Food for Divinity

In India, ghee isn’t just used to make food, we use it for ritual, worship, and even offer it to God. Nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar calls it the king of superfoods.

In India’s panchamrit (the five nectars of life), milk and milk products dominate ⁠— and of these, ghee is the king. What makes it so special? Four little words that spell a miracle ⁠— short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which are the world’s top-performing fats. Along with the usual functions of fat, they promote fat burning from stubborn fat areas of the body, healthy bacteria in the gut, the health of your heart and even buddhi (the brain’s ability to discriminate). But isn’t ghee super unhealthy? The fat that we should be using as little as possible?

If buddhi worked, you would be able to ask yourself (because arguments with others are a waste of time and you waste your time when you don’t question yourself) ⁠— why is it that I eat a Marie biscuit without fear of a heart attack and avoid ghee on my dal-bhaat or roti out of fear of a heart attack? Why do I accept the long-chain fatty acids in the biscuits that can oxidise my tissues, accelerate ageing and ruin my nutrient to calorie ratio with ease? Is it because they are low calorie or because my dietician/doctor approved of it? Why did I ignore what my grandma told me: “beta ghee khao.” Did she care less about me than my doctor who had to look at my chart to know my name?

Hasn’t her wisdom stood the test of time, unlike medical advice, which changes its messages every year? After all, didn’t the USFDA admit in 2015 that there is no reason to avoid fat in one’s diet and that there’s no link between cholesterol and heart disease — something they had strongly maintained since the 1970s.

The GI Joe

The addition of ghee to your meals reduces the glycaemic index of food. Now I know you went off ghee the minute you were declared diabetic but this is based on reduction of calories without caring where these calories come from and how they affect your blood sugar levels. PCOD, diabetes and obesity arise out of insulin-resistance and one way of improving this is to eat meals that have a low glycaemic index.

The reason why there are such combos as dal-chawal-ghee, roti-shakkar-ghee, puran-poli-ghee, modak-ghee, etc., in Indian culture is that ghee reduces the glycaemic index of these meals. The addition of any fat to food reduces its glycaemic index and ghee is brilliant in this regard. The magic of ghee isn’t just that it’s the world’s most high-functioning fat, it’s also a wonderful partner to other foods complementing them to work better and harder for us.

Ghee regulates blood sugars and that reduces the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. This ensures that there is a slow, steady rise in blood sugars and better energy levels throughout the day. Feel that afternoon slump? Add ghee to your lunch. Ghee won’t just help combat diabetes and obesity but it will prevent heart diseases too.

Deep-frying in ghee also comes from the same wisdom. Making shankar pala, suhali, mathri or even luchis that use fibre-less maida? How do I enjoy these delicacies without disturbing my blood sugars? Simply deep-fry them in the best available fatty acid — ghee. The slow, steady climb in the blood sugar makes it easy for the body to effectively assimilate the herbs and spices that these meals contain. Also, as a cooking medium, ghee has among the highest smoke points (measure of how quickly a fat oxidises or goes bad, when heated).

The Ghee, Pregnancy and Vitamin D Connection

Every pregnant woman was traditionally given ghee right from the first period she missed to the period she got post-pregnancy, and all was well in the world then. Not many women developed hypothyroidism just because they had delivered a baby. They had the support of the most unique fatty acid made in the sophisticated lab of their own mommies — the kitchen. And then this SCFA helped them get pregnant, keep calm during pregnancy, deliver smoothly and lose all the weight at the delivery table. Now I can give you some solid thermodynamic principles about how this happens and sound very intelligent, but since I am not, I will just tell you some school-level biology and what we studied about fat-soluble vitamins.

The thyroid is a gland has to work overtime during pregnancy because it’s your T3 (one of the thyroid hormones) that takes an active part in and supports the optimum growth of the foetus. Lactation is another biological burden that your thyroid has to bear. If you cut down ghee, you are not getting these magical SCFA, and because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, you are not assimilating enough of that either. You have made a choice to get pregnant, but the choice of not eating ghee is coming out of your fear of getting fat. And fear only comes out of avidya, the opposite of knowledge.

The Ghee, Gut and Brain Connection

It’s not just the lack of strength but also the lack of probiotic bacteria that’s giving you that tyre which squeezes up from the top of your jeans. It also gives you unpredictable motions, sometimes mornings, sometimes evenings, sometimes nothing, sometimes running, sometimes constipated. Especially if you are a resident of Mumbai, Delhi, Bengalore or Chennai.

Sorry guys, if I am not being sarcastic, I have to be gross. And while I am at it, let me tell you that the biggest problem of fad diets is not that they don’t work. Instead, they ruin the diversity and strength of your gut bacteria. I have been privy to too many burps and farts of absolutely stunning women who could have seen exactly how beautiful they look if only they had not opted for crash dieting, exotic health spas or procedures under the knife in their efforts to get pretty. That’s because there is such a thing as ‘gut bacteria and the brain axis’, and when the strength and diversity of the good bacteria diminish so does the brain’s ability to function optimally or be reasonable.

People who are always on some diet or the other have gut bacteria that resemble long-stay hospital patients. It makes their sensory organs function at below optimum. Ghee, the way it is made at home, is not just good for maintaining the diversity and strength of the gut bacteria and spine but also makes for a potent fat-loss aid. The SCFA in ghee is now recognised as a prebiotic, something which creates an environment conducive for the gut-friendly bacteria to prosper. That’s also what makes it a great anti-allergen.

Eat ghee. According to Ayurveda, it nourishes the tissues of the brain, has a fatty acid composition that crosses the blood-brain barrier and ensures that you forget only what is not worth remembering.

Ghee Fact vs. Fiction

Fiction Fact
Ghee is fattening. Ghee is lipolytic — it breaks down fat and this is due to its SCFA structure.
Ghee is a saturated fat. It’s a saturated fat, yes, but a unique one. It not just burns preferentially as fuel inside your body but actually helps mobilise fats from stubborn fat areas. Not like the unhealthy fats you find in cakes, pizzas, etc.
Ghee will increase cholesterol. Ghee reduces cholesterol by increasing the contribution of lipids to metabolism. The liver produces excess cholesterol under stress. Ghee helps you de-stress, sleep better, and wake up fresher.
Ghee is harmful to
your heart.
Rich in antioxidants, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, D, ghee has just what you need for a healthy heart.
Fine, ghee is good, but you must not eat too much. In India, we add ghee to every meal. The quantity at which the taste of food is best is the right quantity. Only your tongue and stomach can tell you that. Three teaspoons a day is a good start.

The above article is an excerpt from nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar’s book, Indian Super Foods.

January 18, 2020
Photos Simon Meier

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