If you turn on the television or flip through a well-known magazine, it is difficult to avoid seeing some of today’s more popular food items. While trends certainly come and go within other parts of society, health and wellness options tend to stick around for a while until the next latest and greatest thing comes along. However, USHEALTH Group points out that’s not exactly the case with ghee, a product that’s been rising in popularity for quite some time. Decades ago, it would have been nearly impossible to find this item on store shelves. However, it is now more commonplace and, in some parts of the nation, quite easy to find.
Despite the image that ghee is one of the food industry’s more recent discoveries, it has quite a long history that dates back thousands of years. Used in India and Pakistan, it was created as an alternative to butter that held a much better shelf life, particularly in warmer temperatures. The name itself is Sanskrit and means “sprinkled,” and ghee is referred to as “ghrita” in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Like turmeric or quinoa, ghee has a deep history associated with it, one that is just beginning to enter the radar of those who live in the Western world.
Since ghee has been used for so long, why are Americans just now hearing about it? Part of the answer points to a misunderstanding about what ghee is and how it is best used in the kitchen. Some experts question if it truly is a healthier alternative to butter, and opinions on the matter tend to be mixed. As ghee becomes more and more common in today’s diet, it is wise for individuals to know more about this product, so they can decide for themselves just how essential it is as part of a healthy lifestyle.
It looks like butter and tastes somewhat similar, so is ghee actually butter that goes by a different name? Technically, yes, but the answer is slightly more complicated than one might think. Traditional butter contains milk solids along with water and is typically made from cow’s milk. Butter is certainly considered a dairy product and is used quite regularly in cooking to add both fat and flavor to a variety of dishes. If you removed these elements from butter, ghee would be left.
You may see it labeled as “clarified butter” on store shelves, but it is essentially the same thing as ghee, making it a product that is free from dairy and richer than butter. Cooking butter for an extended period is the way to produce ghee, and this process aids in the development of deeper flavors that take on nutty and almost caramel-like notes. Ghee does not include nearly the same levels of moisture as butter, so storing it in an air-tight container on the shelf means that it will last quite a while.
Ghee can be used in place of butter in nearly any recipe, making a great complement for roasted vegetables or mashed potatoes. As it has a higher smoke point than butter, dishes like french toast or grilled cheese come out even more delicious than before, as they do not hold any type of smoky flavor. It has also been used in Ayurvedic medicine as the base for topical herbal ointments and, in some ways, can be closely compared to coconut oil in terms of its flexibility in uses.
A Perfect Food?
Those who love the taste of butter but have issues digesting dairy products may believe that ghee is the answer to their prayers, but this food may not be as incredible as it seems at first glance. A host of data both for and against the regular use of ghee in one’s diet has often left consumers confused about how to approach this now popular food. Should it always be used in place of butter, or is it an occasional type of item? How much ghee is too much? If butter and ghee are quite similar, why stray away from one to use the other?
These questions are certainly valid, and sometimes exploring a bit of scientific data can help when determining the choices that contribute to one’s health and wellness. Looking back at the use of ghee in India gives Americans a lot of useful knowledge when it comes to the potential benefits of using it regularly. Ghee is a notable element in Ayurvedic medicine, and those who practice it believe that ghee is responsible for promoting longevity and helping the body fight off a host of diseases. It is rumored to improve one’s memory, help with digestion, increase flexibility by lubricating connective tissues, and much more.
Ghee has long been considered sacred in some parts of the world and is viewed as an aid in curing allergies, respiratory conditions, and skin diseases. People use it as a base in which to mix herbs and then apply the mixture to the skin, so it’s been elevated far beyond just a kitchen staple to an item of high importance within culture and society. However, is there scientific evidence for these beliefs, and how exactly does using ghee in one’s diet really affect overall health and wellness?
