GHEE! IT’S GOOD
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Cholesterophobia — exaggerated fear of cholesterol —- is making Indians dump one of the most essential components of their kitchens, the desi ghee. It would do them good if they did some re-thinking before replacing desi ghee with new-age substitutes such as cholesterol-free margarines and unsaturated refined oils.
Ghee is produced by heating butter. Heating evaporates the water in butter. As the temperature increases, the white sediment of milk protein and salt turns brown, thus giving the final product—-ghee—a nutty flavour. Since ghee is derived from milk, it is essentially an animal product and contains a certain amount of saturated fat and cholesterol.
Although saturated fats increase the level of cholesterol in the blood, not all have the same effect. In desi ghee, only a few fatty acids have the cholesterol-raising effect. About 65 per cent of the fat in ghee is saturated and as much as 32 per cent is MUFA (mono-unsaturated fatty acids). MUFA is a highly desirable form of dietary fat, the kind that olive oil is rich in. It is perhaps more desirable than PUFA (poly-unsaturated fatty acids). In this respect, desi ghee scores over many PUFA-rich oils like sunflower, safflower, corn and cottonseed oils, whose MUFA content is poor.
Desi ghee also has an ideal Linoleic/Alpha Linoleic acid ratio (LA/ALA) ratio. This ratio is unusually high in most PUFA oils, which is undesirable. It is now recognized that the consumption of oils with ideal LA/ALNA ratio is crucial for prevention of coronary heart disease. Excessive consumption of PUFA-rich oils may depress HDL cholesterol (the kind that protect the heart) level, thereby increasing the risk of coronary heart disease. Desi ghee, unlike refined oils, is heated to very high temperatures while cooking. This helps it retain its original nutritional properties.
There's no significant difference between the amount of calories ghee has and the caloric proportion in oils. About 90 to 95 per cent of both is fat. An excess of desi ghee like any other fat is clearly undesirable due to its calorie density. This doesn't mean though that desi ghee is harmful for children and adults with high cholesterol and heart disease, if taken in right amounts. Also, no one cooking medium is ideal. So cooking with desi ghee alone is not recommended. A blend with cold pressed/sesame, mustard and olive oil is desirable.