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Shea butter is a fat that is made from the fruit of the shea tree (  Vitellaria Paradoxa  ) native to central and northern Togo in Africa  The fruit contains a seed from which the oil is extracted. Shea butter comes in both refined and unrefined forms. Unrefined shea oil is extracted from the seeds by hand. Refined shea butter is removed from the seeds by manufacturing with the help of certain chemicals.

Seed butter is most often used topically to control skin conditions or reduce wrinkles. Shea butter is a common ingredient in skin creams and lotions. Shea butter can also be consumed and is commonly used in African cuisine. 

nutritional information

The  USDA provides the  following nutritional information for one tablespoon (13.6 g) of shea butter.

  • Calories:   120
  • Fat:   14g
  • Sodio: 0   mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0   mg
  • Fibra: 0  mg
  • Azúcares: 0  mg
  • Protein: 0   mg

Carbs in shea butter

There are no carbohydrates in shea butter. There are no sugars, starch, or fiber in this food.

The estimated glycemic load and the glycemic index of shea butter are both zero.

Fats in shea butter

All of the calories in shea butter come from fat. Researchers have identified stearic, linoleic, and palmitic fatty acids in the oil, as well as other fatty compounds. 1

There are 14 grams of total fat in a serving if you eat a single serving. One serving is considered one tablespoon.

About half of the fat in shea butter is monounsaturated fat (about 6 grams), considered a healthy form of fat. The other half of the fat (about 6 grams) is saturated fat. There is also a small amount of polyunsaturated fat (almost 1 gram) in shea butter.

Protein in Shea Butter

Shea butter does not provide protein.

Micronutrients in Shea Butter

Fans of shea butter (and some who sell the product for nutritional and beauty purposes) claim that shea butter is high in vitamin E. However, according to the USDA, shea butter does not provide vitamins or minerals.

Health benefits

Many of the health benefits of shea butter are obtained when the product is used topically. Butter acts as an emollient and can help smooth and soften the skin. It also contains ingredients that can reduce skin swelling and can relieve symptoms in some people with eczema.

Fans of shea butter also claim that it can provide other benefits including relief from acne, muscle pain, sinus infections, wound healing, hay fever, and arthritis. There is not enough scientific evidence to support these claims. However, research is ongoing and some studies have provided promising results in terms of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 1

If you consume shea butter, you can get some health benefits from the monounsaturated fat it provides. Monounsaturated fats can help lower LDL cholesterol (also called “bad” cholesterol) and can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Monounsaturated fats can also help build and maintain cells in your body, according to the  American Heart Association  .

However, keep in mind that shea butter contains as much saturated fat as it does monounsaturated fat. Saturated fat is not considered a healthy fat because it can contribute to higher levels of bad cholesterol in the blood. 

Health experts and researchers recommend that consumers replace less healthy (saturated) fats with healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats for optimal heart health. 2   Also, keep in mind that even healthy fats provide 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram provided by carbohydrates and protein.

Consuming too much fat, even healthy forms of fat, can contribute to unwanted weight gain.

Common questions

Where can I buy shea butter?

Shea butter products are found in many cosmetic and beauty stores. You will also find products that contain shea butter online. These products can include lip gloss, skin creams, hair conditioners, and soap.

To find shea butter for cooking, you may need to visit a specialty store or buy it online.

What is the difference between refined and unrefined shea butter?

The technical difference between refined and unrefined shea butter is the method in which it is produced. Unrefined shea butter involves removing the fat from the seeds of the shea fruit by hand. No chemicals are used to make the finished product. Refined shea butter is produced in factories with the use of chemicals and machinery.

According to the  American Shea Butter Institute  , refining is used to remove color, odor, and other undesirable qualities in the unrefined version. Unrefined shea butter can be yellowish or creamy in color, while refined shea butter is usually white and odorless.

However, according to the Institute, the refining process also removes some of the bioactive nutrients, making it less desirable for many consumers.

Is all shea butter edible?

Pure shea butter can be used for cooking. However, beauty products that contain shea butter may include ingredients that are not edible.

What are some common beauty uses for shea butter?

Shea butter is often used to reduce stretch marks,  3   reduce redness under the nose during a cold or the flu, reduce the appearance of bags and wrinkles under the eyes, soften hands, improve skin elasticity , reduce the appearance of cellulite, and improve the appearance of your lips. 4

But remember that not all of these uses are documented by scientific studies. That does not mean that the treatments do not work. It simply means that the benefits are not supported by research.

How do I store shea butter?

Shea butter (especially unrefined shea butter) should be stored with care. Place in an airtight container or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in a cool, dry place. If you are using it for cooking, store it in a cabinet away from the stove. When stored properly, it should keep for 18 to 24 months. If your shea butter has a musty or smoky smell, it has gone bad and is no longer safe or effective to use.

Recipes and preparation tips

You won’t find many recipes that call for shea butter unless you do a lot of African cooking. But some cooks replace other fats and oils with shea butter in the kitchen.

For example, you can use shea butter in stir-fry recipes. You can also add it to smoothies in the same way that you can add coconut oil to give the drink a creamy texture. Also, since shea butter comes from seeds, not dairy, shea butter is vegan. So you can use it in baked goods recipes and grain dishes that call for butter.

Allergies and interventions

If you have a tree nut allergy, you should avoid eating or using shea butter on your skin. The shea nut is distantly related to the Brazil nut. However, according to the  American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology  (AAAAI), just because you’re allergic to one tree nut doesn’t necessarily mean you’re allergic to another. 

The  American Shea Butter Institute  reports that no clinical studies have been conducted on the use of raw shea butter by people with a nut allergy. For that reason, they recommend that people with a nut allergy avoid shea butter. 

However, in a  post for  Allergic Living  , allergist Dr. Scott Sicherer writes that “although an allergy to these products (shea nut) is theoretically possible … the information suggests that the minimal protein available in these products makes them allergic. , including for those with nut allergies, it is highly unlikely. “

However, people with a nut allergy should be careful. The AAAAI cautions that symptoms of a reaction to tree nuts can be severe. They advise that people with a known allergy to tree nuts carry epinephrine at all times.

If you suspect that you are allergic to shea butter, speak with your healthcare provider for one-on-one advice.

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Jett Kolio

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