By now, you may be familiar with bone broth — and the claims that it is a superfood. These claims seem almost outrageous: digestive, gut healing, bone healing, joint health, muscle recovery, mental health … even the Warriors have it as part of their regime and celebrity chefs are advocating a morning “brothy” rather than the morning coffee. Despite this, many people in the nutrition and food scene dismiss the concept.
After reading literally hundreds of anecdotal reports and hearing from clients about the benefits of bone broth, I took a look at research studies to see if these claims had any scientific basis.
Bone broth is hailed as a superfood as its preparation (see below) allows minerals and proteins to be drawn out of bones that form the basis of the soup. These constituents include collagen – the jelly-like consistency in bone broth.
Collagen is made up of glycine, an amino acid considered “non-essential” yet it forms the backbone of our connective tissue. A recent review found increasing collagen in the diet had beneficial effects on bone tissue, leaving the authors to conclude that it could be used in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Collagen has also been found to be clinically beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis — when compared to a group receiving standard treatment, a group receiving collagen reported significantly fewer side effects. Another study compared the effects of glucosamine and chondroitin (a well-utilised supplement for osteoarthritis) to collagen and found collagen to be more effective at reducing inflammation. These studies suggest additional collagen in the diet (in abundance in bone broth) could be beneficial for inflammatory conditions.
Glycine is also used in the production of both stomach acid and bile. Adequate stomach acid production is crucial to the proper digestion of food. Without it, people can experience heartburn, reflux, bloating and abdominal pain.
In fact, many people take acid-suppressing medications to help reduce these symptoms after eating, as they believe the symptoms are related to too much stomach acid when the opposite is true.
The literature has also revealed that glycine could protect the liver from the effects of excessive sucrose and fructose in foods. A recent study found that supplementing with glycine reduced metabolic health risk markers in people with diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Finally, glycine supplementation before bed has been shown to improve the sleep quality of people experiencing sleep disorders.
Vitamins & minerals
Outside of glycine, the protein and mineral (zinc, magnesium, calcium and phosphorous) content of bones is important in hormone production, cell structure repair, neurotransmitter production (such as serotonin and dopamine, our “feel good” neurotransmitters) and anti-inflammatory pathways. Broth will also provide good quality fats and vitamins A, D and K2 — all important fat-soluble vitamins that are not so easily accessible in other foods. (This is dependent on the quality of bones used in the broth, and how the animal was raised, fed and killed.)
So does this make bone broth a superfood?
No. There are no superfoods (apart from eggs), only super diets. No amount of bone broth will improve somebody’s health in the absence of vegetables, good quality fats and protein and appropriate amounts of minimally processed carbohydrate. However, as an additional layer to an awesome diet, would I suggest people include it? Certainly. I see many people with challenges around leaky gut and other digestive and autoimmune conditions who have really benefited from including broth into their daily routine, and they notice when they go for a period of time without it.
There are no research studies looking directly at bone broth – and given how expensive it is to conduct clinical trials, this is no surprise. However, it is entirely plausible to suggest anyone with an immune or inflammatory problem (digestive, joint or metabolic) would benefit from the inclusion of bone broth. And, when it comes down to it, broth just tastes awesome.
If you've not tried it, then check out the recipe below from a blog I follow: wellnessmama.com. Super simple to do, it makes a great base for soups, casseroles, mince dishes or just as a drink to which you've added lemon, turmeric and sea salt.
1kg (or more) of bones – any kind, preferably organic (from butcher)
2 chicken feet for extra gelatine (optional)
2 celery stalks
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 bunch of parsley,
1 Tbsp or more sea salt,
1 tsp peppercorns,
Additional herbs or spices to taste (can also add 2 cloves of garlic for the last 30 minutes of cooking)
- Fry off the bones in coconut oil/olive oil to brown and transfer into crockpot/slow cooker. Add chicken feet, onion, carrots, celery and apple cider vinegar. Add optional herbs and pour over enough water to cover everything. Bring to boil then leave to simmer.
- During the first few hours of simmering, you'll need to remove the impurities that float to the surface. A frothy/ foamy layer will form and it can be easily scooped off with a big spoon. Throw this part away. I typically check it every 20 minutes for the first 2 hours to remove this.
- During the last 30 minutes, add the garlic and parsley, if using.
- Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Use a fine metal strainer to remove all the bits of bone and vegetable. You can eat the bones or, if soft enough (and your blender is strong enough), you may blend and add them.
- When cool enough, store in a glass jar in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze for later use.
Beef broth/stock: 48 hours
Chicken or poultry broth/stock: 24 hours
Fish broth: 8 hours.
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Through her subscription service of meal plans and nutritional support, nutritionist Mikki Williden helps people manage their diets in an interesting way, at a low cost. To find out more and to sign up, visit mikkiwilliden.com