Bone Broth is often cited as one of the ultimate Paleo superfoods. If you listen to any advocate of bone broth consumption you would be forgiven for thinking that this is a cure for all ills, healer of the gut, restorer of immune health – practically an elixir of life
But does a bunch of boiled bones really live up to its hype? Why is it supposed to be so good for you? Can you get the benefits without the effort of a 24-hour slow cook? And if bone broth really is full of such benefits: how do you ensure your bone broth is up to scratch?
Firstly: The Hunter-Gatherer Diet Debate
As with all of our “All About” articles, we will first analyse our topic – in this case Bone Broth – from the hunter-gatherer diet point of view.
It is unlikely that ancient tribes were eating Bone Broth. Firstly, we would only be talking about this after the realisation that fire was a useful cooking aid. Secondly, boiling bones for days would have been a far-too-time-consuming activity for hunter-gatherer tribes. The reality with Bone Broth is that it is a modern attempt at returning ‘goodness’ to the diet.
In older cultures, some of which still exist in the world today, the tradition would have been to cook meals by placing whole cuts of meat into large pots and cooking for a lengthy time in order to render the meats tender and palatable. Far from making a special effort to make “Bone Broth”, as if it were a superfood, more traditional methods of cooking would have simply incorporated the bones in the meal – their goodness contributing to the stock almost by accident.
“Bone Broth” as a separate entity, therefore, is a more modern attempt at doing something that is incredibly ancient and traditional: consuming and using all of the meat from any animals that are slaughtered. The modern act of making separate bone broths – using slow cookers or pressure cookers – is borne out of seeking to restore the mineral, amino acid and nutrient density to the diet, most of which is lost due to our preference for muscle meats.
Therefore, strictly speaking “Bone Broth” is not a Palaeolithic food. However, in order to make a modern diet resemble the nutrient profile of a more ancestrally appropriate diet, Bone Broth is a useful – possibly essential – addition.
But what is Bone Broth giving us over and above the normal nutrition available in the diet? And can these nutrients really heal us in the ways they promise?
Protein & Amino Acids
The whole point of Bone Broth is to cook the bones for long enough to break their structure down and release the nutrients inherent in the bones. The word ‘bone’ is somewhat misleading, because typical additions to bone broth can also include the collagen rich cartilage and some actual muscle tissue. Nevertheless, the idea behind the low, slow cook with the use of an acid of some sort is to liberate the amino acids and nutrients inherent in all the joints used.
And there is far more nutrition in bones and joints than you might imagine. Essentially, every part of the human (and animal) body must be made out of essential building blocks. Breaking the tissues back down again releases all of those building blocks. The nutrient rich, gelatinous liquid that is left after making these broths is, therefore, rich is amino acids and the collagen proteins that are hard to find elsewhere in the diet, particularly a muscle-meat-heavy diet, as is the norm in Western societies.
Perhaps the most notable amino acid when it comes to Bone Broth is glycine, which is known as a conditionally essential amino acid. This means that whilst we can make glycine within our own bodies, depending on the amino acid make up of our diet, it is highly unlikely we make enough. The thing with glycine is that it is used practically everywhere in our body – it is one of the amino acids that is a fundamental building block in most of our tissues. It is also a key part of all connective tissue, which means that it quite literally holds us together.
Because connective tissue is rich in glycine, when we boil bones down this glycine is released into the resulting broth. Glycine is especially useful because it is also used to make other amino acids (protein building blocks to make other tissues) and is also used in the transcription of DNA to RNA. This basically means that glycine is a useful building block for almost every protein, needed by almost every single cell of our body – and therefore getting rich sources of it in our diet is only going to help us thrive.
Another interesting benefit of glycine is that it regulates the synthesis of bile salts and gastric acid. This makes it essential for food and fat breakdown in the digestive tract. Furthermore, it is one of the controls for producing sugars (or energy) from fats and protein during times when the carbohydrate stores are used up (i.e. between meals). This means that bone broths can be vital in restrictive diets, ketogenic diets, therapeutic diets which involve lowered carbohydrate quantities etc.
Glycine also regulates glucagon, which is important in the regulation of weight control, energy regulation and insulin sensitivity. And perhaps obviously, glycine is key to muscle repair and growth. Bizarrely, glycine ALSO acts as a neurotransmitter building block (for Serine – linked to focus and alertness and reductions of stress) in the brain.
