Ghee is really having a moment. Popular diets like keto, Paleo and Whole 30 have taken this ingredient from unknown glass jar in the grocery store aisle to VIP status. But what exactly is it?
It’s just a different form of butter minus the lactose. Ghee is made by heating up regular butter over a cooktop and removing the milk solids and water.
I remember first learning about Ghee in culinary school. You see, while ghee has only recently become a mainstream food trend, it’s been around for centuries and originated in India.
Also referred to as clarified butter, chefs love cooking with Ghee because it has a higher smoke point than butter and adds a pleasant nutty flavor to foods. And people who are sensitive to milk love it because it’s a tasty, nearly lactose-free substitute for butter.
What is ghee used for?
There are many options for using ghee. Cooking with ghee is preferred over whole butter for high-heat cooking, like frying fish and roasting. Steamed lobster paired with drawn butter is another use for ghee and some people also like to use it as a spread. The keto diet trend has made the use of ghee in coffee another popular use.
Nutritional contents of ghee
Like all foods, ghee can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Ghee is comprised of 99.3% fat. There is no protein in Ghee and it is significantly lower in lactose (milk sugar) than butter. One tablespoon of ghee contains 135 calories, 15 grams fat (9 grams saturated), 0 g carbs, and 45 mg cholesterol. By contrast, one tablespoon of whole butter is 80% fat and contains 100 calories, 11.5 grams fat (7 grams saturated), 0 g carbs, 31 grams cholesterol, and negligible quantities of protein. Both types of butter contain some vitamin A and trace amounts of vitamin E.
The American Heart Association recommends getting 5 – 6 % of total calories from saturated fat, since a diet lower in saturated fat is associated with lower blood cholesterol levels and better blood fat profiles (like your blood triglycerides). From this perspective, ghee is not considered healthy, since 1 tablespoon of ghee daily would exceed your daily limit for saturated fat.
That said, there has been concern amongst researchers that ghee may be partly responsible for the increase in coronary artery disease in Asian Indians over the last few decades due to its high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol. Some researchers hypothesize that heating ghee, like when frying, may can cause negative health effects. In one study, a breed of disease-prone mice experienced increased blood fat (triglyceride) levels after 8 weeks of eating a diet with 10% of calories coming from ghee. In another study, however, a different breed of mice suffered no ill effects after 8 weeks. Their blood fats actually improved.
Plant oils like extra-virgin olive oil and avocado oil are low in saturated fat and are still your best bets in most recipes. These are the two fats that I cook with the most.
- It’s probably fine to use ghee in moderate amounts occasionally when you’re craving the taste of butter, but it’s still best to mostly stick to unrefined liquid plant oils such as olive and avocado oil in place of ghee for heart health.
- Ghee is probably better for heart health when compared to sugar.
- If you’re lactose intolerant, ghee is a better option for you than butter since its lower in lactose.
- More studies need to be done to provide insight regarding how ghee affects fat and cholesterol levels in the blood, and overall health.
 USDA National Nutritional Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/01323?man=&lfacet=&count=&max=25&qlookup=ghee&offset=&sort=default&format=Abridged&reportfmt=other&rptfrm=&ndbno=&nutrient1=&nutrient2=&nutrient3=&subset=&totCount=&measureby=&Qv=.15&Qv=.05
 USDA National Nutritional Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/01145?fgcd=&manu=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=default&order=asc&qlookup=butter&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=
 The effect of ghee (clarified butter) on serum lipid levels and microsomal lipid peroxidation. Ayu. 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3215354/
 Effect of dietary ghee—the anhydrous milk fat, on blood and liver lipids in rats. Journal of Nutrition Biochemistry. 1999. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15539276
 The lactose and galactose content of milk fats and suitability for galactosemia. Molecular Genetics and Metabolism Reports. 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5471386/