Can butter really be good for you? No, it’s not just a foodie’s wishful thinking. A purified form of butter called ghee has been a staple of both Indian cuisine and Ayurvedic medicine since ancient times. Today, professional chefs with a mind for health and savvy consumers have discovered its rich, nutty flavor along with its many health benefits.
Ghee is sometimes referred to as clarified butter, but it actually goes a step beyond. Clarified butter is made by heating unsalted butter until the milk solids and water rise to the top, where they are skimmed off. Ghee results from cooking the butter for a longer period of time and straining out nearly all the milk solids and water, leaving pure butterfat behind.
Whether it’s plain or flavored with herbs and spices, ghee can be used in nearly every application that calls for butter, as an oil for stir-frying and sautéing or drizzled over vegetables and popcorn. In addition to its tasty flavor and versatility, here are some of the surprising benefits you can enjoy from cooking with ghee.
1. Ghee is all-natural.
Ghee is free of potentially unhealthy additives, preservatives and trans fats. Thanks to its pure form and low moisture content, ghee is shelf-stable and can stay fresh for up to a year without refrigeration. While it's not an application for the general public, some families in India have aged ghee that has lasted more than 100 years.
2. Ghee reduces your exposure to cancer-causing agents.
At high temperatures, most oils break down into unstable elements known as free radicals. Excessive amounts of free radicals in the body can result in cell damage, including the development of cancer. Ghee has a smoking point of nearly 500°F, so it retains its structural integrity under the high heat used for frying and other preparation methods.
3. Ghee is a rich source of antioxidants.
Antioxidants act as “scavengers” in the body, seeking out and neutralizing free radicals to prevent cell and tissue damage that can lead to disease. Ghee contains vitamin E, one of the most powerful antioxidants found in food.
4. Ghee contains cancer-fighting CLA.
When ghee is made from butter derived from grass-fed cows, it contains stores of conjugated linoleic acid. CLA has been found to combat cancer as well as cardiovascular disease. Some studies have also suggested a link between CLA and weight loss.
5. Ghee helps moisturize dry skin and hair.
Ghee isn’t used just for cooking. It has long been used by Indian women as a topical moisturizer to relieve dry complexions. Application on the scalp also fights dryness and encourages the growth of thick, lustrous hair.
6. Ghee has anti-inflammatory properties.
Ayurvedic medicine has regularly used ghee to treat burns and swelling. It contains large quantities of butyrate, a fatty acid that has been linked to an immune system response that soothes inflammation. The substance also has anti-viral properties and contributes to a healthy digestive system by helping heal and repair the stomach lining. This can be particularly valuable for individuals with intestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease.
7. Ghee contains heart-healthy fats.
While ghee has a high concentration of fat, it’s high in monounsaturated Omega-3s. These are the same fatty acids found in foods like salmon that have been discovered to promote a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. A study conducted on men in a rural area of India found that those who consumed larger quantities of ghee had a lower incidence of coronary heart disease and reduced levels of serum cholesterol.
8. Ghee is a viable alternative for individuals with dairy allergies.
Since ghee is formed by removing milk solids, it contains only trace amounts of milk sugars (lactose) and proteins (casein), making it suitable for most people with dairy allergies. Ghee also fits into the popular Paleo diet, which is based on the types of foods eaten by early humans and excludes dairy products.
9. Ghee is a nutritional powerhouse.
Ghee contains plentiful amounts of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. These nutrients are essential to a wide range of body functions from the brain to the immune system. In addition, ghee aids in the body’s absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals from other foods.
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