Bone broth is one of the hottest foods on the market today. Did you know that sales of shelf-stable bone broth more than tripled in 2017 compared to 2016?
So, will drinking bone broth improve your health, or is it simply good marketing for traditional broth or stock?
What is Bone Broth?
Bone broth is basically stock made by slowly simmering animal bones and skin in water for 5-24 hours or more to allow the collagen and gelatin to be released from the cartilage. Just as every cook has their own special recipes, there is no one single recipe for bone broth. When cooled in the refrigerator, bone broth becomes thick, like a soupy Jello, due to the amount of gelatin in the liquid. The nutrition content varies quite a bit, depending on how the broth is made. According to the USDA nutrient database, 1 cup of homemade chicken or beef stock contains 31-86 calories, 0.2-2.9 grams fat, 4.7-6 grams protein, and varying amounts of minerals like calcium, iron, sodium, and potassium.
To understand bone broth, we need to understand protein digestion.
Bone broth marketing promises benefits from collagen, gelatin, and a variety of amino acids that supposedly promote healthy skin, decreased joint pain, an improved immune system, and better digestive health.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body, providing the structure and framework for muscles, bone, skin, and tendons.
Gelatin is produced by boiling bones, skin, and cartilage to extract the collagen. The familiar Jello desserts use colorless and flavorless gelatin to provide their familiar jiggly structure.
Just because bone broth contains a high amount of collagen and gelatin doesn’t automatically mean that it provides health benefits, because the amino acids will be put back together by the body in a variety of ways. Excess amino acids aren’t stored, and are instead processed by the liver into urea, which is excreted by the kidneys as part of urine.
Bone broth marketing sounds simple: consume more collagen from bone broth, and you will reap the potential health benefits. However, protein digestion isn’t that simple. When we eat foods that contain protein, the protein is broken down into amino acids, which are the building blocks of every type of protein. Our body then combines the amino acids into new proteins. Think of deconstructing this article into the individual letters that make up each of the words and then putting the letters together into new words and a new article. This is the same thing our body does when we eat a chicken breast, piece of fish, edamame, bone broth, or any other food that contains protein: the protein is digested into small, individual amino acids that our body then puts back together into whatever structures are needed at that time.
So, Can Bone Broth Boost Health?
There is very little research that specifically demonstrates health benefits of bone broth, yet there are some potentially intriguing possibilities:
Just because you’re consuming more collagen in bone broth doesn’t mean that your body will use the amino acids in the collagen to make more collagen. There is very limited research to support the claims that drinking bone broth will decrease joint pain from arthritis or improve skin elasticity.
Claims that bone broth will improve the immune system are based on small studies that show chicken broth or chicken soup may help relieve a stuffy nose associated with a cold or the flu. While amino acids are important components of our body’s immune system, consuming a variety of foods that contain protein provides all the amino acids our body needs. If consuming a hot beverage like bone broth or chicken soup feels comforting and helps you breathe easier, it can be part of your cold-fighting arsenal, but it’s not a magic cure.
Bone broth is a good source of gelatin, and some studies show that a combination of gelatin and tannic acids may help repair the mucous lining of the intestines. However, it’s not known if gelatin on its own has any positive effects on our digestive system.
Because bone broth is usually prepared with added salt, and naturally contains potassium and protein, it’s often a favorite recovery beverage for people participating in endurance activities like triathlons, long bike rides, or marathons.
The bottom line: If you enjoy drinking bone broth, it can be part of an overall healthful, balanced diet even if it doesn’t meet many expectations for improved health.
By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CHWC
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