As you can see from the above, glycine (which is just one of the amino acids which bone broth provides) is just about essential to literally everything in normal, everyday life. On top of glycine, Bone Broth is rich in collagen (from the connective tissue attached to bones) which breaks down in cooking to form gelatin – this is what’s responsible for the congealing of the finished product. Proline is so ubiquitous that it is often forgotten – again, it is not considered an ‘essential amino acid’ (i.e. having to be consumed) because we do synthesise it ourselves. However, it is highest in bone broth compared to other animal-based protein sources.
This brings us onto another interesting and relevant point to note about Bone Broth: what it does not contain. Muscle meats (the mainstay of a Western diet) are very rich in an amino acid called Methionine. Whilst this is a vital amino acid/protein building block too, it certainly shouldn’t be consumed in excess and to the exclusion of other vital amino acids within our diet. Using Bone Broth in conjunction with good quality muscle meat (and organ meat) consumption will ensure a balance of all of the essential and non-essential amino acids within the diet.
Of course, when we talk about boiling bones you also get all of the other nutrients that are present in the bones – calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus, with fish bones even containing iodine. The mineral quantity will vary greatly from bone to bone, depending on the animal, how it was raised, the season and also on the length of time the bones were cooked for and the level of disintegration that occurred. For this reason, broth should not be seen as the main source for these minerals – and yet this is definitely going to contribute to safeguarding bone health on a Paleo diet (which is often criticised as lacking in the calcium for bones due to the ‘no dairy’ recommendation – though this is actually not a fair or accurate observation). Getting these minerals from Bone Broth adds to the nutrient density of the overall diet – a primary aim on a Modern Paleo template.
Bone Broth in Illness
All of the protein, collagen-building benefits of diets rich in Bone Broth help with overall cellular and connective tissue health for everyone. However, another amino acid found in high quantities in bone broth is glutamine. Coupled with glycine and proline, glutamine is linked to the improvement of both gut function and repair.
The gut is increasingly being referred to as a bedrock of wellbeing – basically because it is our front line of interaction with the outside world and is the route through which we obtain and assimilate all of the nutrients needed to make us, us. This means that anything that can improve the health of our gut tissues and the integrity of our gut lining can only have positive impacts on overall health outcomes. Glutamine, glycine, proline and gelatine all do this – and as such, anyone with impaired health would benefit from incorporating extra sources of these amino acids in their diets.
Beyond the simple ‘repair and rebuild’ function of all of these amino acids and collagen, glycine itself has been linked to the stabilisation of one form of macrophages (white blood cells) and some of the major inflammatory cells. This has huge implications for immune dysregulation and autoimmunity because more stable macrophages and inflammatory cells minimises excess immune responses and unchecked inflammation, such as occurs in autoimmune diseases.
A Word of Warning on Broth
All of the positives of Bone Broth may leave you thinking that this is a perfect source of nutrition and amino acids – capable of healing practically anything. And, in a way, it is.
But Bone Broth is IN NO WAY a complete source of amino acids or protein. It is NOT a complete protein source and should not be treated as such.
Human beings require all of the amino acids to truly thrive, and whilst Bone Broth is a useful addition in order to ensure we get the ones we typically lack it does not contain a full complement even of all of the Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) which are essential for muscle building. For example, it seriously lacks Leucine – one of the key amino acids which triggers muscle protein synthesis.
Bone Broth also does not satisfy protein and nutritional requirements for those who are vegetarian but try to get their ‘animal proteins’ through drinking Bone Broth. This is not an effective strategy and is not going to provide optimum health.
Bone Broth, in the context of a Modern Paleo diet, is like liquid gold – because it can make discernible differences to gut, skin, hair, nail, immune and hormonal health. However, there will be those who cannot tolerate it (glutamine and histamine issues) and there will be some who literally cannot stand the taste of it. Leaving it out of your diet is not a deal-breaker – but if you choose to omit this food from your Paleo template, the amino acids and nutrients mentioned above really are fundamental to wellbeing, so make sure you focus on getting them from other sources.
Why Bone Broth Is Great – by the Weston A Price Foundation
Dr Kellyann Petrucci – the Bone Broth Queen (with countless recipes and resources…)
Bone Broth You Can Buy… UK!
In addition to the below, do see our Resources Section for Farmshops etc. where Bone Broth is available.
Have a favourite Bone Broth supplier not listed? Email us to let us know…