There are records of people consuming tasty bone broths going back two and a half thousand years. In China, it was considered a medicine, used to strengthen the kidneys and guts. Throughout East Asia, it has been used as the base for soups for millennia. In Ancient Greece, Hippocrates recommended it for its fortifying qualities. Famously, in Jewish culture, chicken bone soups are highly prized for their health benefits. For the French, it is ‘bouillon’, the Spanish ‘caldo’, the Italians ‘brodo’. In so many cultures, and throughout history, there seems to be a love of consuming the broth that results from slowly cooking bones and thereby extracting the nutrients.
Oddly, the subject of bone broth has become something of a minor controversy of late. Advocates have claimed some quite amazing powers, whilst critics have pointed out that some of these claims may be somewhat exaggerated. Let us dive into this somewhat glutinous mess and see for ourselves how much is hype and how much is hope.
What is bone broth?
In the simplest possible terms, bone broth is a soup, or broth, made up from stewing bones over an extended period of time. The idea is to bring out the gelatin from the bones. To do this, the broth must be cooked for an extended amount of time. In our case, we tend to prepare it in a slow cooker (crockpot in the US) over a 24 hour period. It is suggested that it be prepared for at least 8 hours to be at all effective. This is just one of the reasons why it is often better to prepare these things yourself. Cooking for such an extended period would be expensive in commercial terms, hence the likelihood that many products are not really bone broth in the true sense.
The type of bones involved makes a big difference. Generally, chicken bones seem to be the most beneficial, closely followed by beef. On the other hand, more or less any bones will do. We have often used duck and pig, with very tasty results I might add. Other possibilities are goose, lamb, turkey, and venison.
Here at Ketopensioner, we recommend that you learn to make your own bone broth. That way you can be absolutely sure that only healthy, non-processed ingredients are used. You can also ensure that it is cooked for a sufficient amount of time to extract the gelatin. Failing that though, Kettle & Fires classic chicken bone broth has a very good reputation.
How to make bone broth
Using a slow cooker is simplicity itself. It is often simply a case of adding the appropriate ingredients, bones and vegetables, adding in a little vinegar (we like apple cider vinegar) and any herbs you like, turning the dial to slow, and then more or less forgetting about it until the next day. The vinegar is needed in order to extract the minerals from the bones.
Our own slow cooker is about 15 litres (approx. 4 US gallons). This easily provides sufficient broth for our family of three (probably a little too much, to be honest, but we do love our bone broth!). Slow cookers tend to be somewhat simpler than a stock pot as they avoid the need for monitoring (mostly) and do not lose much of the liquid to evaporation. Add vegetables to the bones to taste, making sure that that you cover the ingredients with water. Finally, set the heat to low. Forget about it until the next day.
To be honest, there are so many ways to cook bone broth that much of this can be left to your own inventiveness and preferences. As long as you have sufficient bones of the type you prefer, and give it enough time for the gelatin to emerge from the bones, your job is done. For those who prefer to work from more exact recipes, they may like to try this book:
6 benefits of bone broth
Benefit 1: Eases the pain from aching joints
When we cook the bones that go into creating bone broth, we break down the collagen contained within them into gelatin. The gelatin itself contains many amino acids that help to build healthy joints. Perhaps the most significant of these are proline and glycine, which help build strong and resilient tendons and ligaments. Glucosamine and chondroitin are also readily found in bone broth. These compounds are to be found in the body’s cartilage tissue. It has been clearly demonstrated that these compounds can aid the reduction of pain from osteoarthritis and joint pain in general.
Benefit 2: Can soothe gastrointestinal problems
Because of poor diet and lifestyle, many people suffer from problems with a leaky gut. Our colons contain a layer of epithelial cells and a mucus layer. They contain a diverse collection of microbes. A thinning of these layers or microbial dysbiosis (an imbalance of the gut’s microbial community) can lead to the epithelial layer breaking down and thence a leaky gut. This may result in symptoms like abdominal cramping, diarrhoea, and constipation. The gelatin produced by the broth absorbs water and helps to maintain the layer of mucus that keeps the gut microbes away from the intestinal barrier. Hence, consuming bone broth can help heal your gut.
