Bone Broth: The Healing Health Benefits, How to Use It + a Recipe
It’s no secret that I love bone broth. Hence, you can catch me regularly sipping on a warm cup of broth, or using it as a base for soups, stews, curries, risotto, sautéing greens, as a stock to cook my grains, and just about everything to add flavour and incredible nourishment to dishes. I also use powered versions as a seasoning for chicken, meatballs or roasted veg for meal preps. It does take time to make a highly nourishing bone broth (as in 12-48 hours to extract the most nutrients), so I like to make a huge pot of it each time and freeze portions. However, the health and healing benefits of bone broth are more than worth your time!
I’ve found bone broth has been a key link in healing my gut and improving my skin, hair and nail health and overall health. Furthermore, the link between gut health, the brain and immune system has been recently researched. As a result, Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome uses bone broth as part of the GAPS diet (a nutritional protocol) to improve gut health, leading to improvements in autoimmune, digestive, neurological and psychological conditions.
WHAT IS BONE BROTH?
Bone broth has been used by cultures all over the world for thousands of years. Traditionally, it was used as a medicinal remedy for treating a number of health ailments including colds and flu (hence why I always remember how much better I felt after a bowl of my Mum’s chicken bone broth soup as a kid). Consequently it has been found that bone broth actually plays a role in immune health through gut health modulation.
Bone broth is made by simmering bones (chicken, fish, beef etc.) with apple cider vinegar and optional vegetables, herbs and spices for 12-48 hours. The vinegar and cooking time is important as it helps break down the bones and extract the incredible nutrients inside. Bone broth is a rich source of easy to absorb proteins, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that create optimal health. As a result, including it into your diet regularly can provide a number of health benefits and healing properties.
Bones contain an abundance of minerals as well as 17 different amino acids, many of which are found in broth as proteins like collagen and gelatin.
Whilst the exact nutritional content varies based on the bones used, cooking time, and cooking method, the following are the main nutrients consistently found in most bone broths.
Collagen – the most abundant protein in human bodies making up 30% of total body protein. It is also the main component of connective tissue (skin, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bone & 10% of skeletal muscle) and digestive tract lining, as well as being present in blood vessels, cornea and lens of the eye.
Gelatin – smaller protein peptides of collagen that have been hydrolyzed (broken down) and readily absorbed by the body. Gelatin is what gives bone broth it’s jelly-like consistency when cooled.
Glutamine – is vital for gut healing as it repairs and rebuilds the gut lining and protects the intestinal mucosa (lining of the gut wall) from becoming permeable, which can therefore lead to “leaky gut”. Glutamine is also anti-inflammatory and plays a role in muscle growth.
Glycine – is one of the most widely used amino acids in the body, playing a vital role in many functions. Some of it’s main functions include; acts as a neurotransmitter in the nervous system (important for signalling and communication in the body); used for DNA & RNA synthesis; enhances muscle growth as well as regulating human growth hormone. Glycine is also used in the production of glutathione, a potent antioxidant which plays a role in our natural detoxification system. It is also used to make collagen and gelatin.
Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) – these include glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid which are the raw materials that form skin, bone, cartilage and synovial fluid (the lubricant that surrounds the joint). You may have heard of these as supplements to support healthy joints and relieve joint pain and osteoarthritis.
Bones store minerals calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc. These essential minerals play a number of vital roles in human health, including to support bone health. An acidic medium (vinegar) helps to leach out these minerals into the broth during cooking.
THE HEALTH BENEFITS
“All health and disease begins in the gut”
Our gut is part of our first line of defence against pathogens (e.g. harmful bacteria, virus, toxins including lipopolysaccharides (LPS) etc.). When the gut wall becomes permeable or “leaky”, these pathogens can pass through into our body and cause an immune and inflammatory reaction. Leaky gut can also effect our energy levels and play a role in the development of autoimmune conditions, digestive, skin, neurological and mental health issues plus more. Furthermore, these immune reactions effect other body systems including the brain, pancreas, kidneys, and skeletal system etc.
Bone broth helps to heal and seal the gut wall, healing and protecting against leaky gut. Firstly, glutamine is used to strengthen the gut wall, whilst gelatin maintains the mucus that keeps the pathogens away from the intestinal wall, and glycine has been found to protect against ulcers. Gelatin and glycine also have anti-inflammatory effects.
Bone broth also improves digestion and absorption of nutrients. Firstly, glycine helps with digestion by stimulating the production of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach, which is needed to breakdown food. It is also a component of bile acid, which digests fats and maintains healthy cholesterol levels. Gelatin aids digestion by helping with regular healthy bowel movements.
Supports Detoxification & Antioxidant Systems
Glycine, an amino acid in bone broth is used for the production of glutathione, our body’s master antioxidant. Glutathione supports liver function and is critical for phase II detoxification and elimination of metabolic waste and some heavy metals. It also regenerates vitamin C & E to maintain their antioxidant properties, scavenges free radicals and reduces oxidative stress that leads to aging and disease. Another amino acid, glutamine carries nitrogenous waste (a metabolic waste from protein metabolism) to the kidneys for elimination.
