What is Ghee?
There is absolutely nothing new or faddy about ghee; it has been around for a very long time indeed and has been used for several thousand years. There is evidence that butter was used in India as long ago as 2000 BC and it became very popular in cooler regions of the country. However in warmer Southern areas butter was not able to survive very long so the people in those warmer regions began clarifying the butter to help it survive longer and prevent it spoiling.
Ghee became more and more popular and was regularly consumed as well as being integrated into Ayurvedic medicine and ceremonial rituals. Traditionally, Indians believe that ghee could promote both mental and physical purification because of its ability to cleanse the system. Ghee can benefit your body both internally and externally. It can actually be applied topically to help heal minor wounds, burns and rashes or simply to moisturize the skin or the scalp.
Ghee is effectively clarified butter; however it is simmered for a longer period to enhance its nutty flavor. When ghee is produced milk fats and water are removed which leaves it with a higher smoke point. This means that it does not start to smoke until it is heated to a higher temperature.
Ghee compared to butter
Ghee is considered to be healthier than butter but what makes the difference?
- Ghee contains nearly double the amount of medium chain and short chain fatty acids compared to butter. (25% or more for ghee and between 12 and 15% for butter) This is an important difference because unlike long chain fatty acid, short or medium chains are not linked to heart disease.
- Ghee does not contain casein or lactose, so those with lactose intolerance or casein sensitivity can use ghee.
- When ghee is produced, the milk’s fat solids get removed which is why you are left with a clean, golden looking product.
- While butter burns when fried, ghee does not burn and has a much higher smoke point.
Why is the High smoke point important?
There are several reasons why the high smoke point of ghee is so important. The majority of oils with high smoke points are cooking oils which have been genetically modified and very unhealthy oils such as soybean oil, canola oil and peanut oil. When oils or cooking fats are taken to a temperature above their smoke point, there is the very real risk of kitchen fires. As well as the fire risk, heating oil and fats above the smoke point can mean that important nutrients are destroyed and lost.
You should always cook with an oil that has a smoke point well above your cooking temperature. Saturated fats such as coconut oil and ghee provide better cooking stability than polyunsaturated fats like olive oil and monounsaturated fats like fish oil. Many oils lose their structure when they are heated which is why olive oil should be save for dressings and sauces rather than being used to cook.
Benefits of Ghee
Ghee is an excellent source of Vitamins A, D and E. Those with irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, gluten allergies and leaky gut often have issues with vitamin A absorption. By replacing butter with ghee, people with those conditions can increase their intake of vitamin A.
Ghee also provides the body with Vitamin D which is particularly difficult for the body to create during the less sunny winter months. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant which helps our bodies to repair damage to the skin, balance the hormones, improve eyesight and keep cholesterol in check.
2. It is casein and lactose-free
Being free of both casein and lactose, ghee is suitable for the many people who are intolerant or sensitive to milk products. The symptoms of a casein allergy are especially severe and include swelling of the mouth, lips face, tongue and throat. Those with lactose intolerance cannot digest lactose easily and also suffer from symptoms which are thankfully not as serious as casein allergies.
Those with lactose intolerance may experience symptoms such as cramps, gas, bloating, nausea and vomiting.
Because casein and lactose are removed during the production process, people with these allergies can tolerate ghee without any problem.
3. Butyrate content
Butyrate, otherwise known as butyric acid acts to detoxify the body and to improve colonic health. It is actually a short chain fatty acid which has anti-inflammatory properties and is also known to promote healthy levels of insulin.
A relatively recent study conducted in 2009 found that butyric acid could prevent and also treat insulin resistance in rodent models and the researchers concluded that further studies on human subjects would be desirable. (1) Experts also believe that butyrate can also help remedy a range of other illnesses such as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
4. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) content
Ghee is a rich source of conjugated linoleic acid or CLA. CLA may have numerous beneficial effects including cholesterol reduction, lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation and even reducing body fat. While there is no concrete evidence as yet, initial studies have been very promising and the range of illnesses that CLA can help treat include heart disease, obesity, diabetes and even depression.
5. Bone health and strength
Ghee can also help strengthen your bones and teeth because it contains Vitamin K2 which is vital to help our bodies use essential minerals like calcium more effectively. Studies have actually showed that vitamin K2 helps build and strengthen bones even more effectively than calcium.
Apart from proper bone development, we need to consume sufficient amounts of vitamin K to protect us from tooth decay and from plaque building up in the arteries a dangerous condition called atherosclerosis.
6. Weight control
It seems strange that a product so high in fats could help you to keep your weight in check. However the energy your body derives from the medium chain fatty acids contained in ghee as well as other products like coconut oil actually help burn other types of fat in our bodies.
This leads to a reduction in fat levels and possibly even weight loss in the long term. In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, ghee is thought to promote better digestion and to stimulate gall bladder function which also aid weight loss and eliminate toxins. Replacing the butter in your diet with ghee is one of many steps that you can implement as part of an overall weight reduction plan.
7. Better Digestion
The butyrate and short chain fatty acids contained by ghee can also help pave the way to a healthier digestive system. Ghee can increase the production of gastric acid as well as helping to eliminate other fats or toxins from the system.
The butyrate contained in ghee helps to reduce inflammation throughout the entire body. Inflammation is at the heart of most all major diseases including cancer, heart disease, asthma and arthritis so anything that we can do to prevent it is a very good thing indeed.
9. The taste
And last but by no means least, one of the great benefits of ghee is its wonderful flavor. The process of making ghee involves extracting the water and milk fat and this in turn intensifies its flavor. When you use ghee in cooking as a substitute for butter, you will need to use less to achieve a similar buttery flavor.