By Maureen Salamon
Whether you’re boggled or dazzled by the huge array of oils on display in most supermarkets these days, having so many choices makes it easy to wonder which options are healthiest and best to cook with. But it may be time to consider a healthy fat known through the ages that’s made a big comeback: ghee.
What exactly is ghee? Clarified butter made by boiling butter and pouring off the butterfat, this staple in traditional Indian cooking loses its milk solids – including lactose – as well as the proteins casein and whey as part of its preparation process. What remains does have a high saturated fat content – but perhaps surprisingly, scientific research is showing ghee offers several key health benefits.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN OILS
Since fat is a necessary part of a healthy diet, it’s key to understand the differences between fats in order to choose the oils that are best to cook with, along with ghee.
Beneficial versions include olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, and sesame oil. Why do these pass as healthy? Because they contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, are low in saturated fat, and can promote lower cholesterol levels. Olive oil is a particular favorite in this realm, since it’s a main player in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet and extremely versatile.
On the other hand, oils to avoid eating and cooking with include palm oil – which is high in saturated fat – and any oil labeled as “partially hydrogenated.” Typically, these versions show up as vegetable oils such as soybean or cottonseed oil, which are naughty trans fats that research has shown increase the risks for coronary heart disease by contributing to plaque buildup inside arteries. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required in 2006 that all food labels list any trans fat contained in a product, the agency deemed in 2013 that partially hydrogenated oils were no longer generally recognized as safe. Unless food companies seek an exemption, they have been ordered by the FDA to remove all trans fats from their products by the end of 2018.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF GHEE
With this background in mind, let’s get back to ghee and why it’s a good choice. When made from grass-fed butter, ghee packs a nutritional punch, proving rich in vitamins A, D, E and K as well as fatty acids known as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and butyric acid. Here are several other reasons to cook with ghee:
Ghee may lower heart disease risks: Despite its high amount of saturated fat, ghee may help protect against cardiovascular problems. According to preliminary 2013 research in the journal Lipids in Health and Disease, high-CLA ghee was associated with reduced cholesterol and triglyceride levels in animal testing.
Ghee might benefit the digestive tract: The butyric acid in ghee can lessen inflammation in the gut and help boost repair of beneficial mucus lining the intestine, according to the book “Prescription for Nutritional Healing.”
Ghee may help with weight loss: The CLA present in ghee was shown in 2007 research in the International Journal of Obesity to lower body fat over a 6-month period as well as help avert holiday-related weight gain in participants who took CLA supplements.
Maureen Salamon is a widely published health and medical writer who has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN.com, HealthDay, The Dallas Morning News and other major publications.