Bone broth has been around forever — arguably, since our caveman days, making it one of the only true Paleo foods — but its stock has been on the rise since roughly 2013, thanks to athletes, celebrities, and even bloggers gushing over its supposedly wondrous health benefits. While there has long been an interest in bone broth in traditional foodways communities (such as those centered around the Weston A. Price Foundation), today you can find entire eateries, cookbooks, and even delivery services devoted to the stuff. The question is, are we lapping up anything besides hype?
What Is Bone Broth?
Cooks have, of course, known about bone broth for centuries, since many dishes rely on the liquid generated from slowly simmering animal bones in water for their flavor. But while most kitchens tend to use broth; its French incarnation, boullion; or stock with added aromatics, seasoning, and maybe some meat clinging to those simmering bones, the current interpretation of bone broth tends to be more straightforward. It's animal bones, usually beef but also chicken, boiled and then simmered with a splash of acid for a stretch of time until they yield a savory, nutrient-rich, slightly gelatinous elixir.
The Appeal of Bone Broth
The resulting broth does tend to be more concentrated in protein than your standard kitchen stock, averaging between six and eight grams per cup serving, says Kristen F. Gradney, R.D., operations director at Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group in Baton Rouge, LA, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "It's in line with that whole low-carb, back-to-basics Paleo mindset. A lot of athletes use it instead of a juice-based sports drink to replace electrolytes after a workout and because of the collagen," she says. But while collagen, a protein, has some proven benefits for joints and skin, it's not enough to repair and regenerate cells and muscles, Gradney says, and certainly not in the small amounts found in bone broth.
Proponents of the stuff point out that it's far more palatable than other options. "You can't just bite into a bone," says Meredith Cochran, co-founder and chief executive officer of The Osso Good Company, which makes bone broth. Cochran, who has a degree in cellular molecular biology and has studied traditional Chinese medicine, where bone broth has been used as a health regimen for thousands of years, admits that few western studies have been done on broth. But she has found research to show that the gelatin in it is one of the easiest substances to digest, and in Chinese medicine, the main three amino acids found in broth — glycine, glutamine, and proline — have various benefits, from keeping your blood healthy to aiding fat digestion.
Final Thoughts on Bone Broth
But proven benefits remain scant. Boiling down bones will net you only trace amounts of what's inside them — mostly protein, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and iron (from the red blood cells in marrow). "There just isn't enough of those trace nutrients to have any real impact on your health," says Roger Clemens, a doctor of public health, past president of the Institute of Food Technologists, and current professor at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, International Center for Regulatory Science. Plus, he adds, the protein you do get isn't high-quality, like you'd get from a steak. It lacks an amino acid profile consistent with what we need as humans, and, he adds: "Collagen has low digestibility. And if your body can't break it down, it can't use those nutrients."
Still, while experts agree bone broth isn't a cure-all, neither is it a very risky supplement to your diet. "It's not harmful in any way," says Gradney. "At the very least, you're getting some extra protein and hydrating yourself." She does urge caution with sodium contents, however, which can range up to 800 milligrams per half cup depending on how it's prepared. "You really want to keep it to less than 700 milligrams per serving," she says. Otherwise, it's a good way to fortify soup, gravies, sauces.
Do you drink bone broth and why? Share your experience in the comments