Ghee butter is making its rounds as the next best super-food. Is there any truth to the health claims?
Ghee, a type of clarified butter originating in India 1000s of years ago, is making waves in the keto world, health food stores and online. Unfortunately, a lot of what is being reported and re-reported is fallacious at best giving ghee an underserved bad name in the process.
Let’s sort through the murky hype and get to the facts about ghee.
Before we go too far, let it be known that ghee can be a healthy food worth adding to your cabinet, but unfortunately not for the reasons most often reported, or shall we say misreported. There are many reasons it’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine for 1000s of years.
The Interesting History of Ghee Butter
Ghee has been around for a very long time. How long is uncertain as it’s invention proceed the invention of paper and writing. The word itself comes from the sanskrit word meaning clarified butter.
It’s been used in both Indian cooking and Ayvedic medicine for thousands of years. Although it’s enjoying popularity in recent years here in the U.S., it was mentioned as early as 1831 in a short story by Edgar Allan Poe and again in a 1863 cookbook.
This ancient wonder has seen a rise in popularity with the fall of fat phobia. As more and more evidence builds showing both how detrimental low to no fat diets are and how healthy diets rich in fats can be, the more ghee is flying off the shelf or being made in homes across the country.
Let’s back up to what ghee is. Ghee is a type of clarified butter. Clarifying butter is the process of heating butter to allow the milk solids and water to separate from the milk fats. The milk solids are skimmed off and the water evaporates leaving behind the fat.
The process of making ghee prolongs heat exposure which caramelizes the milk solids imprinting a distinctly nutty flavor in the ghee before being skimmed off. There is next to no water remaining in ghee. This prolongs the shelf life and makes it stable at room temp.
Ghee has a distinctly robust flavor that many Indian and Middle Eastern dishes are known for.
The Nutrition of Ghee Butter
Ghee is a fat, so the nutrition content isn’t going to be nutrient star studded as say kale, avocados or celeriac. What ghee does do is outshine out fats you’re currently cooking using with unique compounds like conjugated linoleic acid.
Here’s the nutritional breakdown of 1 tablespoon serving ghee[*]:
- 112 Calories
- 0 g Carbohydrate
- 12.73 g Fat
- 0 g Protein
- 0g Fiber
- 393 IU Vitamin A (8% DV)
- .36 mcg Vitamin E (2% DV)
- 1.1 mcg Vitamin K (1% DV)
Again, the nutritional breakdown of this fat isn’t a riveting novel, but the proof is in the details that ghee is a healthy swap for unhealthy oils lurking in your pantry.
Many articles online boast that ghee is good for your bone health because it has vitamin K2. Let’s take a moment to bust this myth wide open and sort out if any facts remain.
100 grams of ghee contains 8.6 micrograms of vitamin K2, which is 11% of the daily recommended value for vitamin K2. Great, but 100 grams of ghee is nearly half a cup (.45 cups to be exact) of ghee and the recommended serving of ghee is no more than a tablespoon.
Yes, vitamin K2 is extraordinary for bone health, but a TRUE, 1 tablespoon serving of ghee contains between 1.1 to 1.22 micrograms of vitamin K2[*]. That’s 1% of the daily value.
With International Osteoporosis Foundation reporting that 8.9 million osteoporosis fractures occur globally each year misreporting that a food is good for bone health for the sake of Google ranking is major wrong[*].
Are there any facts left behind from this wreckage? Yes and no. Vitamin K2 is good for both heart and bone health because it takes calcium from the arteries and fortifies bone with it – creating strong bones instead of hard arteries[*].
But there isn’t enough vitamin K in a healthy daily intake of ghee to substantiate a claim it’s a vitamin K rich food. However, ghee is healthy fat to cook with and vitamin K is fat soluble. Using ghee as the healthy medium to cook vitamin K rich foods like kale, broccoli and spinach will help you get the vitamin K you need for longterm heart and bone health.
In summation, ghee itself isn’t good for bone health, but it is a great fat to cook up foods that are.
Packed is a subjective term, but facts are subjected.
There are 4 fat soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K. Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin that is made in your skin during sun exposure and then activated in your liver to be used for over 200 functions. It’s found in small amounts in certain foods like mushrooms and in fortified foods like milk.
Vitamins A, E and K are found in foods, but the amount in ghee isn’t substantial. As the nutrition facts above showed, 1 tablespoon of ghee packs 8% DV vitamin A, 2% vitamin E and 1% vitamin K.
As with the bone health claim, this one doesn’t hold up at all. Ghee is a great swap for unhealthy oils and the fat in ghee can help with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins found in foods rich in those vitamins.
Grass-fed and finished butter contains butyrate, also known as butyric acid. And butyrate is a compound that has been proven to have a bevy of health benefits ranging from the preferential energy supply for colon cells to fortifying gut health, to cancer prevention all the way down to improved insulin sensitivity[*][*][*][*][*].
Butyrate is great for you and in grass-fed butter, but there’s no scientific evidence it’s in ghee. There’s a bevy of articles claiming it does based on the fact butter does prior to the process of clarification. It’s most likely that the butyrate content in ghee is diminished during the prolonged heating process and subsequent skimming of caramelized milk solids.
