the intake of carbs—particularly refined carbs, which are quickly broken down into sugar—while increasing the intake of fats within an overall healthy diet and lifestyle may be a key in maintaining or losing weight.
A tablespoon of ghee contains about 13 grams of fat and 8 of those grams are saturated fat. If you eat 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day, a tablespoon of ghee amounts to more than half of the daily intake of saturated fat recommended by the American Heart Association.
Although saturated fats have gotten a bad rap, it’s important to know that not all saturated fats are created equal. Research shows that saturated fats in meats can increase cardiovascular risks while those in dairy products, such as ghee, can lower those same risks.
To reap the benefits—whether for weight management or other health-related concerns—the key is to eat saturated fats in moderation, favoring those that come from dairy products rather than from meats.
5. Its Vitamin A Can Support the Immune System, Liver, and More
Ghee contains around 8 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin A. Vitamin A contains powerful antioxidant properties that enhance immune function. Antioxidants protect cells against the effects of free radicals, which are unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging. Vitamin A also plays an essential role in eye and liver health, growth and development, and tissue remodeling and metabolism.
6. It Can Lubricate the Joints, Lips, and Skin
In Ayurveda, ghee is prescribed to lubricate the joints and reduce stiffness. Additionally, Ayurveda uses ghee as an arthritis remedy. Ghee is also used in some Ayurvedic massage techniques, as well as to hydrate the skin and lips.
Should You Incorporate Ghee into Your Diet and Lifestyle?
As is true with pretty much anything, the key is moderation. Adding a little ghee to vegetables, beans, and whole grains, or using it during a massage is just fine. Replacing all fats and oils with ghee? That may not be the best idea due to ghee’s high saturated fat content. Healthful living requires eating a balance of foods and incorporating a variety of healthful products into your lifestyle.
If you want to incorporate ghee to reap the potential aforementioned benefits, you should be able to find it at your local grocery store in the aisle with all the oils (ghee does not have to be refrigerated). Or, if you like to cook, there are hundreds of DIY ghee recipes, including this one from The Chopra Center Cookbook:
What You Will Need:
- Heavy bottomed stainless steel pot
- Strainer and flour sack kitchen towel (or a piece of cheesecloth)
- Clear glass container with a tight-fitting lid
- 1 pound organic, unsalted butter
Directions:Place butter in the pot. Bring the butter to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow, steady simmer. The butter will begin to produce foam. Don’t remove this foam. It will begin to be absorbed into the butter, and you will hear the crackling sound of moisture and liquid being evaporated.
Let the butter simmer for up to 1 hour. Keep an eye on it and keep the flame on your stove as low as possible. The ghee is done when you see browned butterfat caramelized on the bottom of the pan and the top portion of the ghee is clear.
Cooldown slightly and strain the ghee through a piece of cheesecloth to remove all the caramelized and browned butterfat. You can also use the same recipe to make ghee in a slow cooker without having to worry about it burning. It works well and takes 6 hours on low heat.
Place the ghee in jars and store. Ghee can be stored at room temperature for about one month or in the refrigerator for up to three months.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
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