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Ghee: good or bad?
Punya Srivastava brings together Naturopath NK Sharma and Vaidya Dr. Shrinivasa Pandey to get to the bottom of the question
The controversy regarding ghee -whether it is a good fat or a bad fat - has been raging for many years. As a rule, naturopaths condemn its usage, while ayurvedic doctors recommend it strongly. Nutritionists and allopaths too decry it. Life Positive brought together eminent reiki master and naturopath, Dr. NK Sharma, who has penned Milk A Silent Killer on the dangers of milk and dairy consumption, and Dr. Shrinivasa Pandey, a senior doctor from the Delhi branch of Arya Vaidyasala Kottakal, for a discussion on the controversy. The dis¬cussion, happily, generated more light than heat, and culminated in the two worthies understand¬ing where the other was coming from.
Dr. Pandey, what is the importance of ghee in ayurveda?
Dr. Pandey: There are seven mammals apart from humans whose milk is used for consumption - cow, goat, buffalo, camel, sheep, mare and elephant. Out of these, cow's milk is considered to generate the best ghee, which even a newborn baby can safely consume. Ayurveda recognises three doshas, vata, pitta, kapha. Ghee helps to maintain vata and pitta. It also has a significant medicinal value. One can have medicinal drugs mixed with ghee for better absorption in the body. For example, a person suffering from acidity or gastritis who cannot be given arishtam or kashayam, can easily consume medicinal herbs mixed in ghee. This is because the body has various channels through which ghee easily penetrates and gets absorbed. There are specific properties of certain types of ghee which enhance the medicinal properties of these drugs when used in proper combination. Hence, ghee is a very use¬ful therapeutic tool.
Referring to the doshas, a vata prominent patient could be prescribed as much as three tablespoons of ghee in a day. However, science says that ghee could increase cholesterol lev¬els. What is the way out?
Dr. Pandey: First of all I would say that more than vata, people with pitta predominance should consume ghee liberally. Secondly, many factors are taken into account while prescribing the dosage of ghee in a per¬son's diet. Dosha, prakriti, balam (body strength), age, and season are kept in mind before prescribing the amount of ghee intake for a person. Thirdly ghee does not increase cholesterol. It is the best among fats.
Dr. Sharma, what is your take on this?
Dr. Sharma: With all due respect, I would say that any dairy product is an unnecessary addition to our diet. I assume that people in ancient times would have come up with this process of adding ghee to medicinal herbs because of the heat-generating ten¬dency of those herbs. Thus started the trend of using dairy products like ghee in my opin¬ion. Moreover I would say that whenever I study a subject, my research is nature-based. I do not carry any traditional conditioning with me. The first thing which I would like to clarify is that milk, whether from a woman or any other mammal, is a complete food in itself. However, when we heat or process this milk, it decomposes into various compo¬nents and results in food unfit for consump-tion. For example, when we remove the accumulated cream from boiled milk, the remaining milk is like the almond residue left behind after extracting almond milk. The toned milk that we get creates digestive problems because of its protein content. It is all about choosing who is wiser - nature or man?
Does that mean that ghee or any other dairy product is redundant in our diet?
Dr. Sharma: I refer to them as adjustment foods. We do not need them in our diet per se. We create situations to have them. For instance, talking about my own diet, I do not consume any dairy product. I eat only fruits Dr NK Sharma: Conceding the benefit of ghee produced from curd and nuts. I eat ghee only when I have khichdi or daliya, i.e, with cereals that are devoid of fats. This shows how we accommodate ghee in our diet, and go on to say that it is nutri¬tious for us. This is a myth, in my opinion.
Could you elaborate on this please?
Dr. Sharma: Our body undergoes tremen¬dous strain to digest pure fats, starch and sugar. Scientists say that our body lacks the mechanism to absorb pure sugar. Similarly, when you consume nuts like almond or wal¬nut, or even coconut, you get a combination of fats which is easily digestible. But our body cannot completely process fragmented fats like ghee without overstraining itself. So why do we need ghee at all? The simple answer is that man has distanced himself from nature so much that he takes pride in his self-made combinations of abnormal and modified food. But in the end he has to pay the price, when doctors eliminate fats and spices from his diet.
Dr. Pandey, what is your take on the question raised by Dr. Sharma?
