Recently in the food world, the “super food” bone broth has been a huge hit due to its supposed variety of health benefits. Some people have even started drinking bone broth in place of their morning coffee or tea. Bone broth has been acclaimed to sooth arthritis and boost immune function while also smoothing and strengthening skin. To clear the air, there is nothing new about today’s bone broth. Bone broth, or stock, has been used in cooking in many cultures around the world for centuries. Bone broth can be made from bones, tendons, ligaments, and skin from beef, poultry, pork, and fish. These animal components are simmered in water over several hours and can be consumed hot as it is or incorporated into soups, gravies, and other dishes. So what about bone broth makes it a health food?
Sadly, little research has been done with bone broth and therefore, the supposed health benefits have little evidence to back them up. Bone broth has peaked scientists’ interest for over 80 years. A research study regarding nutritional benefits of bone broth dating back to 1934 in The Archives of Disease in Childhood came to the conclusion that bone broths are not of “great nutritional value”. Over the years, there have been few studies on bone broth with indefinite conclusions. The medical journal Chest published a study in 1978 concluded that chicken soup helps clear nasal passages. The study found that consuming hot chicken soup significantly increased flow of mucus significantly better than consuming cold or hot water. While results appeared to be significant in this study, it is important to point out that there were only 15 subjects involved. Not to discount the study’s results, however, a small amount of participants like this suggests for further research to be done. Another piece of research surrounding chicken soup was published in the Chest in 2000. Researchers concluded that chicken soup might reduce inflammation. Laboratory test results showed that consuming chicken soup lowered the activity of the white blood cells called neutrophils. This specific type of white blood cell is the immediate responder when there is an inflammatory response within the body. While this study reports positive outcomes, the study was not confirmed in a controlled group of participants.
One of the few factual pieces of health information is that bone broth is a good source of protein. One cup of bone broth has about 5 grams of protein. Proteins are the fundamental pieces of muscles, bones, cartilage, and skin. Bone broth has also been suggested as a post-workout drink to replace lost electrolytes when exercising. High concentrations of electrolytes, such as sodium and chloride, are easily lost through sweat.
Several other health claims have been made about bone broth with no scientific evidence to support them. A few are listed below:
Claim 1: Bone broth strengthens bones because of the calcium content. Even though bones simmer in the broth for hours at a time, little calcium is released from the bones into the broth. The amount is so little that will not significantly increase bone strengthen or prevent bone conditions such as osteoporosis.
Claim 2: Bone broth relieves join pain. Arthritis occurs due to a loss of collagen, which is protein that provides padding for the joints. The collagen found in bone broth is not directly absorbed and transferred directly to the joint to prevent joint pain. Dietary collagen protein is broken down into amino acids just like any other protein food source. These amino acids are then used to help build and repair components of the body including skin, cartilage, and bone; however, they will not immediately transfer to the joints to relieve pain.
Claim 3: Bone broth helps firm and smooth skin. While collagen plays a structural role in skin just like it does with joints, it isn’t directly absorbed through the skin either.
The sad truth about supposed “superfoods” is that there is no one food that has all the health properties that the body needs. The body requires a variety of nutrients, vitamins and minerals and we are unable to obtain those from one specific food source. It is important to incorporate a wide variety of all food groups in your diet in order to nourish your body properly. While bone broth is most likely harmless, it does not have the curing capabilities that the media construes. Incorporating bone broth into a healthy balanced diet may help promote health overall, however, it will not be the magic ingredient that cures one from any illness.
- McCance RA, Sheldon W, Widdowson EM. Bone and vegetable broth. Arch Dis Child. 1934 Aug;9(52):251–8.
- Taking Stock Of Bone Broth: Sorry, No Cure-All Here [Internet]. NPR.org. [cited 2018 Aug 28]. Available from: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/02/10/384948585/taking-stock-of-bone-broth-sorry-no-cure-all-here
- Publishing HH. What’s the scoop on bone soup? [Internet]. Harvard Health. [cited 2018 Aug 28]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/whats-the-scoop-on-bone-soup
Thank you to dietetic intern Molly Lowery for her contributions to and creation of this post.