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Ghee: Better Than Butter?

Ghee in a Glass Jar

Ghee has become quite popular in certain circles lately.

It’s been praised as an alternative to butter that provides
additional benefits.

However, some people have questioned whether ghee is superior
to regular butter, or may even pose health risks.

This article takes a detailed look at ghee and how it compares
to butter.

What Is Ghee?

Ghee is a type of clarified butter. It’s
more concentrated in fat than butter because its water and milk
solids have been removed.

It has been used in Indian and Pakistani cultures for thousands
of years. The term comes from the Sanskrit word meaning
“sprinkled.”

Ghee was originally created to prevent butter from spoiling
during warm weather.

In addition to cooking, it’s used in the Indian alternative
medicine system Ayurveda, where it’s known as ghrita.

Because its milk solids have been removed, it does not require
refrigeration and can be kept at room temperature for several
weeks. In fact, like
coconut oil
, it may become solid when kept at cold
temperatures.

Bottom Line: Ghee is a type of clarified
butter that is stable at room temperature. It has been used
in Indian cooking and Ayurvedic medicine since ancient times.

How Is It Made?

Ghee on a Wooden Spoon

Ghee is made by heating butter to separate the liquid and milk
solid portions from the fat.

First, butter is boiled until its liquid evaporates and milk
solids settle at the bottom of the pan and turn golden to dark
brown.

Next, the remaining oil (the ghee) is allowed to cool until it
becomes warm. It’s then strained before being transferred to
jars or containers.

It can easily be made at home using grass-fed butter, as shown
in this recipe.

Bottom Line: Ghee can be made by heating
butter to remove water and milk solids from the fat.

How Does It Compare to Butter?

Ghee and butter have similar nutritional compositions and
culinary properties, although there are a few differences.

Calories and Nutrients

This is the nutrition data for one tablespoon (14 grams) of
ghee and butter (1, 2):

Ghee Butter
Calories 112 100
Fat 13 grams 11 grams
Saturated fat 8 grams 7 grams
Monounsaturated fat 4 grams 3 grams
Polyunsaturated fat 0.5 grams 0.5 grams
Protein Trace amounts Trace amounts
Carbs Trace amounts Trace amounts
Vitamin A 8% of the RDI 7% of the RDI
Vitamin E 2% of the RDI 2% of the RDI
Vitamin K 1% of the RDI 1% of the RDI

Both contain nearly 100% of calories from fat.

Ghee is more concentrated than butter. Gram for gram, it
provides slightly more butyric acid and other short-chain
saturated fats. Test-tube and animal studies suggest that these
fats may reduce inflammation, promote gut health and inhibit
cancer growth (3).

It’s also slightly higher in conjugated
linoleic acid
, a polyunsaturated fat that may help increase
fat loss (4).

Overall, the differences between the two are small, and
choosing one over the other likely won’t have a significant
impact on your health.

However, ghee is completely free of the milk sugar lactose and
the milk protein casein, whereas butter
contains small amounts of each
. For people who have
allergies or sensitivities to these dairy components, ghee is
clearly the better choice.

Bottom Line: Ghee and butter are nearly 100%
fat, but ghee may be the better choice for people with
lactose or casein sensitivities.

Use in Cooking and Food Preparation

Butter and ghee are rich in saturated fatty acids, which can
handle heat at high temperatures without becoming damaged.

Heating ghee also appears to produce much less of the toxic
compound acrylamide than heating vegetable and seed
oils.

In fact, one study found that soybean oil produced more than 10
times as much acrylamide as ghee when each fat was heated to
320°F (160°C) (5).

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Furthermore, ghee has a high smoke point, which is the
temperature at which fats become volatile and begin to rise as
smoke.

Its smoke point is 485°F (250°C), which is substantially higher
than butter’s smoke point of 350°F (175°C). Therefore, when
cooking at very high temperatures, ghee has a distinct
advantage over butter.

However, while ghee is more stable at high heat, butter may be
more suitable for baking and cooking at lower temperatures
because of its sweeter, creamier taste.

Bottom Line: Ghee may be better for
high-temperature cooking, but butter has a sweeter taste that
may be more suitable for baking.

Potential Health Benefits

Ghee in a Rustic Cup

Some research shows that ghee may provide health benefits.

Heart Health Markers

A number of animal and human studies suggest that consuming
ghee may lead to favorable changes in some heart health markers
(6, 7,
8, 9, 10, 11, 12).

In a rabbit study, ghee was found to increase HDL (“good”)
cholesterol and reduce the formation of fatty deposits in the
arteries. On the other hand, it also increased fasting blood
sugar levels (8).

Moreover, in a controlled study of 206 healthy adults, ghee was
the fat source responsible for the greatest increase in
ApoA, a protein in HDL particles that’s
linked to a reduced risk of heart disease (11).

However, it’s important to distinguish between ghee made from
dairy and ghee made from vegetable oil, which is known as
vanaspati ghee or vegetable ghee.

Vegetable ghee contains 14–40% trans
fats
. Some researchers believe that increased consumption
of vegetable ghee may be contributing to rising heart disease
rates among Indians and Pakistanis (9, 13).

Bottom Line: Studies have found that ghee
may improve some heart health markers. However, make sure to
choose dairy ghee and not vegetable ghee.

Cancer

Several animal studies comparing ghee to soybean oil suggest
that ghee may reduce the risk of certain cancers, including
breast cancer (14, 15, 16).

In one study, rats fed 10% of calories from ghee for 44 weeks
had lower levels of several breast cancer markers than rats fed
10% of calories from soybean oil (16).

However, more high-quality research is needed to confirm these
results.

Bottom Line: Studies in animals have
suggested that ghee may reduce the risk of cancer, at least
when compared to soybean oil.

Potential Adverse Effects

Ghee in a Glass Bowl

Based on the results of controlled studies, ghee doesn’t seem
to affect LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels very much (11, 12).

However, people’s responses to saturated
fat
intake are highly variable.

Those whose LDL cholesterol levels tend to increase in response
to high saturated fat intake may want to limit their ghee or
butter intake to one or two tablespoons per day.

Another concern is that during the production of ghee at high
heat, its cholesterol may become oxidized. Oxidized cholesterol
is linked to an increased risk of several diseases, including
heart disease (17).

According to one researcher, detailed analysis has shown that
ghee contains oxidized cholesterol but fresh butter does not
(18).

Bottom Line: Potential adverse effects of
ghee include an increase in LDL cholesterol levels and the
formation of oxidized cholesterol during its production.

Take Home Message

Ghee is a natural food with a long history of medicinal and
culinary uses.

It provides certain cooking advantages over butter and is
definitely preferable if you have a dairy allergy or
intolerance.

However, at this point, there isn’t any evidence suggesting
that it’s healthier than butter overall. Both can be enjoyed in
moderation as part of a healthy diet.

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