When it comes down to it, ghee is a fat, and a saturated one at that. It’s long been known that foods high in saturated fat can contribute to the development of coronary artery disease, and for a long time, individuals have been advised to steer clear of foods high in this type of fat as often as possible. A group of researchers decided to see if this advice was worth considering, and they used two groups of rats to see how introducing ghee into their diets would affect their overall health.
The results were surprising, as the experts found that while triglyceride levels were elevated, the key components in developing coronary artery disease – lipid peroxidation processes – were not triggered. Furthermore, the group noted that a study conducted in a rural area of India showed similar results; individuals who consumed larger than normal amounts of ghee had lower cholesterol, reduced psoriasis symptoms, and were not as prone to CAD.
Comparisons May Be Key
When looking at ghee in relation to butter, there is not much of a difference other than the absence of milk solids and additional water, but ghee is quite a different fat when exploring alternative cooking options. Another study conducted in India tackled this question and explored the health benefits associated with using ghee instead of mustard oil. While mustard oil is not necessarily a common ingredient used in the United States, it is prevalent in northern parts of India and is comparable to ghee in many ways.
The group worked with 100 adult males and 100 adult females who lived in a rural part of the country. All the participants were over the age of 40 and asked to consume varying levels of ghee or mustard oil. One group used roughly equal amounts of both fats daily, others relied more heavily on mustard oil and little ghee, and the third group consumed a ghee-heavy diet with only a bit of mustard oil. Researchers examined the results in several ways, including looking at the group and dividing the outcome between male and female participants.
Interestingly enough, the people who used ghee the most and mustard oil sparingly were found to have the healthiest lipid profile at the end of the study. Total cholesterol, triglycerides, and a range of lipoproteins were all lower than in the other two groups of people. While it is still not clear if other preexisting health conditions or environmental factors were at play, this initial study does give hope to those who are looking to use ghee to improve their health and well-being.
When Fat Truly Matters
But what about the inherent fatty nature of ghee? While it is interesting that ghee helps improve one’s health compared to other fats, it is still a saturated fat, and that is something individuals have long been warned against consuming. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, only five to six percent of the typical American diet should contain saturated fat that’s derived from calorie intake.
This means that the average person who consumes 2,000 calories per day should aim for 120 calories from saturated fat, which equates to about 13 grams. That is the average fat content for a serving of ghee, meaning that all other fatty foods would need to be excluded from one’s meal plan. It is not just ghee, however, that contains saturated fats, as foods including cheese, fatty beef, pork, and lamb all contain these molecules. The AHA clearly states that eating too many of these items can increase one’s cholesterol and lipid profiles, which in turn can lead to the development of coronary artery disease.
Clearly, there is a conflict of information here, as saturated fats are deemed bad for you and promote certain health changes, yet studies have shown that the consumption of ghee can, in fact, improve one’s overall health. While more research needs to be conducted, perhaps one piece of the puzzle requires looking at the larger picture associated with one’s daily diet. The American Heart Association asserts that eating a balanced diet of nutrient-rich items is the best way to achieve health and wellness, so incorporating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, and fish may be the best way to offset saturated fats.
Making Ghee at Home
Those who are interested in integrating ghee into their diets may be able to simply walk to the neighborhood grocery store and pick some up, but despite the benefits that this food brings to the table, not all people in the United States have easy access to it. In some instances, ghee is considered a rather unique item, and it can cost quite a bit, leaving people less than excited to incorporate it into their daily routines, especially if they are unsure if they will like it.
Fortunately, making ghee at home is very easy to do and can offer individuals the opportunity to try this ingredient in a range of recipes. There are several kitchen items necessary to successfully transform butter into ghee, but the process is straightforward. Before beginning, make sure to have on hand:
- airtight glass jars in which to store the ghee
- several pieces of cheesecloth
- a large spoon
- a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom
- a fine-meshed sieve
- a large measuring cup or bowl, preferably with a pouring spout
- high-quality unsalted butter, preferably grass-fed
Making ghee does take a bit of time and a good amount of patience, but the result is well worth it. Begin by cutting the butter into approximately one-inch chunks, as this will help it melt faster and more evenly. Using the saucepan, heat the butter on a medium setting and gently stir it occasionally. Soon after it is fully melted, a thick white foam will coat the surface. At this point, the butter should be bright yellow in color and rather opaque.
