The eponymous New York City eatery aside, butter has long been a turnoff to health-conscious foodies. For decades, they've read the reports, sniggered at the BMI of Paula Deen fans, and resigned themselves to vegan substitutes. Now the medical community is doing an about-face: Turns out, butter has saturated fats found to be health-promoting.
Which is why you should try ghee. A staple of Ayurvedic medicine and Indian cuisine, ghee is made by heating butter until the milk solids are separated and then removed, meaning it's not dairy, just fat—mostly saturated—which is essential to brain health, muscle recovery, and immunity. That fact has paleo and elimination dieters buzzing about ghee (it was recently added to both plans' approved-edibles lists).
"All commercial kitchens use it," says chef Carrie Nahabedian of Michelin-starred Naha in Chicago. It's ideal for cooking at high heat (less prone than olive oil to go rancid when crisping or frying). And, with a rich, nutty flavor, it's delicious on everything from lobster to Brussels sprouts.
Yet some experts suggest moderation until there's more science.
"I've not found any clear indication that ghee has health or medicinal benefits," says Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center. "There's a lot of folklore." While Western research is limited, studies including one in the journal ARYA Atherosclerosis have shown ghee has positive effects on cholesterol and fatty lipids in the blood.
"Ghee offers the benefits of a high-fat dairy product without the downsides," says Melissa Hartwig, a certified sports nutritionist and best-selling author of "It Starts With Food." Among the pros: aided digestion, detoxification, and weight loss. "It's not a hippie, far-out-there thing," Hartwig adds. "It's taking a healthy food and making it better."
How You'll Look
It may seem like a paradox, but eating fat is crucial to shedding it. "A majority of Westerners have a sluggish digestive system and gallbladder function," says John Douillard, M.D., an Ayurvedic physician and an instructor at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. "That means we've lost our ability to be good fat-burners." Ghee ignites the gallbladder. To slim down, drink two ounces of liquefied ghee in the morning three days once a quarter, as part of an "oleation." The technique lubricates the body with oil, which attracts fats and removes toxins that make fat cells hard to eliminate, according to Douillard. For men looking to bulk up, ghee helps by fueling the rebuilding of muscles. Try up to a teaspoon with each meal.
How You'll Feel
Ghee allows you to ingest milk-derived products while bypassing dairy-related inflammation, which can lead to disease and high cholesterol. The bacteria in our intestines already make butyric acid (the primary fatty acid in ghee), and supplementing means more of a good thing. "It ups immunity, kills bad bacteria, and speeds the performance of good microbes," Douillard says. Plus, your body will absorb ghee's vitamins (A, D, E, K), omegas (3, 9), and antiaging antioxidants and even be sexually stimulated—ghee can boost libido. Says Hartwig: "A healthy amount of dietary fat optimizes sex-hormone balance."
Where to Get Ghee
Organic ghee is in most health-food stores, savvy local grocers, and Whole Foods and Trader Joe's and is available online at pureindianfood.com. Or make your own: Simmer unsalted organic butter until browned milk solids settle to the bottom of the pan, about 15 minutes, then strain.