Since eating fat is no longer taboo and “bad for your health,” many new options for healthy fat sources have been popping onto the market. Ghee is one of these types of fats, relatively new to the American diet, but it has been used for thousands of years as a preferred cooking oil in India. It is also known for its therapeutic benefits and healing properties in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. Americans were raised on butter. So, with the two similar options, who wins in the ghee vs butter debate?
Ghee is basically clarified butter made by heating and pressing butter to remove any milk solids and water. This process brings out a nutty, rich flavor and increases its smoke point. This means it can be heated to a higher temperature before smoking. Although ghee comes from butter, it possesses several of its own health benefits. Most notably, it’s lactose and casein free and usually tolerated by people sensitive to dairy. This may make it a better cooking option for people with dietary restrictions. So let’s take a look at some other main differences between these two fat sources.
Ghee vs Butter Nutrition Facts
In terms of nutrition content, ghee and butter aren’t all that different (1, 2):
Butter- 1 tablespoon
Saturated fat: 7g
Contains vitamins A, E, and K.
Contains lactose and casein.
Ghee- 1 tablespoon
Saturated fat: 8g
Contains vitamins A, E, and K.
No lactose and casein.
As you can see in terms of calorie, fat, and vitamin content these two fat sources are not all that different. But, the fat profile of each does vary a bit. Butter is higher in a fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), shown to have several health benefits including lowering inflammation and reducing risk of cancer (3). CLA has also been found to help promote weight loss, making butter a good fat choice for those trying to use the keto diet to lose weight. Don’t get us wrong, ghee is also a good source of CLA, but butter has more of this beneficial fat, particularly if the butter comes from a grass-fed source.
Ghee, on the other hand, wins out for certain diets because it lacks lactose and casein. People sensitive to dairy do better with ghee. The lactose and casein are removed though heating and straining of the butter during the clarification process. Ghee is usually preferred as a cooking fat over butter for those following a paleo diet, which eliminates lactose and casein containing dairy products.
In terms of health benefits of ghee vs butter, there are benefits from adding either to your diet. It just depends on your goals and food sensitivities.
Health Benefits of Ghee vs Butter
Which is healthiest? Ghee or butter? It depends which health aspects we look at. Let’s dive into some research.
Ghee May Protect Your Heart
Since ghee is such a popular cooking oil in India, it has been wrongly blamed for being the cause of high rates of heart disease in that country. But, several studies have shown it is probably not the culprit.
A small 2010 study set to evaluate the effect of ghee on cholesterol, triglycerides, and other markers of heart disease on a rural population in India. This study found a lower prevalence of heart disease risk factors in those subjects that consumed the most amounts of ghee. Researchers also saw similar results with people who were given ghee supplements over a period of time, there was no change in heart disease risk factors at all (4).
So, what’s going in in India? Much of the Indian population has started to move away from the traditional ghee, made from grass-fed butter, to use a cheaper oil called vanaspati, made from plants that is 40% trans fats. Trans fats are well-known to increase inflammation and risk for heart disease, so this cheaper oil may be partially to blame.
At this time the effect of butter intake on heart disease markers remains unclear; results of studies are mixed. A 2012 review found little connection between dairy fat intake and risk of heart attacks. But, other studies did find that butter intake raised LDL (bad) cholesterol, but also raised HDL (good) cholesterol. When both types of cholesterol go up at the same time, the ratio between them remains the same, and therefore heart disease risk does not increase (5). Based on this research, although we can’t say that butter lowers the risk of heart disease, it also doesn’t seem to increase risk either
2. Ghee and Butter Improve Digestion
Both ghee and butter contain butyrate, a type of fat normally produced by the bacteria in our gut. This fat helps provide energy for the cells of the digestive system. It also maintains gut integrity (preventing leaky gut), and helps reduce inflammation (6). It may also help relieve pain associated with constipation and regulate digestion (7). Either of these fats provide butyrate, but we recommend choosing ghee if you are sensitive to the effects of dairy. The elimination of the casein and lactose from the ghee makes it even less inflammatory to the gut, great for people trying to heal digestive problems.
3. Butter May Help with Weight Loss
Butter is slightly higher in CLA, a type of fat been shown to promote weight loss by helping break down fat cells. A 2012 study gave 63 overweight subjects CLA or a placebo over 12-weeks. Overall body weight, body mass index, fat percentage, and waist-to-hip ratio decreased in the CLA group, compared to those without the CLA (8).
Although promising, the study is quite small. You may be thinking, yeah right, butter helps weight loss? We must proceed with caution with these types of recommendations. We never suggest you “eat more butter to lose more weight.” Butter is high in calories, bottom line. So, if you start slathering everything in butter, you might gain weight. But, if you substitute other oils without CLA for butter, it could benefit your overall weight loss.
4. Ghee May Strengthen Bones
You may be familiar with the bone-strengthening nutrients vitamin D or calcium, but those aren’t the only ones that help maintain strong bones. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, found in ghee, essential to healthy bones. Vitamin K assists in making a specific protein required to keep calcium inside the bones. Low vitamin K intakes associate with lower bone mass and increase risk of fractures (9). Butter also provides some vitamin K. Ghee contains about twice the amount of butter, making it a better choice for bone health.
What About the Flavor?
Which fat wins the ghee vs. butter show-down? Both have some great health benefits, so it seems to depend on your personal goals.
At the end of the day, with any food, it is about taste, right? Ghee does have a stronger flavor than butter. The taste is nuttier and deeper. Since it has a stronger flavor, use a bit less in cooking to get the same buttery taste.
Which fat should you use to make dinner tonight? The type of fat you choose in the end likely depends on your nutrition goals, food sensitivities, and what you are cooking. If you are sensitive to dairy, but miss that buttery flavor of real butter, ghee is a great choice. But, proceed with caution, depending on how sensitive you are to dairy, you may still react to ghee in large quantities. If that is the case, add it into your diet a little at a time and proceed with caution.
If you are trying to lose weight, particularly on a keto diet a little bit of butter with all that beneficial CLA may give you a little extra weight loss boost. But, as we mentioned, slathering any fat on all your food won’t promote weight loss.
Where to Find It
If you are ready to start using ghee in your diet, it is now widely available in most grocery and health food stores. You can usually find it in the ethnic foods section. Try making ghee at home with our recipe. Just be sure to use grass-fed butter for the greatest health benefits. Choose ghee for cooking if you are planning on heating something to a high temperature, such as frying. Use it in the exact same way you would use any other cooking oil to benefit from that deep, rich flavor. If the taste matters more, let’s say to spruce up some vegetables, then choose butter for that familiar flavor. In the end, butter and ghee both have some health benefits, so why not use them both?