Thursday, October 23, 2014

Is Ghee a friend or Enemy

Ghee the mouth watering food condiment filled with great aroma that gives great taste to the food needs no introduction for Indians. Ghee is a class of clarified butter originated in India and is commonly used in the sub-continental cuisine of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

I intentionally chose the occasion of Diwali to throw some light on Ghee through my blog as ghee is one of the widely used ingredients in Indian dishes and desserts during Diwali. Ever since my childhood I learned from my parents, grandparents and other elders within and outside the family that Ghee is good for health and gives immense strength and stamina. In fact my father often used to say, if you don’t eat ghee how will you gain strength? There is no doubt that he learned from his father and his father from his and so on. If I am not wrong many of you might have experienced this personally.

Moreover Ghee is used as one of the main ingredients in some of the Ayurvedic medicines in India and other indigenous medical traditions of Sri Lanka and Nepal. Ayurveda considers ghee as Satvik (pure) food. Cow ghee is used preferentially for the diseases caused by pitta dosha. Further it is considered as a food that promotes intellect and vitality. It is also used for constipation and ulcers.

Our elders, even today consider ghee as a health tonic. I grew up with this notion all these years till one day when I came across Dr. Mantena Satyanarayana Raju’s “rogalu rani ruchulu” (tastes that don’t invite diseases) program on TV. In that he named Ghee as one of the seven harmful tastes that lead to diseases and gave a call to stop consuming it completely. He clearly explained in detail how the consumption of ghee leads to some of the deadliest disease and disorders.

My first reaction to that was, “oh man! He is now exaggerating things.” When someone comes up with an idea against what you believe to be true; without thinking it for another moment you write off calling it a crap. I too reacted that way condemning Dr. Raju for what he said. It bounds to happen; because when you are conditioned to a certain point of view or a specific practice and someone says against it you cannot accept. One great thing happened to me after that. Though I believed Ghee is healthy but never tried to know what makes it healthy.

Now let me put briefly the point of view of Dr. Raju before analyzing it further. According to him, Ghee is more harmful than it is useful. It takes a longer time to digest ghee items. Your hunger reduces if you eat items made of ghee. So if you don’t work, what little hunger you have also is affected by eating sweets made of ghee. Pure ghee gives a good taste to the food items and it increases your desire for food, but that desire only leads to diseases.

The vitamin ‘E’ in ghee is also available in unpolished rice and sprouts. So you will not miss anything by foregoing ghee. In fact you are only giving up fat. You try to eat a salt less curry with ghee. It takes one hour longer to digest it. You also feel very thirsty. The food that doesn’t make you feel thirsty is good for health.

Today it is rare to find a very hale and healthy person. Everybody has some problem or the other. Doctors say excess consumption of ghee leads to obesity, cholesterol, hypertension, Liver and other Cardiac ailments. If you already suffer from one or more of these conditions, or have been told that you are at risk of developing any of them, then it will be advisable to completely abstain from Ghee. But Dr. Raju’s mantra is very simple. Why to apply medicine after burning the hand? Why not we preserve our hand from burning? Prevention is always better than cure. In the first place why to eat something that leads to disease and again take the treatment? Is it not better if we keep such things away? So the first step we can do is to give up all those that can cause harm to the body. So let’s give up ghee in our daily food.

Now the question arises. Is ghee really an enemy to our health? You can’t believe that as an enemy just because Dr. Raju has said. I will not do that at least. Being a yoga practitioner I would like to learn and experience from both ends before I develop a belief. It is easy to gather information from people and books but that is not going to help unless you put them in practice and experience yourself. I very well understand and know that Dr. Raju has personally practiced and experienced all the facts he mentioned about the harms associated with Ghee but I can’t even neglect the experiences of my parents, grandparents and all others who speak in favor of ghee. Before sharing my experiences and understanding I would like to list out the nutrition facts of Ghee.

Nutrition Analysis of Ghee:

Fats and Fatty Acids
Amounts per 100 gms of Ghee
Total Fat
99.50 gms (153% of DV)
Saturated Fat
61.90 gms (310% of DV)
Mono Unsaturated Fat
28.70 gms
Poly Unsaturated Fat
3.70 gms
Trans Fat
4 gms
Omega-3 fatty acids
1447 mg
Omega-6 fatty acids
2247 mg
Other Non-fat nutrients
Amounts per 100 gms of Ghee
256 mgs (85% of DV)
Vitamin A
3069 IU (61% of DV)
Vitamin B, C, D
Vitamin E
2.8 mgs (14% of DV)
Vitamin K
8.6 mcg (11% of DV)
Note: Fat percentages can vary.

Units: ug = micro grams, mg = milligrams, IU=international units, DV= Daily Value.

