Bone broth is one of the hottest foods on the market today, according to Food and Health Communications. Sales of shelf-stable bone broth more than tripled in 2017 compared to 2016.
Bone broth is basically stock made by slowly simmering animal bones and skin in water for 5 to 24 hours or more to allow the collagen and gelatin to be released from the cartilage. Just as every cook has their own special recipes, there is no one single recipe for bone broth.
To understand bone broth, we need to understand protein digestion. Bone broth marketing promises benefits from collagen, gelatin and a variety of amino acids that supposedly promote healthy skin, decreased joint pain, an improved immune system and better digestive health.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body, providing the structure and framework for muscles, bone, skin and tendons. Just because bone broth contains a high amount of collagen and gelatin doesn’t automatically mean that it provides health benefits, because the amino acids will be put back together by the body in a variety of ways. Excess amino acids aren’t stored, and are instead processed by the liver into urea, which is excreted by the kidneys as part of urine.
Bone broth marketing sounds simple: consume more collagen from bone broth and you will reap the potential health benefits. However, protein digestion isn’t that simple. When we eat foods that contain protein, the protein is broken down into amino acids, which are the building blocks of every type of protein. Our body then combines the amino acids into new proteins for whatever structures are needed at that time.
There is very little research that specifically demonstrates health benefits of bone broth. Just because you’re consuming more collagen in bone broth doesn’t mean that your body will use the amino acids in the collagen to make more collagen. There is very limited research to support the claims that drinking bone broth will decrease joint pain from arthritis or improve skin elasticity.
Claims that bone broth will improve the immune system are based on small studies that show chicken broth or chicken soup may help relieve a stuffy nose associated with a cold or the flu. While amino acids are important components of our body’s immune system, consuming a variety of foods that contain protein provides all the amino acids our body needs. If consuming a hot beverage like bone broth or chicken soup feels comforting and helps you breathe easier, it can be part of your cold-fighting arsenal, but it’s not a magic cure.
Bone broth is a good source of gelatin, and some studies show that a combination of gelatin and tannic acids may help repair the mucous lining of the intestines. However, it’s not known if gelatin on its own has any positive effects on our digestive system.
The bottom line: If you enjoy drinking bone broth, it can be part of an overall healthful, balanced diet even if it doesn’t meet many expectations for improved health.
Linda Robbins, CDN, is assistant director and nutrition educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Herkimer County.