Photograph © 2015 by Michael Harlan Turkell
It’s been called liquid gold and has been credited with everything from soothing tummy aches to curing the common cold. The modern cavemen love it. Kobe Bryant claims it healed his Achilles tendon. New Yorkers are paying $6 for a to-go cup, and sipping it instead of lattes. Stir it all together, and bone broth is simmering in the collective conscious of the healthy eating community. So what’s the big deal?
Broths, stocks, and soups are traditional foods, which means bone broth isn’t actually new, it’s just a captivating name for an odd renaissance. A hard look at the ingredients reveals they’re exactly the same as homemade stock or your grandmother’s chicken soup. You take bones, put them in a pot of cold water, throw in an onion and a bay leaf, and simmer for hours. But while traditional stock might cook for 4 to 8 hours, bone broth can go for as long as 24 to 48. The result is a flavorful, gelatinous liquid, thickened with cartilage and marrow.
There’s no doubt that bone broth is full flavored, full bodied, and delicious. It puts weak and salty bouillon cubes to shame. But it may not be a miracle cure. Here’s the truth about six highly talked about claims.
Claim #1: Bone Broth is Good for Your Gut
Bones contain collagen, which becomes gelatin when cooked, and some believe the jelly-like stuff may help to seal and soothe the intestine. People are reporting that bone broth aids with digestion, and some doctors are hoping that it could help treat leaky gut syndrome. Unfortunately, gelatin is a protein, which is broken down into amino acids in the stomach, so it never actually reaches the intestine in its gel-like state. There is a drug that delivers gelatin directly to the gut, which supports the concept. But bone broth doesn’t work the same way, and the science doesn’t back it up.
Claim #2: Bone Broth Fights Disease
A study on homemade chicken soup from the University of Nebraska confirms that soup can ease the symptoms of the common cold. The recipe used in the study also had vegetables in it, so it offered some nutrition. But just because chicken soup can help you feel better, it doesn’t follow that broth will protect you from diseases, or speed up recovery.
Claim #3: Bone Broth is Good for Your Joints
Bone broth is rich in anti-inflammatory sugar amino acids. When made with bones with lots of cartilage (like veal knuckles), it also includes glucosamine, a substance made naturally by the body from glucose (sugar) and an amino acid (glutamine). You can take glucosamine as a pill, to help soothe achy joints. While there is evidence to suggest the supplements may relieve pain caused by osteoarthritis, there’s no backing to the idea that bone broth might help you recover after joint injury or surgery.
Claim #4: Bone Broth Improves Skin, Hair, and Nails
Beauty enthusiasts light up when they hear that bone broth contains collagen, the structure that supports plump skin and strong hair and nails. And although plastic surgeons inject collagen as a filler, it’s not clear if drinking it in its cooked form offers the same benefits. Remember that the collagen in bones turns into gelatin in broth, which in turn breaks down into amino acids in the bloodstream—and they’re not even essential amino acids! Your body could actually make those amino acids on its own. Given all of the conversions, this claim seems highly unlikely.
Claim #5: Bone Broth is a Mood Booster
Researchers are exploring connections between gut health and mood and behavior. So for the people who imagine that bone broth can restore your gut (see claim #1!), the next leap is that it could be soothing for your mind, too. Believers say bone broth can regulate mood and possibly even help with depression. If you find it calming to sip a hot mug of broth, that’s great, but the science isn’t there yet.
Claim #6: Bone Broth is a Sports Recovery Drink
This is the only claim that might actually carry some weight. The water and electrolytes in bone broth can help to replace the fluid and sodium lost through sweat during an intense workout. The amino acids from the gelatin can also help to rebuild muscle after weight training. Better than some of the bottled stuff, bone broth can be a great low-sugar option as a sports recovery drink.
Bone broth might not be able to deliver on all of the buzz. But there’s one claim you can swallow: It’s healthy and delicious, and cheap and easy to make. Plus, it’s more nutritious than a packet of instant chicken soup. So if you’re intrigued and want to try the trend, here’s a simple recipe from Marco Canora, chef of Hearth restaurant and Brodo broth window in New York City:
In the intro to his cookbook, Canora shrugs off the hype: “Anyone who knows me or has been to Hearth knows the food I make has always veered to the traditional side of things. I’m anything but trendy. But if a shop like Brodo and this collection of recipes can get people sipping bone broth as naturally as they would down a soda, an energy drink, or a Gatorade, thus contributing to the growing movement of eating more traditional, unprocessed foods, well, that makes my day.”
Have you tried bone broth? Do you feel like you’re getting any health benefits? Join the conversation below.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.