Dr. Pandey: I agree with him that ghee is a fragmented version of milk fats, but every¬thing has its own value. I am of the opinion that ghee in the diet in small amounts is good for health. Today's sedentary lifestyle is not exactly ideal for fat consumption. But, a person must have an optimum intake of ghee keeping in mind his agni, bal, and dosha. I also agree with Dr. Sharma that some things should not be taken in combination with ghee. Every food must be taken in correct proportion in correct combination. Besides ghee, butter and buttermilk also have their own significance in our diet. Ayurveda lays great emphasis on drinking buttermilk after meals as it increases pitta that aids in digestion.
Lactose intolerance is being heard of frequently these days. How does a person become lactose intolerant? Can such a person include ghee in his diet?
Dr. Sharma: Every mammal on this earth has a certain weaning period. A human child weans in two years. Usually, it takes three to 10 years for humans before the milk-splitting enzymes (lactase) in their system ends. After this, man finds it difficult to digest lactose sugar and hence, lactose intolerance. Most people are lactose intolerant these days. But I have noticed that people with pitta predominance are least lactose intolerant.
Dr. Pandey: Correct.
Dr. Sharma: Mostly vata and kapha predomi¬nant people have lactose intolerance. On the other hand, I have also come across people who are well into their 80s without any digestive problem. Dr. Pandey: I guess lactose intolerance is a typical 21st century disease because we had never heard about it till a few decades back. This is because of consumption of fast food and packaged food. This makes the system slurred and slow.
Dr. Pandey, can a person be ghee intolerant?
Dr. Pandey: Any person with manda agni (weak fire, i.e. digestive power) can be ghee intolerant.
So is ghee good or bad for us?
Dr. Sharma: I would only say that I have abstained from dairy products following a kidney problem 40 years back, and have also raised my kids without milk and its byproducts. My family and I have not faced any discomfort or disease in all these years. We prefer fruits and nut milk, which are soluble fats, over these fragmented fats. Fats coming from animals definitely increase the cholesterol levels in the human body. Secondly, even if you want to use fats like ghee and oil in your diet, you must not heat them as they turn car¬cinogenic. Hence, fat should never be heated.
But research shows that ghee is the only fat with the highest burning point, i.e. it takes much longer to turn carcinogenic, which
what is the way out?
Dr. Pandey: I will not say Dr Sharma is completely wrong. Transformation of gunas (properties) happens when ghee is heated. Secondly, with regards to the burning point, ghee helps in increasing the agni bal (fire) in the body and stimulates the digestive fire. Moreover, ghee is also used before starting the pan-chakarma kriya (detoxification treatment) due to its lubricating properties.
But the question that still remains is, is raw fat better than cooked fat?
Dr. Pandey: I believe that when ghee is heated by itself or with certain condiments like black salt, pipli, or saunth (dry ginger powder); it will not have any effect on its properties.
Many people prefer butter over ghee. Which is better?
Dr. Pandey: Ghee is certainly better than butter. Dr. Sharma is right in saying that we should not depend on animal products as nature has provided us with many other foods with natural fat content. But if a person is taking ghee prepared from the milk of a hygienically bred cow, then he will not suffer from cholesterol problems. At least I have not heard of it in my practice of 24 years. Dr. Sharma: I support Dr. Pandey's state¬ment regarding cholesterol problem. It is a myth propagated by medical science that ghee increases cholesterol levels in our bodies. When a substance like ghee melts in your hand if held for a minute, how can it clog your arteries in a body with a normal tem¬perature of 98.4 degrees? It clogs when the ghee is overheated.
Dr. Pandey: Yes, that's right...
Dr. Sharma: It makes ghee too hard and irritates the body. So the arteries have to create plaques to resist it.
What is the alternative?
Dr. Sharma: If you want to eat ghee, prepare it from the butter derived out of fresh curds. Ghee eaten in Punjab is of that composition. Since curds is a fer¬mented food, the ghee made out of it is much more digestible than that made out of milk. , Dr. Pandey: That's right, Dr. Sharma: My conclusion is that if a person eats as per his digestive prowess, he will not suffer from any problem, whatever be the food he has consumed. But in our ignorance, we overlook this simple fact.
What would be your concluding remark, Dr.
Dr. Pandey: In today's lifestyle, ghee prepared from a high-bred cow's milk taken in optimum dose is nutri¬tious for body. It is the best amongst all the fats and ayurveda will always hold it in high regard.
Post script: According to research, 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 PUPA (poly-unsaturated fatty acids). In this respect, desi ghee scores over many PUFA-rich oils like sun¬flower, safflower, corn and cottonseed oils, whose MUFA content is poor.
- - Gurudev Dr. N. K. Sharma