Before I went low FODMAP, I didn’t know much about ghee. I knew it was used a lot in Indian dishes, but that’s about it. When I started researching different foods in depth, I decided it was time to learn more about this common butter alternative. I’d already discovered that butter is low FODMAP, so what about ghee? Turns out there’s actually not much difference between the two.
Ghee is low FODMAP. Though a dairy product, there’s no detectable lactose, or other FODMAPs, in ghee. However, ghee is high in total fat, and especially in saturated fat. If those aren’t dietary concerns for you, ghee can be a good low FODMAP option.
In this post, we’ll look at how ghee is made and how it compares to butter and margarine. Nutritionally, there’s very little difference between ghee and butter. If you have health concerns that prevent you from eating butter, then margarine is a better option for you than ghee.
Is Ghee FODMAP Friendly?
Ghee is FODMAP friendly. Though a dairy product, ghee has no detectable lactose or other FODMAPs. We’ll learn why that is now.
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What is Ghee?
Ghee is butter that’s had water, milk proteins and milk sugars removed. To make ghee, butter is first heated to the point that the proteins and sugars, which are known as milk solids, separate from the milk fat. The high heat required for this also causes water in the butter to evaporate.
During the separation process, the milk solids fall to the bottom of the pan, while the melted fat rises to the top. The milk solids are allowed to simmer until they turn a golden brown. This gives the mix a hearty, nutty flavor. The mix is then cooled, and the melted fat is strained to remove any remaining solids. This melted, cooled butter fat is ghee.1
Because ghee is basically 100% animal fat, it’s solid at room temperature. Unlike butter, then, ghee doesn’t have to be refrigerated. In the grocery store, you can find ghee in the aisle with other shelf stable oils.
Ghee versus Butter
The butter-making process is similar to the ghee-making process, except there’s no heat. Instead, butter is churned to separate the fat from the water and the milk solids. You can learn more about this process in my post on why butter is low FODMAP.
The primary FODMAP in milk is the milk sugar lactose. Lactose, like all FODMAPs, is water-soluble, meaning it dissolves in water. So, when milk is churned to make butter, most of the lactose is left behind in the liquid. As a result, butter has a very small amount of lactose.
The amount of lactose in butter varies a bit by brand, but butter generally contains small enough amounts of lactose to be classified as low FODMAP. Because the heating process used to make ghee causes even greater separation of fat from lactose-containing liquid, the amount of lactose in ghee is non-detectable.
It’s important to note that butter also contains more milk proteins than ghee. As I discuss in this post on FODMAPs in milk, some people react not to lactose but to the milk protein casein. The amount of milk protein in both butter and ghee is very small, but this is something to keep in mind if you’re allergic to dairy.
Nutritionally, there’s not a lot of difference between butter and ghee, though ghee does have a slightly higher fat content. You can see a comparison between the two in the following table.
Nutritional Comparison of Butter and Ghee
|Carbohydrates||.009 grams||0 grams|
|Protein||.121 grams||0 grams|
|Fat||11.5 grams||14.3 grams|
Because ghee and butter have a similar nutritional profile, a common question is whether one is healthier than the other. The truth is, both are high in saturated fat, which can contribute to elevated cholesterol levels and heart disease.5 If these are concerns for you, margarine may be your best bet. If not, the choice of whether to use butter or ghee comes down to your taste preferences.
Ghee versus Clarified Butter
Many people refer to ghee as clarified butter and that’s technically correct: ghee is a type of clarified butter.
As described earlier, ghee is made by heating butter until the milk proteins and sugars separate from the fat. Then, the solids are simmered until they turn brown and give the melted mixture a golden color and nutty flavor.
The process for making clarified butter is the same, except the solids are not simmered. Instead, the fat is skimmed off as soon as the separation process is complete. As a result, clarified butter has a lighter color and flavor than ghee.8
Nutritionally, ghee and clarified butter are the same. The only differences between them are color and flavor.
Ghee versus Margarine
Both ghee and margarine have low lactose content, so can fit within a low FODMAP diet. However, many margarines contain no dairy at all. Instead, they’re made from a mix of plant-based oils. So, margarines typically have little or no saturated fat and many are classified as vegan, since they don’t contain any dairy.
In contrast, while ghee is generally classified lactose-free, it’s still a diary product, one consisting almost entirely of dairy fat. So, while ghee is suitable for a low FODMAP diet, it’s not vegan. It also has high amounts of saturated fat, so it’s not suitable for people with high cholesterol or heart issues.
The bottom line is that if you have health problems that require you to monitor your fat intake, margarine will be a much better low FODMAP option than ghee.
Conclusion: Ghee is Low FODMAP
Ghee contains no detectable FODMAPs and fits within a low FODMAP diet. However, despite being lactose-free, ghee is still a dairy product. It’s also higher in saturated fat than alternatives like butter and margarine. So, if you’re a low FODMAPer who also follows a low-fat or vegan diet, ghee isn’t a good option for you.
Nutritionally, there’s not much difference between butter and ghee. Ghee has stronger flavor and a greater heat tolerance than butter, so is most often recommended for frying or sauteing.9
Butter, on the other hand, is usually recommended for baking. Its flavor is less intense, and because it has slightly more lactose, butter is sweeter than ghee. So, butter is a better option for things like cookies and muffins.
Butter versus ghee as a topping is really a matter of preference. Just keep in mind that these are both high calorie, high fat foods before you slather them onto your morning toast or dinner time mashed potatoes.
Have you tried ghee? How is it working for you? I haven’t tried it yet and am curious. Let me know your experiences in the comments.
Posts Related to “Is Ghee Low FODMAP?”
Ghee is often used interchangeably with butter and there’s not much nutritional difference between them. You can compare butter, ghee and margarine in my post on FODMAPs in butter.
Because it’s considered lactose-free, people often mistakenly think ghee is vegan. But, ghee is a dairy product derived from milk. You can read more about milk, including lactose-free milk, in this post.
About the Author
Amanda Coleman, PhD, studies food culture and teaches a popular Food and Society course. Years of digestive problems led her to live low FODMAP. Now she uses her research and analysis skills to help others understand FODMAP essentials, so they can lead better, healthier lives.