How much is this hot trend really helping you stay healthy?

Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
January 05, 2018

The popularity of bone broth has well surpassed the usual rise and fall path of of most trendy “superfoods.” Why all the fuss? Though it’s certainly tasty, a quick online search will give you the answer. Consuming bone broth regularly has been touted for improved gut health, strengthened immunity, joint health and even wound healing.

Sounds pretty good, right? I agree, but before I pulled out my stockpot, I needed to know a little more: What exactly is bone broth? What’s in it that’s supposed to be giving it these potential healing capabilities? And is there actually any published, scientific research to back the health claims?

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What is Bone Broth?

Based on culinary definitions, bone broth is technically a “stock” because it is made by simmering bones, and sometimes associated parts like tendons, cartilage and skin, along with vegetables, for 6 to 24 hours.

The long-cooking process allows nutrients in the bones (such as the proteins collagen and gelatin) to leach into the water creating a flavorful liquid that is thicker than normal broth. Bones from beef and poultry are most common, and they are usually roasted before simmering if not from a previously cooked animal.

Why Has Bone Broth Become So Popular?

Stocks and broths have been made for hundreds of years and were considered just an ordinary recipe ingredient—until a few years ago when the Paleo Diet became popular. The Paleo Diet and similar eating plans brought to light the concept of using all parts of an animal, including the bones, for proper and adequate nutrition.

The bone broth trend grew from this, slowly becoming associated with good health thanks to proteins like collagen and its associated amino acids.

What Is the Nutritional Value of Bone Broth?

Well, it’s hard to say. The nutritional content of bone broth varies greatly, and changes based on recipe, type of bones, ingredients, and cooking time. The USDA Nutrient Database states that 1 cup of homemade chicken or beef stock ranges from 31 to 86 calories, 0.2 to 2.9g fat, 4.7 to 6g protein, and varying amounts of calcium, iron, potassium and other minerals.

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Proponents of bone broth state the protein collagen, gelatin, and amino acids such as glycine, glutamine, and proline are what promote joint healing and gut health. However, these aren’t nutrients typically measured or assessed in food analysis. And remember, the amounts of these will also vary among broths and cooking methods.

Does It Help Gut Health?

New research continues to suggest that there is a link between our gut microbes and overall health, and this has triggered an interest in eating to restore the intestinal linings and microbe balance. Gelatin and amino acid glutamine in bone broth are suggested as two ways to naturally heal the gut lining. However, there is little to no evidence that compounds in it can improve gut health or digestion.

How About Joint Health?

Collagen is a major component in bones, muscles, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, skin, and even blood vessels, and most will agree that bone broth is a good source of collagen and its components.

There are studies suggesting a regular intake of collagen supplements can preserve existing cartilage, may increase bone density, and even have a slight anti-inflammatory effect. Because of this, proponents encourage consumption for joint health and to alleviate pain associated with arthritis.

However, it’s important to note that just because you’re consuming collagen, that doesn’t mean that the amino acids you’ve digested will then be used to make collagen in your body.

Immunity

Your grandmother may have been ahead of her time when she told you to eat chicken soup to get well because there’s actually some research to back this home remedy. Bone broth (that homemade chicken soup is made from) appears to have some anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting effects in the body. In fact, studies suggest that consuming chicken soup reduced mucus better than other hot liquids and inhibited white blood cells associated with inflammation. But were these effects seen from drinking a warm, protein-rich liquid or specifically from the chicken bone broth in that liquid? We really don’t know.

Detoxification

“Detoxing” has a range of meanings these days, but for many it means cutting out the chemicals, preservatives, and toxins, and using food to restore the body.

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Bone broth is sometimes advocated as an ideal way to “detox” because not only is low in calories, but it contains key nutrients needed by the liver during the detoxification process. However, there’s no research suggesting that bone broth is an essential component needed by the liver.

Also, detoxing strictly on bone broth isn’t recommended. It can lead to extremely low calorie intake and a lack of other essential nutrients.

Should You Be Making Bone Broth?

The bottom-line on bone broth is that we just really don’t know much about it. This doesn’t mean bone broth should be avoided, but it doesn’t need to be considered an essential part of a healthy diet just yet. We do know that bone broth is usually a low-calorie source of protein and that homemade stocks and broths add great flavor to soups and recipes. Any other health perks are a bonus and probably don’t come exclusively from bone broth. Other ways to reap similar benefits are to opt for protein-rich soups and consume foods rich in Vitamins C and A.