Before the 20th century, almost all soups and stews were made with a stock of bone broth—bones and other animal parts slowly simmered in a cauldron or stockpot, producing a nutrient-rich concoction.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, when food processing has largely replaced home cooking. Today’s processed “broth” often is nothing more than a powder or cube dissolved in water and spiked with additives such as MSG that mimic the taste of broth.
What most people don’t realize: Traditional bone broth delivers unique, health-giving components that can be hard to find anywhere else in the diet. And a brothless diet may be hurting your health—contributing to arthritis, nagging injuries, indigestion and premature aging.
Good news: Bone broth is simple to make or buy. The optimal “dose” is one cup daily. If you are trying to heal, increase this to two cups.
Bone broth, whether it’s made from the bones of a chicken, cow, lamb, pig or the like, is extraordinarily rich in the following…
Collagen. The number-one health-giving component of bone broth is melted collagen, or gelatin. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, providing strength and structure to tissue. In fact, microscopic cables of collagen literally hold your body together—in joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, skin and membranes around internal organs.
Your body makes its own collagen, of course. But it becomes harder for your body to make it as you age, leading to arthritis, wrinkled skin and other degenerative conditions.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These two nutrients are well-known for helping to ease arthritis pain—and bone broth supplies ample amounts of both.
Glucosamine is created from glucose (sugar) and glutamine (an amino acid, a building block of protein). It’s found in cartilage, the part of the joint that provides cushioning and lubrication between bones.
Chondroitin sulfate is a proteoglycan, a type of molecule that helps hydrate cells. It also supplies sulfur, a mineral that nourishes cartilage and balances blood sugar.
Glycine. This amino acid supports the health of blood cells, generates cellular energy, aids in the digestion of fats, speeds wound healing and helps the body rid itself of toxins, such as mercury, lead, cadmium and pesticides. Glycine also regulates dopamine levels, thereby easing anxiety, depression and irritability and improving sleep and memory.
Glutamine. This amino acid nourishes the lining of the gut, aiding the absorption of nutrients. It boosts the strength of the immune system. It helps the body recover from injuries such as burns, wounds and surgery. It also strengthens the liver, helping the body process and expel toxins. And glutamine boosts metabolism and cuts cravings for sugar and carbohydrates, aiding weight loss.
Bone broth delivers extra-high levels of all those health-giving compounds, so it’s not surprising that it can help prevent and heal many health problems, including…
Arthritis and joint pain. By supplying collagen, glucosamine, chondroitin and other cartilage-nourishing factors, bone broth can repair and rebuild cartilage, preventing osteoarthritis or easing arthritis pain. In fact, bone broth might be the best food for osteoarthritis, which affects more than 30 million Americans.
Compelling research: In a review of seven studies on osteoarthritis and melted collagen (collagen hydrolysate), researchers at University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago found that ingesting the compound helped create new cartilage, thus lessening pain and improving everyday functioning.
Digestive problems. In the 19th century, broth and gelatin were widely prescribed—by Florence Nightingale and many others—for convalescents who lacked the strength to digest and assimilate food properly.
Sadly, nutritional therapy for digestive problems went out of fashion after World War II, replaced by pharmaceuticals. Example: A form of gelatin (gelatin tannate, or Tasectan) is being used as a digestive drug, with studies showing that it can help heal gastroenteritis (stomach and intestinal irritation). The new drug is being hailed as a “gut barrier protector”—but wouldn’t it be better to prevent digestive diseases by strengthening your gut with bone broth?
Injuries and wounds. The components in bone broth are crucial for healing broken bones, muscle injuries, burns and wounds—a key benefit for seniors, whose injuries can take longer to heal.
The use of cartilage (a main component of bone broth) for wound healing was championed by John F. Prudden, MD, whose published papers include “The Clinical Acceleration of Healing with a Cartilage Preparation,” in the May 3, 1965 issue of JAMA. In his research, Dr. Prudden showed that cow cartilage could speed wound healing, produce stronger healing that was less likely to be reinjured and produce smoother, flatter and more natural-looking scars.
More recently, studies have shown that bone broth ingredients—particularly glycine and other amino acids—are uniquely effective at healing wounds, including hard-to-heal diabetic foot ulcers.
Infections. Chicken soup—“Jewish penicillin”—is a classic home remedy for a cold, flu, pneumonia and other infectious diseases. Over the years, researchers studying broth and its components have noted their ability to strengthen immune cells, fight off viruses and calm down the overactive immune system caused by autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.
How to Make Bone Broth (or Buy It)
Making a very healthful and delicious bone broth may seem daunting—but it’s not. Here’s a simple way to make a chicken bone broth. You can use the same method for any kind of animal bones. Beef bones (such as rib bones, short ribs and beef shanks) should be browned first in the oven for the best flavor.
How to prepare bone broth: Whenever you eat chicken, save the bones. You can save skin and meat, too—the skin is rich in collagen, and there is some collagen in the meat. Just put all these leftovers in a zipper freezer bag, and store in the freezer until you have enough to fill a standard six-to-seven-quart slow cooker, about six to eight cups. Add a splash of vinegar and one sliced onion. Fill up the slow cooker with filtered water.
Slow-cook on low overnight. (If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can make the broth by simmering it all day in a stock pot.)
In the morning, ladle the broth through a strainer and put the broth in the refrigerator. Fill up the slow cooker with water, and cook the bones again overnight, producing a second batch. As with the first batch, ladle the broth through a strainer. You now have about one gallon of chicken broth, which you can refrigerate or freeze.
What to look for: A sign that your broth is rich in collagen is that it gels when chilled. To get a good gel, it is helpful to add chicken feet or a pig’s foot to the bone mix.
You can use your broth as a basic ingredient in soups, stews, sauces and gravies. Or just add a little salt, heat it and drink it in a mug. Try this simple Thai soup:Two cups of chicken broth with one can of coconut milk, the juice of one lime and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
If you want to purchase healthful bone broth, good sources include Bare Bones Broth Company (BareBonesBroth.com), OssoGood (OssoGoodBones.com), Stock Options (StockOptionsOnline.com) and the Brothery (BoneBroth.com). These broths are available by mail order, but you may be able to find them in some gourmet and specialty shops.