Used traditionally in Indian food, ghee is derived from butter. Whereas butter contains butterfat, milk solids and water, ghee is pure butterfat cooked longer, until all moisture is removed and the milk solids are caramelized and then filtered out. While butter is not necessarily bad for you, ghee has health benefits that make it healthier than butter.
Butter May Increase Unhealthy Cholesterol Levels
In the 1990s, researchers found that in a controlled setting, butter leads to a rise in low-density lipoprotein, the unhealthy type of cholesterol. A 1993 study published in the "Journal of Lipid Research" found that men who ate butter had a 5 percent increase in LDL levels. A more recent study, published in the "European Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in 2005, found that when women consumed 40 grams of dairy fat in the form of butter, compared to dairy fat in the form of cheese, they experienced an increase in LDL cholesterol. These studies suggest that butter shouldn't be consumed heavily due to its effect on your cholesterol levels.
Ghee May Decrease Unhealthy Cholesterol Levels
On the other hand, ghee has been found to lower LDL cholesterol levels when eaten frequently. According to an article published in "Ayu" in 2010, studies on both animals and humans have shown that regular consumption of ghee lowers levels of unhealthy cholesterol -- that is, LDL and very-low-density lipoprotein, as well as triglycerides. In a study published in the "Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry" in 2000, rats were given 2.5 percent of their weight of ghee daily. After eight weeks, their serum cholesterol levels were reduced, and the scientists concluded that ghee affects cholesterol metabolism.
Ghee Promotes Heart Health
The article published in "Ayu" in 2010 mentioned a study in India that showed human populations who consumed more ghee had fewer cases of heart disease. A study published in "Lipids in Health and Disease" in 2013 may have shed some light on this pattern when it found that ghee helps protect the arteries from hardening. Rats were administered ghee for 35 days, which on average resulted in a 52 percent decrease in their total cholesterol levels and a 23 percent decrease in triglyceride levels. Meanwhile, their levels of high-density lipoprotein, the "good" cholesterol that helps prevent heart disease, jumped by 18 percent. The scientists concluded that ghee's ability to remove unwanted cholesterol from the arteries makes it useful in preventing heart disease.
Still, Butter Is Not So Bad
Keep in mind that cholesterol levels are not influenced only by things people eat, like butter. Not smoking and exercising regularly can help you maintain balanced cholesterol levels. In fact, according to a study published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in 2010, there is no convincing evidence that saturated fat is directly linked to an increased risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that saturated fats, such as those found in butter, should comprise of no more than 7 percent of your daily caloric intake to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. This means you don't need to cut out butter completely. Instead, watch your intake and eat it in moderation.