Bone Broth’s Health Claims


PROPONENTS RAVE about the nourishing and healing properties of bone broth. But it is a concoction fraught with confusion.  First, the names and definitions: most “bone broth” looks more like what was traditionally called “stock,” viscous with collagen-rich gelatin that seeps out of bones, which have been pre-cooked or -roasted anywhere from 18-48 hours.

“Broth,” in contrast, has always been thinner and made using more actual meat.  (While most commercially available gelatin in the past came in powdered form, bone broth offers it in liquid straight from the bones.)

Along with cooking times, widely varying recipes—different animal bones, some with fatty marrow—affect nutritional properties, along with the smell, which can be unpleasantly strong like a barnyard, and taste. There’s also the question of marrow, by reputation packed with health-giving nutrients but in fact “pure fat” and to be avoided, as Marco Canora, chef at NYC’s Brodo Broth Company, told Bon Appetit magazine. Brodo was the first to sell cups of “bone broth, priced at $5 and up, with 30- ounce containers currently available online at three for $51 and up.

Recently and more confusingly, many “bone broth” formulations appear to be evolving, or reverting to the original “broth” definition.  Packaged “bone broth,” now widely available—sold at local Whole Foods stores in 8-ounce portions with 9 grams of protein for $2.99, with choices like chicken with lemongrass, is not only thinner than “stock” but has a more delicate flavor and scent.

Similarly less viscous and more savory, locally produced Brainy Belly bone broth is closer to the Asian pho, according to founder Janalee Redmond.  Cooked quickly under pressure and frozen, Brainy Belly’s broth is sold wholesale to chefs, caterers and markets, such as the local Yes! Organic Market chain.  A recent demo at Yes! drew loyal customers who “buy it by the case,” according to Redmond.

Brainy Belly makes broth from “good bones filled with trace nutrients and collagen-packed gelatin” that come from “passionate farmers who proudly present their flavorful beef as “grassfed, grass finished, no grain ever!” according to the company’s site.  One indication of the burgeoning interest in what Redmond refers to as “a dressed-up version of stock:” she raised thousands of dollars on Kiva to fund the USDA-approval process, which was successful.

Redmond started her bone broth biz after coping with serious stomach issues, which she traced to an overabundance of “bad” bacteria in the gut. Among the touted healing powers of broth, the collagen is said to act as an intestinal Band-Aid that heals damaged lining of the digestive tract and in turn improves absorption of nutrients.

Enthusiasts also praise bone broth as an anti-inflammatory, further healing and soothing the gut to create a better environment for “good” bacteria.  They also claim its anti-inflammatory powers can decrease pain and dysfunction throughout the body, especially in aging joints. Kobe Bryant famously took up a regimen of bone broth to ease his swollen joints.

Of two bone-broth health claims best supported by clinical evidence, one applies to endurance athletes replacing electrolytes, especially sodium, after exercise.  The other, familiar to believers in the healing powers of chicken soup, is the effect of its amino acids in combating flu and cold symptoms.  The most widely embraced use of bone broth is supplying collagen to bones, hair and nails to strengthen and replace loss due to aging.  Gelatin is also recommended for everything from treating osteoporosis to losing weight, but its health benefits have not been supported by respected clinical evidence.  Side-effects include bloating and heartburn.

The book “Nourishing Broth,” by Sally Fallon Morell and Kaayla T. Daniel, credits bone broth’s “unique combination of amino acids, minerals and cartilage compounds” for quelling inflammation, speeding healing, calming allergies and combating fatigue. But a Time Health story points out that there “isn’t much research on both broth to support—or refute—these health claims.”

“The idea that because bone broth or stock contains collagen it somehow translates to collagen in the human body is nonsensical,” University of South Dakota biomedical scientist William H. Percy told Time magazine.  In the same way eating fatty foods doesn’t directly add to body fat.  Instead, the digestive system breaks collagen down into its component amino acids.

While these amino acids may contribute to bone building, broth may be a poorer source than leafy green vegetables, critics contend. And as with vegetables, long cooking times may denature vitamins and minerals, making them less accessible to the body.  For people who are deficient in amino acids from protein sources, bone broth could supply some of what’s missing, but some say there’s a greater benefit from eating eggs.

The loose basis in nutrition science, however, doesn’t sway bone broth’s many true believers, like Redmond, who drinks bone broth every day.  Chef Nathan Anda at DC’s Red Apron—which has sold cups of 36-to-48 hour simmered bone broth—tried that regimen for about two weeks.  When asked about the results, he admitted he found it hard to stay with “dietary trends” because he continually encounters new and delicious gourmet options.

—Mary Carpenter
Read more of Mary’s well-being posts right here.

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