Is bone broth really a magical elixir?

cups of bone broth
CC BY 2.0 jules

Sorry, but no. Everyone needs to simmer down, strain out the hype, and realize it boils down to another food fad.

Over the past few years, bone broth has gained celebrity status among the health-conscious and Paleo crowds. There is a widespread belief that drinking bone broth replenishes the body with vitamins and nutrients that are released from the bones' marrow after prolonged boiling, to the point where the broth becomes gelatinous when cool. But is bone broth really everything it's made out to be? The evidence for it is scanty.

One of the purported benefits of bone broth is that it heals and restores collagen, the main structural protein found in skin and other connective tissues. Proponents say:

"By boiling down animal and fish bones, skin, cartilage, tendons and ligaments, we create gelatin-rich liquid that provides the amino acids necessary to make collagen, or 'the glue that holds the body together.'"

Scientists are doubtful about this claim. William Percy, an associate professor at the University of South Dakota's Sanford School of Medicine, told NPR:

"Since we don't absorb collagen whole, the idea that eating collagen somehow promotes bone growth is just wishful thinking... Bone broth as part of a well-balanced and nutritionally sound diet is probably harmless, but it is not some type of 'miracle food source' with the ability to cure a multitude of aches, pains and diseases all by itself."

Kantha Shelke, a food scientist for the Institute of Food Technologies, points out that there are better ways to build strong bones, in the form of leafy greens: "Plants offer richer sources in collagen building blocks and, in addition, provide nutrients not found in sufficient quantities in meats or broth."

Some people take issue with the name, too, which suggests that bone broth is somehow different from stock, and it is not. Stock means animal bones boiled in water, sometimes with added aromatics and vegetables, to create a flavourful liquid. The cooking time can range from 3 to 24 hours. Broth, as CBC's food columnist Emma Waverman pointed out in a radio episode last month, is the residual liquid in which meat is cooked. Nor is the idea of bone broth new; it's an ancient practice, born out of frugality and using leftover ingredients.

The consensus seems to be that there is nothing wrong with bone broth. It certainly doesn't hurt to enjoy a hot steaming cup of stock, as it hydrates the body and can restore electrolytes lost during a sweaty workout. It nourishes the soul, without a doubt. Chicken soup has even been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, so it's not a stretch to assume bone broth does the same. Plus, I am a fan of any culinary ritual that gets people into the kitchen, using up their food scraps.

But bone broth is not the magical elixir that some would have us believe. As we should remind ourselves with every health food trend, there is no magic bullet solution when it comes to nutrition. Everything plays a role in building a stronger, healthier body, and no one thing can do it all.

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