Posted on April 17 2020
My earliest memory of ghee was when I was just a child. My sister and I would fight for the burnt- charred ghee residue that was left over when you make ghee at home. Growing up in an Indian- Gujrati family, ghee was always made at home and fed with every meal. I still remember my grandmoms concerned face when I expressed dropping dairy from my diet. 'But surely you will eat Ghee' she would say, 'how will your joint stay lubricated' she would express.
Researching for this article I read countless number of Ayurvedic studies that promote the benefits of ghee and consider this golden liquid as a one stop solution to all problems. Oddly though, most of these research papers were sponsored, if not directly written, by the Indian dairy industry. Take a look at this one:
Instead of one- way biased research, let's talk about what we do know about ghee. I will also link a few randomised, controlled, double blind studies as we go along for you to do your own research.
Oxidised animal fat
Animal fat's, including Ghee is high in cholesterol, we all know that. Intake of high level of cholesterol, forms a waxy plaque like layer around our blood vessels. Blood vessels are responsible to transport blood to and from our heart. Have a look at this image below:
Now obviously if the cholesterol goes and deposits itself in the blood vessels, it will make it difficult for the blood to smoothly pass through, leading to blockage and potential heart attack. However, this is really not the major problem with ghee.
Our body is designed brilliantly. To protect the brain, cholesterol cannot directly enter into the blood- brain barrier (BBB). But when the cholesterol levels in the blood go high, the brain releases an enzyme called 24- hydroxysterol to oxidise the cholesterol into something called oxysterol. High oxysterol levels in the blood are also dangerous and can affect the heart, genetic formation and even cause cancer.
What is worse though is that unlike cholesterol, oxysterol CAN enter the BBB and affect cognitive function, cause memory loss and even lead to Alzheimers.
The obvious answer would be to stop eating foods with high levels of oxysterol (oxidised cholesterol). Undoubtably animal meat and dairy top the list. But ghee particularly has the highest level of oxysterol compared to any other food.
The cooking method required to make ghee, boiling animal protein for 20- 25 minutes straight boosts its oxysterol content by upto TEN TIMES!
When we talk about unhealthy fat's, we are talking about saturated fat's and trans fats. According the the American Heart Association, you ideally should not consume any saturated fat's because they provide no health benefits what so ever, but if you must, this needs to be less than 5- 6% of your daily intake. I will come back to this in a second explaining exactly how many tablespoons of ghee does that translate to.
Saturated fats can go settle in the muscles and cause something called liptoxicity. This leads to insulin resistance, direct cause of diabetes, inflammation, autoimmune diseases and allergies. Unlike healthier fats like avocado and nuts, saturated fats have no effects on positive brain health, healthy skin or hair.
Lets breakdown ghee now,
A whooping 62% of ghee is saturated fats! Considering you want to consume less than 5-6% of your daily calories coming in from saturated fats, and assuming you are having no other form of saturated fats including (but not limited to) butter, palm and coconut oil, cheese, meat, eggs etc, you can maybe consume a teaspoon of ghee per day. Though, this is still harmful, according to the AHA, it would be within the daily limit.
But what about all the nutrients in ghee?
You would have to eat about 2 full cups of ghee (enough saturated fats for an entire months worth!) per day to get your daily doze of Vit A. You know what else has Vit A, just half a cup of sweet potato. Potatoes also come without the oxidised cholesterol or saturated fats. Ghee has virtually no mineral or antioxidants.
Trying to get nutrients from ghee is like trying to drink 10 cans of sugar loaded coke everyday to reach your daily potassium goal. You can, but please don't.
Another surprising thing I came across while researching for this article is the use of ghee is Indian health products such as Chavanprash. I was stunned to find the main ingredients used to make chavanprash (this is a very popular brand which shall not be named):
Even someone who is not a nutritionist can say that oil, sugar, honey and ghee together cannot be all that healthy to give a child! Makes me thing, is this not indirectly causing childhood obesity?
But sure ghee has to act as a joint lubricant!
Well if you cut open your body and manually rub your joints with ghee then maybe its good ;) again, please don't. The thing that lubricates our joints is something called synovial fluid. This fluid naturally regresses with age or bad lifestyle habits such as lack of exercise. Foods which increase synovial fluid are mostly anti- oxidant rich food such as berries and green leafy vegetables.
In fact, Sulforaphane, a compound found in certain greens such as cabbage leaves and brocolli has scientifically proven to protect cartilage from destruction. Cabbage leaves wrapped around joint to relieve pain has been proven to show some pain management effect. This form or treatment is literally referred to as a poor man's pain killer.
Ghee has virtually no effects whatsoever in helping lubricate joints. There is no scientific study to correlate any effects of ghee on joints or synovial fluid.
So how do I make my roti's tasty?
Ghee is central to Indian food and Ayurvedic medicine and there is no denying that. I honestly wish I could suggest you an alternative but all alternatives of ghee such as coconut oil are no healthier to ghee. It is like replacing cigarette smoking to smoking hooka. It is still bad and will probably also give you lung cancer.
If you are taking Ayurvedic medicines and the doctors suggest you have the medicine with ghee, ask the reason behind the same. Some vitamins such as A,D,E and K are better absorbed with fats and that could be the logic of having the medicine with a fat source like ghee. Simply replace ghee with a healthier fat source like nuts, seeds etc.
Avoid tempering with ghee and if you are still not comfortable cooking oil- free, use an unsaturated oil such as sunflower or vegetable oil. It is still bad but a much better alternative to ghee.
I have not found any alternative for ghee on roti's and have them plain instead, but if you have an alternative, I would love to hear! Leave a comment below and if I find it sound, I will add it to the blog with credits.
I do hope this article makes you rethink and challenge ideas we have been bought up listening to.
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