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Is bone broth all it’s claimed to be or just another health fad?

Bone broth is a liquid created by simmering bones in water for a long period. Picture by Bluebird Provisions/Pexels

Bone broth is a liquid created by simmering bones in water for a long period. Picture by Bluebird Provisions/Pexels

Published Dec 6, 2022


We continue to spend money on products, foods and diets that claim to enhance our well-being, physical state, overall appearance and promote sleep.

To better understand if bone broth which is punted by some as a super food, is really a magical elixir or simply another health fad IOL Lifestyle chatted with Kelly Scholtz, a registered dietitian, and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa.

Bone broth is a liquid created by simmering bones in water for a long period. Other vegetables and protein sources may also be added to the broth at times, along with an acid (such as vinegar or lemon juice).

It can be used as the foundation for sauces and soups or consumed on its own. You can buy powdered bone broths that are produced by cooking bones and other animal body parts for many days in water, including skin, feet, tendons, and ligaments. With the processing time, it is possible to extract proteins from those body parts that would otherwise be inaccessible, said Scholtz.

“Traditional stock, such as that used in French cooking, is a type of bone broth. Many other cultures use broths and stocks like this, so it is not really a new food, but it has been used more frequently in recent years for its supposed health benefits.”

“Bone broth is believed to help relieve joint pain and osteoarthritis, detoxify the liver, aid in wound healing, prevent ageing skin, support digestive health, balance hormones, increase energy, strengthen bones, improve quality of sleep, alleviate symptoms from certain autoimmune conditions, and boost immune function”.

Kelly Scholtz, a registered dietitian, and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa. Picture Supplied.

Scholtz goes on to say that the mild relief that chicken soup provides for a common cold cannot necessarily be extrapolated to bone broth being a cure or a powerful immune booster.

The bones that are used to make bone broth do contribute ingredients like glutamine and collagen to the broth that is consumed.

“While there may be research about these nutrients and their link to certain health benefits in animals and humans, there is not enough evidence that bone broth itself can be used therapeutically in humans for any of these listed conditions.”

Sholtz adds, “An example is a glutamine, which is one of the claimed beneficial nutrients in bone broth. In individuals in an extremely stressed state (e.g. post-surgery or severe burns) glutamine becomes conditionally essential – we usually make enough of it ourselves when we are healthy, but seem to need more at critical times and glutamine supplementation has shown beneficial effects in these patients.”

But a healthy person shouldn't need more glutamine than they can readily produce themselves or get from a balanced diet.

The small amounts of nourishment present in bone broth may be beneficial to a very malnourished person. Although glutamine is found in large quantities in many foods, including meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, legumes, and dairy, there are significantly more concentrated sources of this substance.

Many of the benefits attributed to broth are real when consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet that includes enough protein, energy, and micronutrients.

Another presumption is that when collagen or gelatin are ingested through food, they do not go straight to the skin or bones. It is therefore impossible to assume that a broth made from these ingredients would do anything more than add a few amino acids to the body's general pool for use as needed.

Is it really okay to consume broth?

Depending on how it is used and what is added to it, broth consumption may have positive or negative effects on health. For someone with high blood pressure, it might not be healthful if it includes too much salt, for example. Otherwise, consuming bone broth as part of a balanced diet shouldn't pose any risks, Scholtz points out.

Would you recommend drinking bone broth in conjunction with a diet like the Paleo diet?

There seems to be no harm in including moderate amounts of bone broth as part of a healthy diet. It is probably preferable to consume artificially flavoured stocks and soups because it is likely to be lower than salt and it does contribute small amounts of nutrients as well as fluid.

“However, there is insufficient evidence to support that it is a highly nutritious or therapeutic food, so it should not be considered a replacement for other food groups. I would recommend using it as a base for flavourful sauces and soups as part of an otherwise healthy eating plan.”

For an eating plan such as the Paleo diet, it is worth noting that avoiding whole food groups like grains and dairy could mean that it is harder to get some nutrients, like calcium, which is abundant in milk, cheese, and yoghurt.

If it is your choice to avoid dairy, then your calcium requirements need to be met with a combination of other calcium-rich foods, like seeds, vegetables, fortified foods, and supplements. A dietician can help you to find the right balance between these options.

Am I able to make it at home?

“Yes, bone broth is easy to make at home, although the extended boiling time may not be practical or cost-effective relative to the preparation of other healthy foods.”

Can I make a broth out of any bones I see/have, or does it need to be made specifically with certain bones for maximum health benefits?

“There is some evidence to support the claim that beef bone broth includes more Type I and Type III collagen, the two forms of collagen that are found and used in our skin and gut, respectively. More Type II collagen can be found in chicken bone broth, which is thought to promote the body's natural ability to reduce inflammation in the joints and ligaments. Since it's impossible to regulate the precise amounts of these collagen types in homemade broths

"I would perceive adding broth as an experiment rather than a foolproof cure for any ailment and place more emphasis on eating a generally healthy, balanced diet rather than relying solely on bone broth for nutrition."

Read the latest issue of IOL Health digital magazine here.