(Diet Review) Bone Broth: Healer or Hoax?
Bone broth is one of those food trends that I’ve never really understood. Want to spend $9 on a cup of broth? Go right ahead, but before you spend that sort of money, you should really ask yourself what you expect will happen by eating what’s basically a clear soup.
There are so many claims associated with bone broth, and I seriously had to contain my bullshit-o-meter when I went on the internet to find a bit more about it. From weight loss to detoxification to smoothing wrinkles, bone broth seems like the miracle we’ve all been waiting for! But is it? At $12 a quart, we should probably take a look.
When I was a new dietitian, we used to put people on clear liquid diets after surgery because they were easy to digest. These diets were super low in calories – a cup of broth has something like 10 calories. So naturally, when I heard about people eating bone broth for a meal, I wondered how the hell they were actually getting through the next four hours without gnawing their arms off. Turns out, bone broth isn’t made like your typical broth. Bone broth is simmered for a lot longer, allowing more nutrients to leach out of the bones it’s made of. So, bone broth is higher in calories and in nutrients than your typical canned broth (YUCK).
There’s no real recipe for bone broth – people use chicken bones, beef bones, grassfed bones, whatever bones they can get their hands on (and apparently, there’s now a bone price war thanks to this trend). Different bones are going to yield different broths with different nutrient profiles, in particular because everyone is making it differently. So that’s important to know if you’re expecting some consistency with contents.
Is bone broth the ‘nourishing, healing, and restorative’ drink we’ve all been waiting for? Pffft.
The glucosamine and collagen in bone broth are good for your joints, skin, and hair, and can ‘rebuild bones’:
Collagen is a protein, and like every other protein, it’s made up of a string of amino acids.
When you consume any sort of protein, those amino acid chains are basically hacked into individual amino acids by the body, and sent to wherever they’re needed. Your body doesn’t distinguish the proteins from collagen versus those from chicken or any other protein source. This means that when you consume collagen, it doesn’t remain intact and magically directed to your hair and wrinkly skin to fix them. There’s no evidence at all that shows that consuming collagen in any form has a significant effect on skin or hair, and it certainly can’t ‘rebuild bones’. My orthopaedic surgeon father is up in heaven right now, laughing his head off about that one.
It’s like that old myth that eating gelatin gives you stronger nails. We all know that’s BS.
Glucosamine is much the same. It’s taken by a lot of people as a supplement to help with osteoarthritis, but there’s evidence to show that it has only a minor effect.
As Sol Orwell, the founder of examine.com, puts it:
If you increase a car’s efficiency from 40mpg to 42mpg, you can accurately say that its efficiency has improved. But is it really notable?
That is the crux of glucosamine – it helps with osteoarthritis, but not by much. So if you go in knowing that, you should be okay.
Dark green and orange vegetables, berries, fish, citrus, eggs, nuts, and garlic are among the collagen-boosting foods that you’re hopefully already eating…and when you take too much collagen, the excess is excreted in your urine. So as with many things in life, more isn’t better.
Our diets are lacking in certain nutrients that bone broth contains. So, consuming bone broth helps fill in those gaps
I’m a bit confused. What could our diets be lacking that broth can make up for? Maybe proline and glycine, which are amino acids that are readily available in the proteins we eat. But this being true, neither of those amino acids is in fact considered ‘essential’, meaning our bodies make them without dietary protein. So even if you never ate either one again, they can still be synthesized by your body. Isn’t nature wonderful?
Minerals such phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, and sodium, all seem to be mentioned repeatedly as being plentiful in bone broth . But because of different ingredients/cooking methods, the amounts of those nutrients can vary widely in different broths. According to this analysis, the only vitamins/minerals that bone broth is truly high in seems to be manganese, B6, and vitamin C. Those things are readily available in other foods, so I’m not sure what the above claim is really referring to.
The gelatin in bone broth helps seal up leaky intestines
The term ‘leaky gut’ seems to be abused by certain healthcare practitioners, but it may indeed exist. Mainstream medicine seems to acknowledge the condition associated with certain diseases, but none of the alternative ‘cures’ that are touted all over the internet have any scientific evidence. Sure, drinking gelatin won’t hurt you, but I seriously doubt it’s going to seal up leaky intestines – especially since intestinal permeability appears to be mediated by a protein called Zonulin, which likely isn’t affected by gelatin. Chalk one up for wishful thinking by many, many celiacs.
Bone broth is healing
Just like chicken soup may be anti-inflammatory, bone broth – when made with chicken bones, that is – may have the same properties. But it sure isn’t the ‘magical’ (yes, someone who sells bone broth did make that proclamation about it, because of course he did) cure-all that it’s being heralded as.