Ghee: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Ghee: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks


Ghee is a type of clarified butter used for centuries in Indian cooking and Ayurveda (Ayurvedic medicine). Ayurveda is a traditional medical system that uses a holistic approach to improve physical and mental health. 

Unlike standard butter, which contains small amounts of water, carbohydrates, and proteins, ghee is essentially pure fat.

Ghee is rich in flavor, full of satiating fats, and well-suited for high-heat cooking. It also contains almost no lactose, which means that it might be tolerated by people with a lactose intolerance.

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Ghee is produced when butter is heated for an extended period of time to remove all of its moisture. During this process, milk’s solid components—which include carbohydrates, proteins, and minerals—are removed so that the final product is a form of “clarified” butter.

The result is a source of almost pure fat: ghee is 99.3% fat while butter is roughly 80% fat. It’s also virtually free of lactose. Lactose is a naturally occurring carbohydrate found in dairy products that commonly causes uncomfortable gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in people who have difficulty digesting it.

As a result, even people diagnosed with lactose intolerance may respond well to ghee (though it’s worth noting that standard butter is also naturally low in lactose). Ghee is often permitted on meal plans that ban milk products, including elimination diets and Whole30.

Ghee is essentially pure fat. High-fat foods are satiating because dietary fats are more calorie-dense than carbohydrates and proteins.

Moderate fat is essential for steady energy levels, hormone production, satiety (feeling full), and blood glucose (sugar) balance. On the other hand, eating excessive amounts of saturated fat from foods like fatty meats, heavy cream, and ghee may result in weight gain and a greater risk of chronic disease over time.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fewer saturated fats to keep your heart healthy. However, some experts believe that not all saturated fats are created equal.

It can be difficult to study how different types of saturated fats affect heart health since most foods contain a combination of different fatty acids. Still, emerging research suggests that short-chain and medium-chain saturated fats may have neutral or even beneficial effects on heart health.

For example, one study of 60 vegetarians who consumed roughly 2.5 tablespoons (tbsp) of ghee daily for six weeks reported significant reductions in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, even among those with high cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is known as “bad cholesterol” because too much circulating in your blood can contribute to plaque buildup in your arteries, increasing your risk for heart disease.

While most of the dietary fat in ghee is saturated, it also contains other fats, such as:

  • Unsaturated fats: For example, omega-6s and omega-3s are anti-inflammatory fats that support heart health.
  • Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA): Though animal studies indicate CLA may play a role in immune function, cancer prevention, weight management, and heart health, human research has produced mixed findings on its health benefits.
  • Butyrate: Ghee contains a small amount of this short-chain fatty acid (SCFA). Research shows that butyrate can help fight inflammation, improve immune function, and strengthen the gut’s lining and cells.

Ghee is a good source of vitamin A, or retinol. One tbsp of ghee provides about 13% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin A.

Eating enough vitamin A is essential for maintaining a strong immune function and healthy vision. This fat-soluble nutrient is also important during reproduction and for proper cell growth and development.

Ghee has a higher smoke point than other fat sources, making it a great option for high-heat cooking. The smoke point refers to the temperature at which an oil begins to degrade.

The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) can be as low as 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celcius), but the smoke point of ghee is closer to 480 degrees Fahrenheit (249 degrees Celcius).

The nutritional value of traditional butter and ghee is similar. One tbsp of ghee provides:

  • Calories: 123 
  • Fat: 13.9 g
  • Saturated fat: 8.7 g
  • Carbohydrates: 0 g
  • Sodium: 0 g 
  • Protein: 0 g 
  • Vitamin A: 118 mcg RAE, or 13% of the DV

Eating too much fat of any kind may result in weight gain and chronic conditions like heart disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Eating excessive amounts of saturated fat—the main type of fat in ghee—can also lead to higher cholesterol levels in the blood and a greater risk of stroke.

If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, emphasize foods rich in unsaturated fats, like fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado, in meals.

Ghee’s flavor is often described as rich and slightly nutty. You can use it just like traditional butter or any cooking oil. Here are a few ideas:

  • Use it as a fat source when cooking curries, soups, and stews
  • Fry eggs in it
  • Slather it across your favorite slice of crusty bread, pita, or naan
  • Use it for high-heat cooking, such as when making stir fries and pan-fried foods like fritters
  • Melt and pour it over popcorn
  • Sauté fresh ground spices in it to create a flavor-packed infused butter
  • Use it in homemade baked goods
  • Add a drizzle of it to a cozy bowl of oatmeal
  • Swap olive oil for it when roasting a pan of vegetables
  • Use it as a topping for pancakes, waffles, or baked potatoes

In addition to being a great ingredient for cooking, ghee is used for medical or therapeutic purposes.

Ghee is thought to have antibacterial and antiseptic properties that may help treat and heal skin conditions, burns, and wounds. It can be used topically as massage or bath oil or as a moisturizer for dry hair, skin, and lips.

Ayurveda also celebrates ghee for its positive effects on brain health, digestion, and immune function.

Ghee is a type of clarified butter used for centuries in Ayurvedic cooking and medicine. Unlike traditional butter, ghee is virtually free from lactose, a natural sugar typically found in dairy. It’s also extremely low in casein, a dairy protein that some people are allergic to.

Ghee’s rich flavor and high smoke point make it versatile in the kitchen. While ghee contains beneficial fats, it consists primarily of saturated fat. Eating a diet rich in saturated fat may increase your risk of weight gain, heart disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease over time.

If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, emphasize unsaturated fat sources like nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), and avocado, and save ghee for special occasions.

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