What is bone broth good for? Bone broth is an emerging trend amongst fitness and wellness fanatics with health claims to accompany it. Various websites say that bone broth is good for everything from; arthritis, sore joints, chrons disease, food intolerances and leaky gut. It is touted as being ‘highly nutritious’, but the science is yet to show for this.
What is bone broth?
Meat stock made from animal bones and vegetable off cuts have been used in many traditional cuisines to flavors dishes since man could cook. Gravy’s, soups and stews, are all common dishes that most cultures include in cultural cuisine. Historically broth was made to preserve food resources, food was never this abundant or cheap. It was important that nothing went to waste. Bone, hooves, knuckles, carcasses, tough meat and vegetable off cuts went into a pot and boiled till a broth emerged. Most people call this stock, not broth, however it seems in fad dieting circles broth contains much more than a traditional stock.
A well-known popular broth recipe made famous by the Bubba Yum Yum scandal, if you don’t know what I am talking about listen to this podcast on it. That broth recipe in particular is more of a soup made up on liver, animal meat parts and veggies pureed. In other words, it’s not the traditional definition of a broth.
What nutrients does bone broth contain?
As recipes for broth or soup vary greatly, it is difficult to be specific. Plain traditional bone broth would contain mainly minerals. Animal bones, just like human bones contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. All of which can be easily ingested in a liquid like broth, and added to delicious dishes for flavoring or as a soup on it’s own.
Whereas in our Bubba Yum Yum example making a ‘soup’ broth containing liver and salt would have exceptionally high levels of vitamin A for any child to consume on a daily basis and long term. High vitamin A levels can be toxic, if chronically over consumed in small children.
Although there is no harm in drinking broth as a supplement for adults, the benefits don’t stack up to the magical health claims.
Exploring the role of collagen in bone broth
Bone broth not only contains minerals, but also contains amino acids, derived from broken down collagen. Collagen is a structural protein in connective tissues, which, gives bones it’s flexibility. It also makes up skin, cartilage, ligaments and blood vessels. It is heat sensitive at 60degrees, this is the temperature in which collagen breaks down, which is well below boiling temperature of 100degrees.
When boiling bones collagen is destroyed and turns to gelatin. You probably know gelatin jelly crystals or a powder used in cooking to form a gel. Gelatin is high in two amino acids glycine and proline, both non-essential amino acids.
The body makes glycine and proline as required from other food you eat. There is no need to have specific sources coming from the diet, particularly if you eat protein on a daily basis. This is specially the case for people following high protein diets like; paleo and low carb high fat. The body will recycle extra amino acids in the system that isn’t needed. Excess amino acids will be used for other functions or just excreted out in your urine.
These two amino acids have been highlighted in broth consumers to have properties relating to showing improvements in stiff and painful joints affected by arthritis and training. In addition to this improving gut lining aiding in treatment of food intolerances and chrons disease all of which are unsubstantiated.
Food intolerances are not caused by a leaky gut, nor are they caused by poor gut lining. They are caused by the inability of the body to break down certain fermentable sugars, fibres and sugared alcohols. These sugars are called fermentable oligo-, di-, mono- scacharides and polyols. In those with food intolerances these sugars ferment creating gas. The gas presses on the walls of the gut causing abdominal pain and bloating. This is treated by following a low FODMAP diet.
My suggestion if you experience bloating, pain, constipation or loose stools, see a dietitian who can help you with a strategic plan on testing an elimination diet of possible dietary irritants. It’s actually a very complicated therapeutic diet to do that has very positive outcomes. However in the wrong hands and not done properly, you will find yourself solution less and very frustrated with the process.
If you want to know the difference between a food intolerance and coeliac disease read my blog here.
The bone broth glucosamine myth
Broth is known to having high levels of glycosaminoglycan and chondroitin. You may remember these compounds as being part of a supplement known as glucosamine. This supplement has divided opinion on its effectiveness on joint care. So far the research has shown little to no benefit, either way it’s not going to cure arthritis or protect against chronically heavy training loads.
Osteoarthritis is a condition caused by over use. Cartilage that encapsulate bone ends, become worn out. A person will feel pain due to bone on bone friction. The only treatment for this is surgical intervention and pain management. Cartilage cannot be regrown once the damage is done.
A more recent study paper produced last year investigated bone broth diets and found they contained higher levels of lead. Although lead poisoning is highly unlikely, it does also stress the point to consider were the animal carcass is sourced, as there is potential undesirable contaminants. This is particularly important for city folk who may obtain animal bones from industrialised farms close city edges, which are common locations for chicken farms.
Bone broth calcium and your bones
Bone broth has a potential to be another source of calcium, this is only one of the only supported positive claims. Calcium is used for muscle contraction, and good bone health. It may also aid in the reduction of risk of developing osteoporosis later on in older adult life. Nutrient analysis done on bone broth showed that calcium levels are highly variable in broth depending on the type of animal used.
I wouldn’t rely on bone broth alone for meeting calcium requirements. Make sure you still include 2-3 serves of dairy most days to get enough calcium into your diet.
If you enjoy drinking mineral soup, then drink up and enjoy! However don’t expect to cure painful or arthritic joints, food intolerances or whatever urban legends have been sold to you. Bone broth isn’t a magical food item that cures all. You can get more benefits from simply eating more veggies and having some protein with your meals.
Taking a more preventative stance with your joints at an early age to avoid osteoarthritis is ideal. Consider cross training to eventually distribute loading through out multiple joints over time. For example swapping a run session for swimming or cycling.
If you’re into weight training, add in flexibility training to your workouts and avoid jarring joints under large loads. If you are in it for the long haul consider periodized training.
Take planned rests from training to avoid over training and stress fractures. Keep your calcium intake high in your diet to protect your bones. All of this will have far more positive benefits to your joints and bones. It’s about training smarter, not harder.