Bone Broth – sorting the facts from the hype

Is bone broth really a superfood? 

Like a lot of foods, the humble bone broth has gone from being a cooking ingredient to a trendy superfood touted as a natural remedy for problems with gut health, immunity, joint health and even recovery from injury.

These are certainly some grand claims to make about a thin soup, but what is bone broth exactly? Is there a component that can fulfil the many health claims made about it? Let’s look at the science behind these potential healing properties.

What is bone broth?

A common ingredient in cooking, bone broth is basically stock made from meat bones, tendons, cartilage and skin, and is made by simmering these ingredients plus a few vegetables on a very low heat for an extended period of time, sometimes up to 24 hours. The resulting broth adds flavour and thickness to soups, stews and other foods.

Cooking these ingredients on a low heat for a long time means the collagen and protein in bones and other body parts seep out into the water, making the broth thicker and flavourful. People often make bone broth from roasted meats like chicken or beef to create a base for soups and gravies.

The bone broth boom

We have been using stocks and broths for years as a food ingredient, but they have only been seen as a ‘superfood’ or dietary supplement in the past few years following the paleo diet trend, which promotes the use of the entire animal including the bones, much like humans apparently did during paleolithic times. The collagen that acts as a thickening agent in cooking is also considered a healthy addition to our diets, as well as the amino acids present.

Is bone broth nutritious?

The way bone broth is prepared means the amount of nutrients it contains varies wildly depending on the bones and other materials used, how long it is cooked for, and what other ingredients it may contain. For example, one cup, or 236ml of chicken or beef broth could contain anywhere from 31 to 86 calories, 0.2 to 2.9g of fat, and 4.7 to 6g of protein. Other minerals such as potassium, calcium and iron can be found in broth, but also in very different amounts.

The nutrients in bone broth that are thought to promote joint and gut health are collagen, gelatin and the amino acids glycine, glutamine, and proline. These are not usually measured in typical food analysis, and the way bone broth varies so much in nutrient content means it is very hard to tell how much you would get per portion.

Does bone broth help gut health?

Glutamine is an amino acid that is used by the body for muscle building and also provides fuel for the intestinal cells. Recent research has indicated that our gut health has an overarching effect on the health of our entire bodies, promoting further interest in the health of our digestive system. The gelatin and glutamine in bone broth are thought to be good for healing the lining of the gut, although there is not a lot of evidence that it can make a noticeable difference to digestion or overall gut health.

Could bone broth be good for joint health?

As collagen is used so widely within our bodies as a building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, ligaments, tendons and blood vessels, then of course it would be quite important! We do make our own collagen using amino acids, but as we age, our natural collagen production does fall. External factors like smoking can also reduce our collagen production. Bone broth would supply not just collagen, but also the amino acids used to produce it, although just consuming the amino acids used to make collagen does not mean that the body will actually produce more of it. Some studies do support the use of collagen supplements to support bone density and cartilage and may even have a minor anti-inflammatory effect, and so it is recommended by some for arthritis sufferers. 

Can bone broth support the immune system?

You have probably been recommended a nice bowl of chicken soup when you are ill, and that’s not just because it is delicious and comforting! Research has indicated that bone broth used in chicken soup can have some anti-inflammatory effects on our bodies. Studies have found that having chicken soup resulted in less mucus production and even fewer white blood cells, which are associated with inflammation. However, this could be due to consuming a hot, protein-rich liquid rather than specifically the bone broth, but it is hard to tell exactly what has this positive effect.

Is bone broth useful for detoxing?

Detoxing is a big buzzword in health and wellness, with so many diets promising to ‘detox’ you over a weekend or similar. Most detox diets aim to remove preservatives, chemicals and ‘toxins’ from the body although the efficacy of any kind of ‘detox’ diet is debatable. Some people consider going on a bone broth diet to be a good way to detoxify the body as it is low in calories and contains nutrients for the liver, which supports our bodies natural detoxing methods, although there is nothing to suggest that bone broth has any specific properties that support the liver. Also bone broth is very low in calories and lacks other important nutrients, so it is not advisable to follow a detox diet consisting of just bone broth.

Should you try bone broth?

The potential benefits of bone broth are still being researched, so we still have a great deal to learn about it. If you want to try bone broth, then by all means do, it is a great addition to soups and stews and other foods, or enjoyed by itself, but the health benefits are a bonus and most likely are obtained from the whole food and not just the broth. As always, a varied diet including lots of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, and good sources of protein as well as vitamins C and A is a great way of supporting your whole body.

Primal Bite

  • Bone broth does contain collagen, gelatin and amino acids which are all required for a healthy body
  • Some evidence suggests it can help support bone and joint health especially for people with arthritis or similar health issues
  • Bone broth varies in its nutritional content due to variations in ingredients and cooking time
  • The health benefits associated with bone broth may come from whole protein rich foods rather than the broth itself

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