Casein is one of the two main proteins found in milk (the other being whey). While whey is often touted for it’s health benefits and used as a supplement, casein has become famous in quite the opposite way: as a supposed cancer-causative agent and inflammation-inducing jerk. I say supposed cancer causing agent because a lot of the research in this area (namely Collin Campbell’s rat studies and The China Study) are rather flawed.
And even though I don’t place a lot of weight in Campbell’s rat studies, I can tell you that casein is very inflammatory and is a big problem for a lot of people. Casein is a common food sensitivity, which means that the immune system mounts a(n inflammatory) response against it. This is a big problem for people with autoimmune disease or inflammatory disease, as their immune system is already generating plenty of inflammation. Side note: There are a LOT of different ways to “test” for reactions to food; I have found Cyrex Labs to be the most reliable.
So, what are we casein intolerant folk supposed to do? The obvious answer is “never touch dairy again,” but what if there was a way to get some of the benefits of the healthy fat without the inflammatory protein? Enter ghee, AKA “clarified butter.” Ghee is made by heating butter until the “milk solids” (proteins) float to the top, at which point they can be removed. It’s livin’ the dream, right?
It is widely assumed that ghee is free of casein, but that has never sat well with me. I don’t like making assumptions when autoimmunity is afoot, and for many years I have not recommended ghee for this reason. New information has changed my opinion, however:Dr. DiNezza’s Verdict on Store Bought Ghee: Definitely Maybe!
Some brands appear to be safe, but choose wisely. I recently (July 2018) reached out to some popular ghee companies and have found that the amount of casein in commercial ghee varies widely. Some are tested to ensure that they are super low (1 or 2 PPM) and some are outrageously high in casein (20,000 PPM). This is even worse than when I originally wrote this article in 2014. At that time, I cited Purity Farms ghee as saying that their product contains 0.11%/1,200 PPM casein. That company has since been bought by Organic Valley, which is the company that quoted 20,000 PPM casein in their product in 2018. Yikes! You wouldn’t see a Celiac touching a 20,000 PPM gluten waffle with a ten foot pole.
Dr. DiNezza’s Verdict on Home-Made Ghee: Nope, too Risky
One thing that the paleo movement and Pinterest have brought us is a resurgence of the DIY spirit. Why buy something when you can easily make it yourself? Even the highly regarded paleo-goddess Diane Sanfilippo has shared info on how to make your own ghee. Here’s another blogger who encourages people to make their own ghee and says it’s safe if you’re casein sensitive. Even the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) teaches physicians how to make homemade ghee in their GI class so that they may teach their patients to do so. But how do you know if your ghee is safe? Unfortunately, you don’t, and that’s a big risk to take if you have an autoimmune or inflammatory condition.
What my research has shown me is that the amount of casein in ghee can very widely. Companies that triple-filter their product and monitor the level of casein in their product are now capable of giving us safe, casein-less ghee. Without proper filtering at home, however, I would be inclined to think that we can not DIY our way to the same result. I’ve seen people make ghee before– you simmer the butter until the proteins foam at the top, then you scoop off the foam with what looks like a wonton scooper or a spoon. That’s a solid “nope” for me.
Don’t be willy-nilly about it
Here’s the thing, guys: Casein sensitivity is just as serious as a gluten sensitivity, which is just as serious as full-blown Celiac disease because they all usually have an autoimmune component to them (article explaining more). If you are sensitive to this nasty stuff it can really tick off your immune system. Interestingly, if you read the comments on many of these “hooray for ghee” blogs you’ll see many, many people saying that they do, in fact react to ghee. Frustratingly, this is usually brushed off by the author of the article.
For Part 2 and to find out which brands of ghee are safe,
click this link or the photo below!
If you or somebody you know is interested in functional medicine please call my office at (919) 238-4094 or visit my website to see if we are the right fit for you. Infinity Holistic Healthcare is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, part of the Raleigh-Durham “triangle.”