How healthy is bone broth, really?
Bone broth is one of the hottest new food trends, but how healthy is bone broth? Is the science really there?
In case you missed it, bone broth is totally a thing now. Sure, it was something your great-grandparents probably did in order to make the most from their animals during long, snowy winters. But there is a lot of heat behind this broth movement.
You know it’s big when it’s the hottest new take-out beverage option in NYC! Forget espresso, everyone in NYC seems to be drinking bone broth this season. There was even a bone broth (and styrofoam cup?) festival in New York this past week. Say whaaat?
A recent post on NPR’s The Salt food blog called out the bone broth trend on all its life-saving, gut-healing, magical superpowers allegedly created by boiling roasted animal bones in water.
Devotees say that it can help heal everything from intestinal damage, to upset stomach, all the while boosting immunity and making your hair, skin and nails glow due to the high levels of collagen and gelatin. However, before all the pretty people can line up for their take-away bone broth, NPR cautions readers:
“[There] are precious few scientific studies of the specific healthful properties of bone broth. What’s more, there is no one bone broth recipe. It can be made with different animal bones (some with fatty marrow, some without), with different added flavors (like onions and herbs) and with different cooking methods (five hours of simmering versus 24 hours or more). All of those variables impact the nutritional properties and will give you a different broth [and] scientists agree that bone broth’s so-called ability to heal and restore collagen is probably overblown.”
The other big claim about bone broth is that it’s full of natural vitamins, enzymes and other healing compounds, but what do you suppose happens to those enzymes and vitamins when the bones have been roasted and boiled for hours and then boiled for 10-20 hours more?
Most of the potentially available nutrition becomes less useful for the body. The one thing that bone broth might have going for it are some immunity-boosting properties. As Jewish grandmothers have known forever, the article cites some studies showing that chicken broth can boost immunity.
Related: 6 Immune-Boosting Foods
Bone broth is also a big component of the GAPS diet, a restrictive diet free of grains, dairy and processed foods meant to heal autoimmune conditions and credited with reducing the symptoms of autism (although GAPS has also been mostly discredited).
I’ve talked with lots of doctors and naturpaths that prescribe the GAPS diet for their patients with great results, but it’s not quite clear whether it’s a collection of diet and lifestyle changes or the foods on the diet themselves.
The good news is that there are plenty of foods that are legitimately good at building hair, skin and nails and boosting immunity. Food scientist Kantha Shelke says that the solution is actually leafy greens. “Plants [are] richer sources in collagen building blocks and, in addition, provide nutrients not found in sufficient quantities in meats or broth.”
There is no doubt that a cup of broth is super comforting. When we’re feeling good, eating clean foods and hydrating properly, our immunity goes up.
So if bone broth doesn’t offer true healing but instead just offers warmth and hydration, it seems like you could get an even better result with some good quality veggie broth (without all that cleaning, roasting, boiling and straining of the bones). And since you don’t need to buy bones from your local deli, veggie broth is way cheaper too! And um, roasting and boiling bones for 10-20 hours? How energy efficient is that?! Veggie broth cooks up in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost.
Better than Bone Broth: Homemade Vegetable Stock
The easiest way to make homemade vegetable broth? Veggie scraps. And let’s be clear: when I say scraps I do not mean rotten bits of veggies, liquidy herbs or mushy greens. That’s compost. For broth-making, scraps mean washed and cleaned carrot tops, onion skins, leek greens, stems and other bits of vegetable goodness.
My wintertime method is to keep a container in the freezer and just add scraps every time I cook. Once my jar is full, I dump all the veggies into a stockpot, cover with filtered water, add some kombu and a dried shiitake mushroom, and boil for one hour. Strain, stir in a few pinches of salt, and let cool. Store in your fridge for a week or so. You can also freeze broth in cubes or containers for later.
Here’s another super healing mineral rich broth from Rebecca Katz of The Longevity Kitchen. Her claim that it cures cancer is pretty strong (are you allowed to say that…?), but the ingredients are clean and beautiful, and it almost makes me want to get sick to have a good reason to boil all those veggies to death.
Here’s another exacting recipe for a warming vegetable stock (and a simple, cozy noodle dish) from The First Mess. She poops on my vegetable scrap idea, but her points are good and the broth looks rich and delicious. Bonus for using all those beautiful fresh herbs.