Gee, Should We Eat Ghee?
A Bite-Size Read for Your Health and Your Waistline
You’ve heard of butter, margarine, and “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!”, but have you heard of ghee? It’s a lactose-free butter alternative that many swear by. Ghee may sound new to you, but it’s been used for centuries by several cultures (primarily India) as a cooking oil and ingredient as well as an ayurvedic medicine. Now though, it’s catching on in different parts of the world because it’s thought to be a great source of healthful fat and other nutrients. Should you follow the trend and throw a jar of ghee into your shopping cart the next time you’re at the store?
Before we get into the pros and cons of ghee, let’s discuss more in depth what makes it different from butter and other alternatives. Ghee is a form of clarified butter, which is created by heating butter until the water evaporates. If you just want to make clarified butter, you only cook it until the milk solids separate from the liquid fat. You get ghee when you continue to cook those milk solids until they caramelize. Then you remove the solids, leaving only oil (the ghee!). Skimming off the floating white whey that rises to the top during this process is what makes ghee lactose-free. Win #1?
Being lactose-free is one of ghee’s major selling points, but it also boasts a number of other benefits. Ghee is shelf stable, which means it doesn’t have to be refrigerated like butter. Perfect for your trip, packed lunch or parts of the world where refrigeration is more challenging. It also has a higher smoke point than butter. The smoke point is when food begins to burn at which point it loses its health benefits and can actually become detrimental to your health; having a higher one is good! Smoke points are discussed further in my article on olive oil. Ghee also contains butyrate like butter, which is a fatty acid that behaves as energy for the cells in our intestines. This sounds great at first — for both ghee and butter, however, you’d have to eat SO MUCH to benefit from the butyrate, the saturated fat consumed could basically defeat the purpose.
Butter and ghee are similar in their nutrition facts: a tablespoon of butter has roughly 100 calories, negligible amounts of vitamins E, B12, and K, and 11.5 grams of fat (63% of that is saturated). Ghee has even more saturated fat. Given this, I recommend using avocado, walnut, or olive oil for cooking in combination with ghee, if you’d like to add it to your repertoire. These oils and nuts will give our body healthful fats and protein it needs.
All in all, if you’re looking for a lactose-free butter alternative, ghee’s everything you need. All of the other benefits of ghee can be found in greater amounts in other healthful fats such as nuts, avocado, walnut, and olive oil. Nevertheless, on occasion, ghee might be the perfect fit. Maybe your next movie night will feature popcorn with a little drizzle of ghee!