Ghee: The Facts
By Dr. Ajit
It is a well known fact that Ghee is a saturated fat and that a high percentage of saturated fat in a person’s diet is a contributory factor in cardiovascular disease. However, more recent research has shown that not all saturated fats are bad and has identified other fats such as trans-fats as more damaging to our health.
However, before I describe the benefits of Ghee, I would like to briefly mention why we need fat in our diet. Fat is not only an energy source, it is a way the body stores energy. It is used to provide insulation and well as providing support and protection to organs. It provides insulation to nervous tissue and assists in the transmission of nervous impulses. We need fat so our bodies can absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A and E and produce hormones like estrogen. It is critical in the permeability of cellular membranes, allowing cells to access nutrients. Finally, it provides flavor and texture to food and gives us a greater sense of satisfaction from eating by allowing food to stay in the stomach longer.
While there is universal agreement on the need for some fat intake, debate has raged over what is healthy and unhealthy fat. Early research revealed a high intake of saturated fats as a contributory factor in heart disease and recommended the use of polyunsaturated fats. However, there is now increasing evidence linking polyunsaturated fats with cardiovascular disease and obesity due to their high levels of free radicals. Free radicals create oxidized fats or lipid peroxide, which damage cells and trigger atherosclerosis. Now it is generally agreed that monounsaturated fats found in olive and mustard oils are the healthiest forms of fat, when consumed in moderation. However, research has again turned to saturated fats, particularly short chain fatty acids like those found in ghee and their apparent health benefits.
While Ghee is a saturated fat, it is principally composed of short chain fatty acids, compared with longer chains in other animal fats, such as beef fat. It is the longer chain fatty acids that are associated with blood clotting and thrombosis. Short chain fatty acids are not only easier to digest, they help hormone production and strengthen cell membranes. Studies in both rats and humans have shown that short chain fatty acids can lower serum cholesterol levels by increasing the secretion of biliary lipids, one way the body can remove excess cholesterol. As well as saturated fat, Ghee consists of 25% monounsaturated fat (the healthy fat according to modern nutrition) and a relatively low 5% polyunsaturated fat.
Ghee is also an excellent source of anti-oxidants, which prevent free radical damage. When heated, other fats, particularly polyunsaturated fat, oxidize and release free radicals at low temperatures. However, Ghee’s smoke point (the temperature at which oil burns, generating oxidation and free radicals) is 190C, making it one of the safest fats in which to fry. Finally, Ghee is a source of Vitamins A and E, both of which are only bio-available in fat. The only other edible fat containing Vitamin A is fish oil so Ghee is an important source of this vitamin, especially for lacto-vegetarians.
Ayurvedic wisdom is unequivocal that ghee is an important part of a healthy diet. It nourishes all the body’s tissues and creates Ojas, our essence that strengthens the immune system. Thanks to its superb penetrating qualities, it can travel deep into the body, nourishing us at a cellular level. Interestingly, ghee’s rate of absorption (digestibility coefficient) is calculated at 96%, the highest of all oils and fats.
One or two teaspoonfuls of ghee daily are considered enough to nourish and support our bodies. However, Ayurveda being a science of that acknowledges that each of us is unique, recognizes that even something as wholesome as ghee is not always considered healthy. It is contraindicated for people with a Kapha aggravation and should be used sparingly by the overweight.