Ghee nutrition has a long history. Ghee nutrition has been used in Indian cooking for many thousands of years. Ghee is an essential (and nutritional) element in much of Indian cuisine, much the way butter or margarine is used in American cooking. Ghee nutrition transcends the cooking realm, as ghee is also often used in religious ceremonies and various healing arts in Indian culture. Ghee’s nutrition and healthy properties are touted as ideal for anyone from athletes to simple dieters.
Ghee is in fact a form of clarified butter. If you’ve eaten lobster or crab before, you may be more familiar with the term “drawn butter”, which is essentially the same thing, although often many people will simply melt some butter and call it drawn butter. The process of clarifying butter is a bit more complex. The butter is melted and simmered (this process is also called “rendered”) in a pot or large saucepan until three layers form: a foamy, watery layer, which is skimmed off, a solid butter layer, and a milk solids layer. The separated butter is the clarified butter, a liquid mass of rich, golden butterfat.
Chefs often use clarified butter because it will not burn during frying (this is known as a high smoking point), and possesses a more buttery flavor. The longer the melted butter cooks, the more intense the resulting flavor of the clarified butter will be.
Ghee lacks hydrogenated oils and is a popular choice for health-conscious cooks as well. Additionally, since all the milk proteins have been removed during the clarifying process, ghee gains further nutritional value because it’s lactose free, making it a safer alternative for those who are lactose intolerant.
Clarified butter is composed primarily of saturated fat. It contains approximately 14 grams of fat per tablespoon but no artificial additives, preservatives, or trans fats. Consuming large quantities of ghee is obviously unhealthy, but because of the rich flavor of ghee, it can be used sparingly to full effect, making it more suitable for low-fat diets. A good guideline is one tablespoon of ghee as opposed to four tablespoons of any other butter or cooking oil.
Ghee Health Benefits
Ghee is most notably said to stimulate the secretion of stomach acids to help with digestion, while other fats, such as butter and oils, slow down the digestive process and can sit heavy in the stomach. Although tests and research are still ongoing, it has been used in Indian medicinal practice to help with ulcers, constipation, and the promotion of healthy eyes and skin. An Indian folk-remedy for thousands of years, ghee is also said to promote learning and increased memory retention. It is used in Indian beauty creams to help soften skin, and as a topical for the treatment of burns and blisters.
In addition to ghee’s nutritional value, it is rich with antioxidants and acts as an aid in the absorption of vitamins and minerals from other foods, feeding all layers of body tissue and serving to strengthen the immune system. A high concentration of butyric acid, a fatty acid that contains anti-viral properties, is believed to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors.
Opponents Against Ghee
Opponents against ghee point to its high saturated fat content, claiming it will lead to heart disease. People with high cholesterol are advised not to consume ghee. The combination of saturated fat and cholesterol can increase the risk for heart disease.