Continuous stirring is now crucial here until the butter starts to simmer. At this point, turn the heat down to medium-low and leave it alone for roughly five minutes. As the butter simmers, the bubbles on top will become larger and more numerous. Milk solids will begin to form around the sides, and it is important to scrape them off into the pan to avoid burning. This process will continue as the butter becomes clearer and more milk solids emerge. Make sure to keep stirring and scraping, paying special attention to the bottom of the pan, to prevent burning.
The bubbles will continue to grow, and the butter will foam for a second time, indicating that the ghee is almost ready to be strained. Once the foam is evident, take the pan off the heat and let the foam settle for a moment. Straining the butter is one of the most important steps, so it is imperative that it is done correctly. Using the cheesecloth, line the sieve with several layers and place it over the measuring cup or bowl. Pour the butter through the cheesecloth into the receptacle and watch as the milk solids are strained out.
Discard the solids before pouring the ghee into a glass jar, covering it loosely with a lid. Let it sit at room temperature for at least a few hours, although a day is preferable, and then get ready to enjoy it in a range of recipes. Ghee can be stored at room temperature for several months, and while certain environments may cause it to harden or liquify, it will remain safe to eat.
So, Is Ghee Healthy?
Asking if any food is “healthy” or not can certainly result in a range of answers, simply because it all depends on the factors that people consider. If one were to judge ghee’s merits strictly based on nutritional recommendations alone, they might conclude that this butter substitute is, in fact, no better or worse than its counterpart. After all, fat is fat when it comes to calories.
However, the studies conducted in India around ghee consumption and cholesterol levels simply cannot be ignored, and it calls into question the need for more thorough research. Should ghee benefit one’s cardiovascular health, there would likely be a huge shift in eating habits across the nation as people gave up butter in favor of ghee. Those with dietary restrictions have likely already done so, but it may not have been by choice.
Further investigation has uncovered a fair amount of benefits that can be derived from using ghee, as it contains more short- and medium-chain fatty acids than butter. This makes it easier to digest, and some even speculate that it can help heal an inflamed gut lining, particularly in those with auto-immune conditions like Crohn’s. Fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, and E are also numerous in ghee, as well as a compound called conjugated linoleic acid. Found primarily in grass-fed ghee, CLA has been linked with inflammation reduction, weight loss, and heart protection.
Ultimately, whether ghee is healthy or not depends on one’s specific dietary needs and overall health and well-being. If butter is in heavy rotation already, a switch to ghee may be beneficial. However, individuals who do not often use fats when cooking may not want to start using ghee at every turn, as this increase in saturated fat could be harmful. Until more is known about just how beneficial ghee can be, why not explore with it and see how it can be used in place of butter? With a delicious flavor and longer shelf life, it may be a suitable option.
USHEALTH Group Committed to the Community
For more healthy living strategies, be sure to check out USHEALTH Group’s health blog. This is just one aspect of USHG’s efforts to give back to the community. CEO Troy McQuagge has ensured that his company always adheres to a strong belief in charitable giving and community outreach. In 2010, he established the HOPE program, which became a guide for agents under USHG’s USHEALTH Advisors brand to remain committed to “Helping Other People Everyday.”
In fact, this commitment to the community has earned the company plenty of accolades. For example, in 2017, it set a company record for Toys For Tots donations. That same year, as part of USHG’s nationwide Month of HOPE, a group of Florida USHEALTH Advisors representatives teamed up with the Homes for Warriors Program to help put the finishing touches on a new home for a wounded veteran and his family.