Enhances Immune Function
Have you ever wondered why traditional chicken soup made you feel so much better? That’s because bone broth is rich in minerals and amino acids that support a healthy immune system. Furthermore, glycine modulates the immune system, reduces inflammation, and by sealing the gut wall, decreases immune reactions and inflammation.
Collagen, GAGs and keratin, all found in bone broth, make up parts of the skin layers. They provide nutritive support including improving hydration and aiding wound healing. A study found collagen consumption significantly improved skin elasticity and moisture, which decline during the ageing process.
Lean Muscle Growth & Performance
Did you know 30% of muscle power is generated by connective tissue that is made up of collagen, the collagen that is rich in bone broth?! Each cup serve of bone broth contains around 6g protein with a variety of amino acids that aid muscle growth and repair. Furthermore, glycine increases creatine levels, which provide energy to working muscles, thereby increasing anaerobic exercise capacity (e.g. weight training, HIIT, sprints). It also stimulates human growth hormone, which enhances muscle repair. Additionally, Proline and other amino acids in bone broth stimulate the mTOR pathway, which affects cell function and growth, and stimulates muscle protein synthesis.
Joints & Bones
Bone broth contains hyaluronic acid, chondroitin and glucosamine (GAGs) which provide joint lubrication, reduce inflammation, arthritis and joint pain. In addition, bone broth contains minerals and collagen that make up bones. Therefore, a deficiency in these nutrients may lead to bone health problems such as osteoporosis, associated with low calcium, magnesium and collagen.
Further benefits of bone broth
Improvement in sleep quality and energy levels
Helps overcoming asthma, allergies and food intolerance
Cardiovascular and metabolic health
Helps with managing stress
Improvement in mood
A nourishing, healing broth versatile for use as a soup base or stock, or drunk as a snack.
- 1-2kg organic beef marrow bones or 3-4 chicken carcasses (optional: add a large handful of chicken wing tips or feet for extra gelatin – thicker stock)
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (with the “mother”)
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1 leek, white stalk sliced in chunks
- 3 celery sticks, chopped in chunks
- 1 large carrot, chopped in chunks
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
- 4+ litres water
- 1 tsp each of salt & pepper
- 4 bay leaves
- Optional step if using beef bones: Preheat oven to 200°C. Place raw bones in a roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes. Pre-roasting the bones will give the broth a richer, meatier flavour. (Feel free to skip this step if you’re short on time and want to simply throw it all in a pot and let it do it’s thing!
- Next, remove the bones from the oven and place in a large pot or slow cooker. Add in the other ingredients to the pot and cover it with water so the bones are submerged (using about 3-4 litres water depending on your pot size).
- If using a slow cooker, turn on low heat and leave for 12-24 hours. If using stove top method, firstly bring the broth to the boil, then reduce the heat to a very slow simmer and cover it with a lid. Simmer this for 12-24 hours continuously.
- Take it off the heat and allow to cool completely.
- Remove the bones and large vegetable bits and discard. Then strain the liquid through a colander into another large pot or mixing bowl. Refrigerate for 5+ hours until the fat has completely solidified to the top.
- Once the fat has separated, you can now remove it from the broth and discard. The fat will be a firm layer over the top of the broth that you can simply pull off, and the remaining liquid gold, i.e. bone broth is now ready to use.
- Portion up your bone broth and freeze whatever you won’t use within the next 5 days. You can also pour some into ice cube trays to freeze, as ready to use (straight from the freezer) single stock cubes.
I’d love to hear how you use your bone broth, or if you add any other ingredients to your recipe, or have any tips or tricks. Leave me a comment below!
References & further reading:
Fallon, Sally (2001). Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and Diet Dictocrats
Liao, X., Majithia, A., Huang, X & Kimmel, A. (2008). Growth control via TOR kinase signaling, an intracellular sensor of amino acid and energy availability, with crosstalk potential to proline metabolism. Amino Acids 35(4), 761-70. DOI: 10.1007/s00726-008-0100-3
McCance, R., Sheldon, W. & Widdowson, E. (1934). Bone & vegetable broth. Archives of Disease in Childhood (9), 251-258. http://adc.bmj.com/content/9/52/251
Proksch, E., Segger, D., Degwert, J., Schunck, M., Zague, V. & Oesser, S. (2014). Oral supplementation of collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 27(1), 47-55. DOI: 10.1159/000351376.
Rennard, B., Ertl, R., Gossman, G., Robbins, R. & Rennard, S. (2000). Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro. Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Section, 118(4), 1150-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/11035691/
Van der Hulst, R., Meyenfeldt, M., Deutz, N., Soeters, P., Brummer, R., von Kreel, B. & Arends, J. (1993). Glutamine & the preservation of gut integrity. The Lancet (341)8857, 1363-1365. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0140-6736(93)90939-E
Wu, G., Fang, Y., Yang, S., Lupton, J & Turner, N. (2004). Glutathione Metabolism and Its Implications for Health. The Journal of Nutrition, 134(4). http://jn.nutrition.org/content/134/3/489.short