Health benefits of Ghee 

The discussion on dietary fats has metamorphosed over the years so much that old-timers are confused and rightly so. However, it seems that things have stabilized to a point where it actually makes sense. Nowhere is this more in evidence than on the subject of ghee.

It seems more and more clear that good old ghee IS good. The US and Europe are now awash with expensive brands of ghee. Well, we always used it in traditional Indian cooking!

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the functioning of the body

Cholesterol is the enemy, we have been told – ad nauseum, which made ghee an anathema for quite a while. However, what is hardly known is that cholesterol is an essential nutrient – it is a part of every cell and is required to build and maintain cell membranes. Twenty-five percent of the total cholesterol is found in our brain. It is vital for the brain function and generation of new neurons. In fact, in a recent study, researchers showed that in the elderly, the best memory function was observed in those with the highest levels of cholesterol. Low cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of depression and even death. Cholesterol also serves as a raw material for the production of hormones like progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, and testosterone. It is necessary for the manufacture of Vitamin D, and for the production of bile and for other functions. Over 60% of breast milk is composed of cholesterol.

Did you know that our body makes cholesterol?

If eating too much dietary cholesterol caused blood cholesterol levels to go up, then it would be reasonable to assume that eating less cholesterol would lower blood cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, this idea is entirely wrong. The scientific community has long known that eating less cholesterol does not lower blood cholesterol. Our liver and intestines manufacture 80 percent of cholesterol found in the blood. If we eat less dietary cholesterol, our liver simply compensates by creating more, so the net effect is negligible. Cholesterol comes only from animal origin foods. Therefore, those on vegetarian and vegan diets who avoid ghee, eat only very lean meats and drink skim milk could consume too little cholesterol.

Know the difference between Ghee and Butter

Ghee is the most common form of cholesterol for Indians. It has now been accepted that the chemical nature of ghee is different from butter and that it plays a critical role in maintaining general health. Whereas butter contains fat, milk sugar lactose, milk protein casein, and water, ghee is pure fat from which water and milk solids have been removed. This process makes ghee lactose-free and even suitable for those who have allergies and sensitivities to dairy products. Also, ghee has a higher concentration of important nutrients such as conjugated linoleic acid that helps to reduce body fat deposit and improves immune functions, anti-inflammatory butyrate acid and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Ghee contain phenolic antioxidants, which bolster the immune system. It aids in maintaining joint mobility – one wonders if it might be why our elders managed old age without limb replacement

Ghee in Ayurveda

Ghee is a crucial part of Ayurvedic preparations and is revered, as a result, in Ayurveda. It is said to increase the digestive fire (Agni), stimulating the digestive juices and aiding the assimilation of food. Additionally, it increases the ability of the intestinal walls to absorb critical nutrients from food, particularly those that are oil soluble. Ghee helps other ingredients increase their potency and their ability to reach the deep tissues and it does this without losing its own beneficial qualities. Ayurveda says ghee fosters “Ojas”, increasing energy and vitality, besides improving skin tone and elasticity. With short and medium chain fatty acids, ghee, with one of the highest sources of butyrate acid, can heal the intestinal walls, is anti-inflammatory and is said to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Ayurveda advocates ghee as a crucial nourisher for the brain and nervous system too.

Healthy individuals can consume 10-15 gms of fat a day. Ghee is recommended for those without current cholesterol issues. So, if you have avoided that lovely dab of ghee on a phulka or switched to olive oil for tadka, maybe it is time to return and enjoy that good old flavor – guilt free.

 

Lakshmi Anand

Lakshmi Anand did her MBA from The Pennsylvania State University, majoring in Corporate Finance and Marketing. She was instrumental in setting up the world's largest private weather service, AccuWeather.com. She is a keen observer of developments in health and wellness. Trained in Carnatic Music she is a freelance writer for The Hindu newspaper.