Benefit 3: It supplies a range of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals
The marrow extracted during the cooking of bone broth supplies you with vitamin A and vitamin K2. Vitamin A is good for our immune system and aids vision, particularly in dim light. Vitamin K2 plays a key role in the metabolism of calcium (found in our teeth and bones) the main mineral found in your bones. It combines particularly well with vitamin D and aids and abets that minerals functions. Depending on the exact bones utilised, a broth likely contains calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, sodium, and zinc.
Benefit 4: Protects the Heart
Glycine is the simplest amino acid and one that is particularly abundant in bone broths. By controlling gluconeogenesis (the production of glucose in the liver) it plays a very important role in blood sugar regulation. Via this mechanism, it may help to counteract the negative effects of consuming excessive fructose. It has also been demonstrated to help reduce the size of heart attacks. Glycine also balances out methionine. Both eggs and muscle meats are relatively high in methionine and this can raise homocysteine levels in the blood. This is considered a risk factor in heart disease and strokes. People on high meat diets, need to consume adequate amounts of glycine to balance out methionine.
Benefit 5: It has anti-inflammatory properties
My original reason for starting a ketogenic diet was its anti-inflammatory properties. At a certain level, inflammation is a necessary response from the body and part of the healing process. Chronic inflammation, however, occurs when the body overreacts to perceived threats that are not that dangerous. The result of this overreaction can be diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and diabetes. Bone broth, because it contains high amounts of arginine and glycine, helps to calm this chronic anti-inflammatory response. Various studies have demonstrated that arginine, in particular, may have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Benefit 6: Consuming bone broth is a great way to end a fast
The benefits of fasting are becoming more and more well known of late. Combined with a ketogenic diet, it can be a very healthy option. The question often comes up, however, what is the best way to end a fast? It turns out that consuming bone broth at this time is more or less the ideal approach. After a period of fasting, and hence autophagy, the body needs easily accessible amino acids to start the rebuilding process once again. Because it contains so many vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients, bone broth fits the bill more or less perfectly. It is also very easy to digest, which can certainly help after a period of prolonged fasting.
2 Bone broth myths
Myth 1: Bone broth provides collagen
To put it very simply, collagen is not directly absorbed from bone broth. As the broth is gently simmered, it starts to form gelatin via the process of hydrolysis. By the time the broth is consumed, there is no longer any collagen to be consumed, it has all been transformed to gelatin. The long protein fibrils no longer exist at this stage as they have been broken down into the smaller protein peptides. Even if this was not the case, collagen would not be able to be directly absorbed by the gut as it is too large a molecule. At this stage, it would be broken down into smaller peptides anyway. Many of the claims for bone broth can be reasonably debated; there is evidential support for both sides. Unfortunately, the idea that we get collagen directly from bone broth is not one of them.
Myth 2: Bone broths make skin firmer and smoother
To some extent, this second myth is related to the first. At base, this myth is also based on the flawed notion that we get collagen directly from bone broth. If we did, it would indeed help to make our skin firmer and smoother but, unfortunately, and as noted above, this is not the case. A good case could be made for the idea that a good, balanced diet that contains adequate fats and proteins would be good for the skin. I can personally attest to this as my own skin issues completely disappeared after a couple of months on a carnivore/ketogenic diet. But that, of course, is not the same as saying that it is the collagen being absorbed from bone broth that is directly responsible.
Hopefully, if you were not convinced of consuming bone broth before reading this article, you are now. Although not all the claims made for it stand up to scientific scrutiny, there are still enough proven benefits to make it a worthwhile addition to your diet. It is easy to prepare, inexpensive, and has a wide range of health benefits. For those of us who wish to make the most of our healthspan, what’s not to like?