Nutrition Trend: Bone Broth

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Coming to a health food store near you…Mark my words, this trend is soon to take over your green smoothie. Marketed as the health and beauty end-all, bone broth is now being sold in uber chic urban burrows by way of way-too-cool-for-me broth bars and pubs in most major cities. Served in paper to go cups or coffee mugs, this glorified soup has hit its stride.

So what is it? Bone broth is basically stock made from the bones of any animal. The bones should be from organic, free range birds, and grass-fed beef with no added hormones. The bones are boiled with the usual soup veggies (give or take one or two): onions, carrots and celery. The boiling process may go on for 12-18 hours, thus leaching out many nutrients from the bones. The soup is then strained, and you are left with a rich liquid broth.

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I have been reading about bone broth for years. It has regularly been used in homeopathic circles for bowel health and inflammation control. As far as scientific evidence, we don’t have much. What we do know is that this high protein elixir provides a large amount of a protein called collagen. Collagen is the main component of connective tissue in humans found all over the human body, most fashionably- the skin. Collagen gives elasticity to skin and allows it to maintain its firm, supple texture. It is often used as an injection by dermatologists and plastic surgeons to maintain a “youthful” look.

The stipulation here is that when we eat collagen, it doesn’t just go straight to our skin and joints to make us younger and more glamorous. Collagen, like any other protein, must first be broken down to simple amino acids and then used to by the body in its basic form. In theory, the collagen that we eat could be broken down and rebuilt to recreate collagen in the body, but this is not a given.

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Bone broth is also thought to be high in minerals. Think about it, bones are where many minerals are stored throughout the body. So if we boil these bones for an eternity, the minerals should be pouring out into the broth. However, nutrition analyses have shown that bone broth is not very high in these boney minerals. One serving is likely to have less than 10% of the daily recommended intake of calcium and phosphorus, and less than 5% of magnesium. Hmm…not super high…but not necessarily a bad thing. You will find a wide variety of minerals such as, iron, selenium, manganese, potassium, zinc, and copper – just not in large quantities.

Ok so after contradicting some of the touted benefits, why would anyone continue to partake in this trend? One reason- broth has been a remedy of grandmothers for hundreds (thousands?) of years. It delivers broken down protein that does not require much in the digestion process. These proteins can now be very easily used to rebuild and repair ailing elements. You simply can’t argue with Grandma.  I am not a meat eater for various reasons- health, ethics, and I simply never loved the taste- but I really do like the idea of using the entire animal and leaving little to waste. Bone broth does just that. If you are not super opposed to eating meat, it can be a nice addition to a vegetarian diet to ensure all essential amino acid requirements are being met. As a dietitian, I do have to remind you to watch the amount of sodium you take in on a daily basis. Broths are notorious for a high sodium content, so either make them yourself, or don’t overdo it on a regular basis.

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I think bone broth definitely has a place in our diet- for youthful beauty, I’m not so sure; but for times of illness, stress, and pregnancy, a good bone broth may be the perfect addition. Because it was very much popularized by the winter of 2014-2015, the true test will be if it can maintain its momentum through the steamy summer months this year has to offer.

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