Food Fad: Bone Broth

This time of year anything with the word "broth" has my interest. This past week’s weather has been particularly brutal, with daytime temps barely rising above freezing. We thought the weather aligned perfectly for with this week’s food fad edition: bone broth. Bone broth rose in popularity in 2015 and doesn’t seem like it’s fading anytime soon.

Why the craze?

Good question. From media reporting, one may think that bone broth is a magic elixir that can cure all that ails us. Celebrities ranging from Salma Hayek to Kobe Bryant have been touting the health benefits of bone broth. Bryant even attributed this "drink" to speed up his recovery after his various injuries over the past few years. In a 2015 interview, Bryant stated, "I've been doing the bone broth for a while now. It's great—energy, inflammation. It's great."

I’m glad that Mr. Bryant feels energized and that it helps with inflammation. (I’m a bit unclear if that’s what he is trying to say, but that’s what happens with science buzzwords.) But I am very skeptical that it can be directly attributed to bone broth. Let’s dive into the ingredients and science to learn more and Bone Brothmake a more informed conclusion.

What’s in bone broth?

Another valid question. Basically, it is the beginnings or basis of soup, AKA stock. There really is not one recipe to follow; rather, it is a pretty flexible recipe. Bone broth can be made with a variety of different animal bones and material such as cartilage, skin, tendons, and ligaments. It can have various added flavors like onion, garlic, and herbs. It can be prepared as quickly as a few hours or simmered 24 hours or more.

I still don’t get it …

Let’s go back to the first ingredient in bone broth: animal products. Champions tout that by boiling down the animal bones, cartilage, skin, tendons, and ligaments, a liquid rich in collagen, gelatin, and other amino acids is created. Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the body and helps to provide strength and structure to organs and tissues. Gelatin is a mixture of peptides and proteins derived from collagen that has been extracted from animal products.

A quick refresher on proteins: They're the building blocks for muscle and tissue, which are made up of amino acids. Short chains of amino acids strung together make peptides, usually about 50 or fewer amino acids. Proteins are multiple peptides that have been strung together for a biological function, such as building muscle.

What does drinking a cup of collagen and gelatin mean for me?

Unfortunately, not too much. Just because you eat collagen does not mean that collagen will be immediately supplied to your muscle and tissue. Rather, your digestive system will do what it is designed to do: break down collagen into smaller amino acids and use those a building blocks in the places of your body that are needed.

Bone BrothTaking a dive into the science, there are—unsurprisingly—not a ton of studies assessing the effects of bone broth on health. A 1970s study found that drinking hot chicken soup can increase nasal mucus velocity (i.e., make you want to blow your nose) and manage fluids during respiratory infections. So there seems to be a basis for having a comforting bowl of soup while you are sick.

The other study mentioning bone broth found that it contained nearly 10 times the amount of lead compared to plain water. The hypothesis of the study was formed because animal bones are sources of lead. As a caution, the authors "recommend that doctors and nutritionists take the risk of lead contamination into consideration when advising patients about bone broth." However, this finding was from a small study and did not assess circulating levels of lead in the form of a clinical trial, so these results must be placed in proper context. 

It should not come as a surprise that bone broth will not fix your health problems, give you enormous amounts of energy, or make your hair and skin look fabulous. Instead, stick to tried and true nutrition options like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats to give you maximum nutrition that will improve your overall health.

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