Also known as clarified butter, ghee has been making many appearances on grocery store shelves. It has been touted to have many supposed health benefits including increasing metabolism, decreasing inflammation, and improving heart health. It’s even thought to be better tolerated by those who suffer from lactose intolerance. However, the science doesn’t exactly support all these claims.
What is ghee?
Ghee is made by melting butter while allowing the water to evaporate. This allows the milk solids to separate, and result in a translucent golden liquid known as ghee. Because the milk solids are removed, this allows for a higher smoke point than butter (485°F verses 350°F, respectively). It’s also why ghee is a perfect medium for high heat cooking, like often called for in Indian cuisine.
Ghee vs butter
One teaspoon of ghee container 45 calories, 5 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, and 4% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A. The same serving of unsalted butter contains 34 calories, 4 fat, 2 grams saturated fat, and 2% the daily recommended amount of vitamin A. The higher concentration of the nutrients in the ghee is due to its higher concentration of fat.
A 2013 study determined that ghee isn’t as harmful to heart health as it may appear. The author found that ghee contains short chain fatty acids that may help strengthen and develop cell membranes. However, both the American Heart Association and 2015 dietary guidelines disagree with this notion.
Ghee has been blamed for heart disease in Asian Indians populations because of the high amounts of artery clogging saturated fat. The dietary guidelines recommend no more than 10% of your total calories come from saturated fat. This applies to ghee also. Even the American Heart Association recommends preparing Indian foods without ghee.
Dairy allergy and lactose intolerance
Ghee is derived from butter, a dairy product, and the protein that causes allergies can still be found in ghee. If you’re allergic to dairy, you should avoid eating ghee.
If you have lactose intolerance, both butter and ghee has minimal lactose. One tablespoon of butter has 0.01 grams of lactose, which is minimal considering studies have found that those with lactose intolerance can tolerate up to 12 grams of lactose in one sitting (that’s one cup of milk). Of course, this has to be built up over time. The lactose is butter is minimal, and therefore both butter and ghee are well tolerated by those with lactose intolerance. One is not necessarily better than the other.
Other health issues
There is not enough scientific studies to show that eating ghee will speed up metabolism or decrease inflammation.
Bottom Line: If you want to eat ghee, go for it! A few companies including Organic Valley and Carrington Farms can now be found at your market. Just remember, that no more than 10% of your calories should come from this saturated fat.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.