I came across some interesting facts over internet on Ghee by Ms Pallavi Srivastava, Nutritionist at Evolve Medspa who explains the difference in the types of ghee. She breaks down the barriers around pure ghee and says "Cow's ghee is full of nutritive qualities. Pure ghee contains only those fatty acids or saturated fats that are primarily (89%) short chain fatty acids. It is the longer chain fatty acids that are associated with blood clotting and thrombosis."

She goes on to explain how pure ghee is healthier than vegetable ghee, "Short chains are not only easier to digest, but help hormone production and strengthen cell membranes. Ghee's short chain fatty acids are also metabolized very readily by the body. Lab studies have shown pure ghee to reduce cholesterol both in the serum and intestine. This is done by increasing the secretion of biliary lipids."

This happened to be the explanation of an expert citing the health benefits of ghee. Now let us try to assess the claims of our parents and ancestors who are either illiterate or less educated. To understand this you need to travel sometime back to the past. All the sub-continental nations named above are agriculture based nations with lack of resources, development and infrastructure. People then used to work really hard from dawn to dusk to earn their livelihood. They had no modern infrastructure and luxurious facilities as we have today.  A yogi from US once told me that he is really astonished to see how Indian and Nepalese people lead their life with their limited resources. And he told this two year ago. You can imagine how would be the situation of India and some of these sub-continental nations during the time of our parents and grandparents.

People in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka pay great regards and respect to the food. They pray annapoorna (the goddess of food) that you find in no other tradition. With this you can understand how hard it would be to earn food. Because when you get things easily and abundantly nobody cares to pray. Ghee was considered not only nutritious but also sacred because it works as a health tonic for their daily hard work. As ghee is rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids it keeps them strong and healthy. It not only keeps you strong and healthy but makes the food tasty. The aroma and flavor of ghee makes any food delicious. You can eat food with one tea spoon of ghee even in the absence of vegetable curries. Such is the specialty of ghee. The doctors during those days also considered ghee as a healthy food and would recommend ghee for children, pregnant ladies and old people to gain strength. Ghee always remained an expensive food condiment even in the past but it always been liked and purchased by all whether rich or poor. Gradually it gained popularity among all class of people and become a vital ingredient in festivals of India, Nepal and other countries. My father still loves to eat ghee and is very healthy without any lifestyle disorders like hypertension, diabetes etc which normally people own in their mid 70s. He has no regulations or restrictions with regards to his food. His energy levels still surprise me as he is most active than most of us (me and my brothers). I have been seeing him all my life. I had never seen him lazy and idle all his life; he keeps on doing something or the other even at this age. I guess it must be the same with many of your parents as well.

In that case, why people like Dr. Raju is so against that wonderful health tonic called ghee? For the last one year I had been doing some work on ghee. I have seen many fellow yogis consuming ghee for strength especially the cow ghee but I never tried before. Last year I decided to give it a try to know the facts. Within 6 months of its consumption I experienced astonishing changes in my body. It actually gave me an opportunity to learn both sides of ghee.

I began to consume 1 tbs of ghee along with a glass of cow milk a day in the form of breakfast. It took me no time to understand the increase in stamina and strength levels of my body. I was really happy with the result as I never felt that strong before. 3 Months later, I realized to gain some weight. I put on 3-4 kilos of weight during that time. Though I was little concerned about weight gain, I continued serving milk and ghee as usual because I was experiencing the rise in my stamina and strength. 6 months later I put on another 4-5 kilos of weight. Now fat began to garner around my belle and waist line. I might have gained around 10-14 kilos of weight during the period of six months. Then I gave a thought on my situation. Okay, I have gain strength and stamina but at what cost? If I continue this way for another year or so I would definitely become obese like before and might also lead to some other diseases associated with obesity. If you are following my blogs for some time now you would have known how I reduced my weight following Dr. Raju’s Natural way of Living in the past and I did not want to go back to that stage. Therefore I stopped consuming ghee then on. Believe me once you gain weight back, it is very difficult to lose. My case was no different. I tried to lose weight back following the same old path of Dr. Raju but I experienced certain difficulties in doing so. I did lose the weight but I began to feel weak and feeble. Since I have experienced what it means to be really strong I decided to maintain my weight around 84. Dr. Raju might consider these 8 kilos more than my BMI. And he may be true as well but there is a world of difference when I was 84 before and now. 

Now you might be wondering what I consider ghee now – a friend or enemy? My personal experience says that ghee is off course a friend but can turn into enemy if you pay no attention. Mark my words – if paid no attention; that means if you don’t consume it with total awareness, it might harm you. Let us try to understand why the health tonic for our ancestors is now proving venom. Why the modern doctors are now raising alarm over the usage of ghee while the same doctors recommended in the past. 