Now that we’ve debunked both the butyrate and vitamin K content myths, there goes the claims related to the health of the digestive tract.
4 Legitimate Health Benefits of Ghee Butter
#1. Conjugated Linoleic Acids
Ghee contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which has been linked to improved heart health, weight and blood glucose regulation amongst other health benefits.
Research is pointing to CLA’s role in blood glucose regulation in its ability to lower adiponectin concentrations which in turn increases insulin sensitivity. This not only helps with blood glucose regulation, but it helps with more severe outcomes such as type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity[*].
Conjugated linoleic acid have been found to increase lean body mass (muscle) while decreasing fat tissue in obese individuals because they modify testerone in the body. A small 2017 study CLA improved performance in long distance athletes by staving off fatigue longer than a placebo[*].
A promising animal study just released in March 2018 showed that CLA injected into injured joints correlated with a decrease in degradation and increase in cartilage regeneration[*]. This builds on an established body of evidence that CLA reduces inflammation.
#2. Higher Smoke Point
Ghee has a significantly higher smoke point than butter. Smoke point is the highest temperature a fat can go to before it begins to smoke and its fatty acids are oxidized creating free radicals in addition to bad flavor.
We tend to like our foods cooked at higher temperatures to produce a crisp final product. The value of ghee having a high smoke point of 485°F compared to 350°F of butter is that it can replace the unhealthy fats lurking in your cabinets.
For years we were prompted to throw out animal fats and any other saturated fats like coconut oil in exchange or vegetables oils. The problem being the majority of vegetable oils on the market are made from genetically modified plants, improperly process, bottled in clear containers that lend to light damage to the product and on the shelf far longer than the oil is healthy to consume. Canola oil is a great example of that.
Generally when these oils are added to a food product they are hydrogenated producing unhealthy trans fats.
Ghee from grass fed cattle is a far superior option to bake, saute and cook with as a whole. Not only are you able to get a more palatable texture, making this swap is good for heart health because you’re reducing intake of oxidized compounds. More flavor and less heart disease, everyone wins.
#3. Makes Healthy Foods Easy and Palatable
Because of the way ghee is prepared, it’s stable at room temp and for a long period of time. Exact timing depends on product or preparation method. That said, you can keep it in the cabinet or on the counter and not worry about it going bad quickly.
Pair simple storage and long shelf life with a rich nutty flavor that accentuates whatever your uses ghee with and you’ve a product that’s going to help you get more healthy foods in your diet. We eat things that taste good to us and in our hurried world, anything that makes life simpler increases your chances of success.
That’s the thing about nutrition, it’s not hard. It’s working with your life, instead of against your life. If you know you’ve got a hectic schedule and sticking to Keto is going to require it to be easy, make it easy.
The nutty flavor will give your greens a boost in flavor and the fat will help you stay satiated longer. For this reason ghee makes an excellent cooking fat.
#4. Healthy Weight Loss
As mentioned, fat help you stay full longer decreasing the amount of calories you intake and non-keto choices you make. But there is more to the story with ghee and healthy weight loss.
We also discussed that ghee has conjugated linoleic acid which helps with blood glucose regulation by way of insulin sensitivity. It also helps body composition in obese individuals via testosterone modulation. Additionally, CLA reduces inflammation, one of the biggest culprits behind the obesity epidemic.
But there is a third way that ghee helps with weight loss. Ghee contains the famed medium chain fatty acids like those found in coconut oil. Medium chain fatty acids have been found to decrease body weight, waist circumference (the inches in your waist), total fat and visceral adiposity (deep, stubborn belly fat) — all of which adds up to healthy weight loss[*].
Ghee hits weight loss with a triple whammy of health benefits while making other healthy foods more palatable.
How to Buy and Store Ghee Butter
There are no safety studies done on ghee made from cattle that were pumped full of artificial hormones and antibiotics. Make sure to choose organic, grass fed ghee. Store at room temperature either on the counter or pantry.
Ghee Butter Safety Concerns
Ghee is not vegan as it is made from butter. Those sticking to a vegan diet are encouraged to choose coconut oil instead, which is the base for vegan or vegetable ghee.
Whether your purchase commercially made or decide to make ghee at home, it’s still made from cow’s milk. It is not dairy free. Yes, the process of making ghee removes the majority of casein and lactose (a type of milk sugar), but there is no certainty in removing 100%. It most likely will always contain trace amounts. Casein is a milk protein and typically those who have an allergy to it have a severe allergy to it.
While it may be okay for individuals with sensitivities to either substance to consume, it is definitely not recommended for individuals with a true casein allergy or lactose intolerance to consume. For those individuals it best to stick to coconut oil.
As with anything, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Keep your ghee consumption in check, which is easy to do because of its intense flavor. It’s bland foods that we’re more likely to over consume.
Excessive consumption of ghee, or any fat, not only negates the health benefits, but it will lead to steatorrhea – akin to diarrhea but loose stool due to excessive fat not water.
The Truth about Ghee
Now that we’ve cut through the hype and blatant lies to the true health benefits of ghee, you can feel good about picking some up next time you’re at the grocery store. Organic, grass-fed sourced ghee makes a perfect 1:1 healthy swap for other cooking oils in your baking, sauteing and more. It’s bold, nutty flavor brings out the best in other healthy foods.