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Is Ghee Healthier Than Butter?

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By Franziska Spritzler

Ghee has become quite popular in certain circles lately.

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

Ghee has become quite popular in certain circles lately.Shutterstock

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 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):

Both contain nearly 100 percent 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 percent 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).

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

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 percent 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 percent of calories from ghee for 44 weeks had lower levels of several breast cancer markers than rats fed 10 percent 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

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.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

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An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

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Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

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