It is incorrect to put the whole blame on the ghee. It is the man who is making the mistake and blaming the food. Every food has its own characteristic and quality. One has to understand and use according to the requirement of the body. In olden days, people used to really exert their physical body as part of their work. Majority of people then were poor and were not in a position to buy ghee and consume everyday and therefore they used to consume occasionally during festivals or when they have problems like constipation etc. Basically ghee was used in sweets and special recipes only during festivals and special occasions but not every day as it requires lot of effort and time. Now things have changed. Standard of living of people increased, most people can afford to buy ghee now, the physical work is now replaced by machines, the number of festivals have increased (must be over 100 festivals) in India now. Moreover one doesn’t need to make or to wait till the festival comes to eat the sweets and desserts as hundreds of outlets are readily available in every nook and corner to deliver them at your doorsteps.

The problem is not ghee. It is us; you and me who are eating food without being aware. You try to learn everything that is going on in the world. Can’t you pay attention to what is going into your mouth and stomach? If you try to learn what is that you are eating before every gulp, you ever remain healthy. Are we really taking the nutrients that are required to the body or we are just dumping a junk into it? Think before you eat. 

According to Nutritionist, Pallavi Srivastava, “be it a ghee or oil, the quantity of fat consumption per day should be limited to 10-15 grams per person assuming that the person in not obese. 1 gm of oil or ghee provides 9 to 10 calories. When ghee is consumed at levels above 10% total calories, it can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. At levels under 10% of total calories, however, ghee appears to help lower cardiovascular risks, especially when other fats consumed during the day are exclusively from plants. She further added that if you cook in ghee every day, you are allotting a large portion of your daily calorie intake to pure saturated fat. Even though this might be a 'healthy' saturated fat, it is still crossing your daily recommended allowance by being present in every meal or snack. Therefore, a good recourse would be to either limit it or limit other fats to meet the daily recommended intake, or simply switch to lighter calorie fats.

Ghee does have multiple benefits, but the catch is to consume it in moderation. Preferably one teaspoon of melted ghee, twice a day will do the job. People with high cholesterol levels are advised not to consume ghee of excess 10% of their total caloric intake."

It comes back to the question of portion control. However, the problem with ghee consumption is not one of health benefits or lack thereof; the problem is its presence in nearly everything consumed. From vegetables to curries, dals, snacks, etc, the use of ghee in such a rampant manner is not healthy. 

Within the previously mentioned guidelines of portion control, pure ghee may be beneficial to your health. Again, this comes with a condition: If you are diabetic, pre-diabetic, have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or any other cardiovascular ailments, then you need to consult a medical professional before consuming any ghee at all.”

Taking the busy lifestyle and work schedule of people today into consideration, it is very difficult to think and maintain the calorie parameters mentioned by Dr. Pallavi. It is therefore Dr. Raju simply listed ghee in the list of seven harmful tastes. Instead of doing a friendship with a friend who is going to create trouble anytime, it is better to keep him away.

If you want to consume it do it consciously balancing the daily nutrients required for the body and if you think who cares to know what you are eating then you must ignore it. Moderate the consumption of ghee consciously if you want to lead a healthy life but remember, the moment you become unconscious; it is harmful to your health. By the time you realize you are already in the danger zone. Therefore making friendship with ghee is always like walking on the edge. You will be fine as long as you are totally focused and concentrated. The moment you lose your concentration, you will fall. There is no harm if you ignore and don’t consume ghee at all. You can supplement its nutrients from other foods that are less or not harmful at all. I know sweets are the weakness of many Indians and sweets without ghee is neither tasty nor healthy. Eat them but moderately. Diwali is the festival of light and sweets. Enjoy this Diwali moderating the consumption of sweets so that you can celebrate more Diwalis in future. My understanding is that one should not suppress their desires as it tends to bounce back. We have been used to these habits for a very long time and it is not easy to drop them suddenly. Therefore conscious eating reducing the quantity over a period of time will cease the desires and help your cause. So take this Diwali as your first action of conscious movement towards good health and healthy living.
I hope you like this update. Pass on your comments hereunder and keep watching the space for more updates.


  1. Does it ok to add 1/4 tea spoon of ghee to kids lunch daily? no other ghee foods, just 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon?

    1. Off course you can serve it. But keep the below mentioned parameters in mind and be careful with it.

      The fat acceptable macronutrient distribution range for children ages 4 and up is 25 to 35 percent of their total calories. Depending on level of activity and gender, children ages 4 to 8 need 1,200 to 2,000 calories; kids ages 9 to 13 require 1,400 to 2,600 calories; and teens ages 14 to 18 need 1,800 to 3,200 calories each day. Based on these calorie guidelines, children ages 4 to 8 need 33 to 78 grams of fat daily; kids ages 9 to 13 require 39 to 101 grams of fat daily; and teens ages 14 to 18 require 50 to 125 grams of fat daily. Individualized fat requirements for your child vary by age, gender and specific calorie needs.

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