When it comes to baking, few ingredients make cookies as ooey-gooey soft as butter. But ghee fans know that’s not your only option.
Back up… what is ghee, you ask? It’s a form of clarified butter (butter that’s simmered at a low boil so the water content and milk solids evaporate), used in Indian cooking for centuries. And, most recently, it’s gotten a rep as a healthier fat option than its buttery counterpart.
If you’ve been conflating the two, it’s totally understandable. “I think people who are trying to be healthier, and feel that butter is unhealthy, will switch to something like ghee because it seems more natural,” says registered dietician Bonnie Taub-Dix, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and Read It Before You Eat It.
But are those assumptions true, or is ghee just another unsubstantiated wellness trend? Who wins the butter vs. ghee debate?
What’s the deal with butter?
Unless you’re keto, butter probably isn’t a priority ingredient in your diet, and for good reason: One teaspoon contains 20 percent of your recommended daily value of saturated fat, and if you’re anything like me, you need far more than a teaspoon to cover the surface area of a freshly baked roll.
But here’s the thing about butter and saturated fat: Once upon a time, the medical science community believed that full-fat sources of dairy would send people to an early grave if consumed in excess. While scientists continue to draw links between high saturated fat consumption and heart disease, popular high-fat food trends (like Bulletproof coffee) have changed the conversation.
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“Saturated fat used to be public-health enemy number one,” Dr David Ludwig, professor of nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, previously told Women’s Health. “But it’s neither that nor exactly a health food. It’s kind of a neutral.”
So while, yes, it’s probably smart to consume butter in moderation — you don’t need to be terrified of the spread.
Here are butter’s nutritional properties for one teaspoon:
Saturated fat: 2.5g
Vitamin A: 125IU
What’s the deal with ghee?
Given that ghee plays a role in many Ayurvedic therapies like massage, rash and burn treatments, many people automatically assume it must be a superfood (I wish). But, like butter, 100 percent of ghee’s calories come from fat. It’s made of 99 to 99.5 percent pure butter oil, so most of its dairy has been removed.
Even so, it is not vegan. I repeat, it is not vegan. It still may contain trace amounts of casein and lactose, which might also cause sensitivity in certain individuals with a dairy or lactose intolerance, according to Taub-Dix. But if you do have a severe allergy, you’re better off sticking to an ingredient like coconut or avocado oil.
As far as nutrients go, ghee offers vitamin A and E (as does butter, FYI), plus it contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may protect against colorectal and breast cancers. It also contains butyrate, a fatty acid that may aid digestion.
But, like butter, ghee has a high level of saturated fat, and is often attributed as one of the causes behind India’s growing rates of coronary artery disease, as one study from the Journal of Research in Ayurveda posits.
So, we’re back to square one. It’s both not great and also not bad for you. Don’t worry, I’m frustrated, too.
Here are ghee’s nutritional properties for one teaspoon:
Saturated fat: 3g
Vitamin A: 200IU
Which is healthier?
Ghee might sound cool and trendy, but that doesn’t make it necessarily healthier than butter, explains Taub-Dix. There’s really not a substantial difference in calories and fat, so if that’s a consideration, these two are on an equal playing field.
The one category where ghee does reign supreme is smoke point. If you like to cook at high heat, you might want to opt for ghee since it won’t burn as quickly, she says, adding that butter can smoke and burn at 177°C, but ghee can withstand heat up to 252°C.
Ultimately, the choice you make largely depends on your needs and lifestyle. For example, Taub-Dix says if you’re kosher, or avoid dairy, ghee is not necessarily the way to go since it’s not dairy-free (contrary to popular belief). If you’re lactose intolerant, ghee might be a better choice, since its milk solids are removed during processing. If allergy is the consideration, however, neither ghee nor butter are safe for consumption.
Although, even without a dietary restriction, Taub-Dix doesn’t suggest opting for either ingredient regularly. “I’d choose avocado oil or olive oil for cooking, and maybe a little butter or ghee for flavour,” she says.
Still, while butter and ghee are indeed calorie-dense foods, a little does go a long way in making virtually any dish taste a lot more satisfying. This way, you’ll feel satiated with less food, and eventually take in fewer calories (if that’s your goal).
Okay, I’ve made my choice between butter vs ghee.
My choice is neither. And both. Because they are essentially derived from the same product, they’re so similar in nutritional value that it really comes down to your dietary preferences and restrictions.
If you’re thinking of treating yourself to either of them, Taub-Dix says that can be used interchangeably in cooking.
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