Ghee is called clarified butter because, when you “clarify” butter, you’re basically freeing it of all its proteins and sugars, leaving only the fat content.
This may sound like a bad thing, but it’s not.
Recent studies have made it clear that ghee has a host of health benefits – because of its properties and, especially, the way it reacts to heat.
When you’re cooking at a high heat, you want to use fats that are stable or don’t go rancid easily. The “stability” of a fat refers to its heat resistance and the fact that it doesn’t form free radicals that damage cells.1
What makes ghee great for cooking is its high smoking point (around 485 °F or 252 °C). This is because it doesn’t have any of the sugars and proteins, which get burnt easily.2
The smoking points of fats also depend on their degree of saturation.
Saturated fats, followed by monounsaturated fats, are chemically less reactive and less sensitive to heat. And ghee is one of the best ones, with 68% saturated fats and 28% monounsaturated fats. This leaves us with only 4% polyunsaturated fats, which are also healthy but more sensitive to heat.3
Then we have the many ways in which ghee affects our body.
Ghee and the Cardiovascular System
Not too long ago, ghee and other saturated fats were thought to be unhealthy. Now, the myth that saturated fat causes heart disease has been thoroughly discredited. On the contrary, studies show that they benefit the cardiovascular system by:
– Increasing levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) in the blood.4
– They increase the size of LDL (bad) to its larger form, which is not associated with heart disease.5
– They have vitamin K2 that reduces the risk of heart disease (and osteoporosis) through its ability to affect calcium metabolism.6
Some studies even suggest that supplementation of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is found in ghee, may be effective in reducing the body fat mass. Because of this, it could also help with obesity and diabetes management.7-9
Ghee and the Digestive System
Fermentation is a process that uses microorganisms to make foods like yogurt and the batter of dosa/appam/dhokla.
It also occurs naturally in our body. When we consume fibrous food, fibre is not digested, but fermented by the bacteria in our gut. This produces a saturated fat called butyrate, which helps our intestine function properly. A number of studies have stressed the potential role of butyrate in the prevention of cancer in the gut, and other diseases of the digestive track (like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease). It has also believed to increase satiation and reduce appetite.10, 11
Ghee has a high amount of butyrate.
The best part is, ghee can even be consumed by people who are lactose intolerant, because the lactose is removed when the butter is clarified to make ghee.
Ghee and the Immune System
Inflammation is how our body protects itself from injury and infections. But when it is excessive, it can cause severe harm. CLA has anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory properties.12
Ghee is used as a household remedy for painful joints. By reducing inflammation at joints, CLA may reduce the severity of arthritis. It may also improve bone formation by enhancing calcium absorption by bones (vitamin K2).12, 13
Ghee has also been shown to increase the availability of enzymes that help the liver detoxify the body.12, 14
Other health benefits
Some evidence suggests that ghee has antioxidant properties that fight free radical damage. This may be because of the other vitamins it provides, including vitamins A, D, and E. They also improve general health, including the appearance of your skin and hair.15
Many Ayurvedic preparations are made by cooking herbs in ghee. A study found that using herbs and herb extracts with ghee increased their benefits, compared to using them in a powder or tablet form.15
In view of all the benefits, it’s clear that ghee is probably one of the best options for cooking. However, watch out for Vanaspati ghee! This is made out of vegetable fat and has up to 30% trans-fat (bad fats).1, 16 Reach for “pure” or “shudh” ghee, for its health benefits.
All said and done, it’s still necessary to limit your consumption of saturated fats. Moderation, as always, is the key!
1. Mishra S & Manchanda SC. Journal of Preventive Cardiology 2012 1(3).
2. Calbom C. The Juice Lady’s Living Foods Revolution: Eat your Way to Health, Detoxification, and Weight Loss with Delicious Juices and Raw Foods. Charisma House, 2011.
3. USDA. Butter oil anhydrous. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 27 2015 [cited]Available from: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3?fg=&man=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=&qlookup=butter+oil
4. Mensink RP, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2003, 77(5): 1146-1155.
5. Dreon DM, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 1998, 67(5): 828-836.
6. Vermeer C, et al. Eur J Nutr 2004, 43(6): 325-335.
7. Benjamin S & Spener F. Nutrition & Metabolism 2009, 6: 36-36
8. Blankson H, et al. J Nutr 2000, 130(12): 2943-2948.
9. Gaullier JM, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2004, 79(6): 1118-1125.
10. Byrne CS, et al. Int J Obes (Lond) 2015.
11. Canani RB, et al. World Journal of Gastroenterology : WJG 2011, 17(12): 1519-1528.
12. Hodges RE & Minich DM. Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application, vol. 2015, 2015.
13. Hur SJ & Park Y. Eur J Pharmacol 2007, 568(1-3): 16-24.
14. Rani R & Kansal VK. The Indian Journal of Medical Research 2012, 136(3): 460-465.
15. Sharma H, et al. Ayu 2010, 31(2): 134-140.
16. Kala ALA. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society 2012, 89(10): 1813-1821.