Can bone broth really heal your gut, strengthen your bones, and act as a good source of protein? Proponents of bone broth say it can deliver all of these health benefits and more, but their claims aren't always backed by science.
What Is Bone Broth?
Bone broth has been around for centuries, mainly because the method for making it -- simmering animal bones and connective tissue in water to create a savory liquid, is the classic way of making soup.
Recently, however, bone broth entered into a renaissance, becoming popularized by the Paleo diet and those who believe it has curative powers.
In Toronto, high-end butchers sell bone broth at $8.00 for just over 1 cup; it comes in flavors like ginger duck, grass-fed beef, and organic lemongrass chicken. Manhattan’s Brodo, one of the first bone broth-based eateries, will ship you a 6-pack of 30oz containers of their signature Hearth broth, for more than a hundred dollars.
As a comparison, a 6-pack of 32oz cartons of regular grocery store chicken broth comes in at around $12.
So, which benefits of bone broth hold water? We break down the claims versus the science.
THE CLAIM: Bone broth heals "leaky gut"
"Leaky gut syndrome," otherwise known as "intestinal permeability," happens when the spaces between the cells that line the intestines become permeable and permit large particles to pass through them into the bloodstream, potentially causing all sorts of health issues.
For most people, this shows up as issues with your digestive health and digestive system.
THE TRUTH: While some bone broth advocates claim that the gelatine in bone broth can heal the leaky junctions between cells in our guts, there has been no research that proves this is the case or does anything to improve what's happening in your digestive tract.
You can improve gut health by consuming pre-and probiotic foods such as fermented foods, as well as a diet that’s high in fiber, fruits, and vegetables.
THE CLAIM: Bone broth is a good source of protein.
THE TRUTH: It depends on your definition of "good."
Brodo claims that their beef broth has 10 grams of protein per cup, and their chicken broth, 7 grams.
The USDA nutrient database lists the protein content of bone broth as between 6 grams and 10 grams per cup.
Compared with around 2 grams in conventional chicken broth, bone broth definitely leads the pack.
Still, despite the protein content in broth, most protein-rich solid-food meals have fiber and other macronutrients in them, making them slower to digest slower than liquids, increasing satiety.
In other words, I wouldn’t be drinking bone broth for the protein, or as a meal in itself.
THE CLAIM: Bone broth is "detoxifying."
The world of "cleansing" is no stranger to big claims, and the same holds true for the bone broth detox. Different makers of bone broth claim that at 7- or 10-day "cleans" of just bone broth will boost your immune system, clear brain fog, improve your skin and scalp, and flush out toxins.
THE TRUTH: There is nothing detoxifying about bone broth. Your body doesn't need to be detoxified if your kidneys and liver are working.
THE CLAIM: Bone broth heals joints or helps osteoarthritis.
The thinking here is that the collagen in bone broth protects and heals joints, and therefore can reduce joint pain. This comes from the fact that bone broth includes glucosamine and chondroitin, two ingredients that have some research suggesting their abilities to help with joint pain.
THE TRUTH: While bone broth does contain collagen protein, that protein is broken down into individual amino acids during digestion -- just like any other protein you consume. The amino acids are then used wherever your body needs them. It’s impossible to directly target proteins to certain body parts.
The collagen in bone broth is not the same as collagen in collagen supplements, which has been broken down to be easily absorbed by the body. In any state, we can’t control how the body uses the proteins we consume.
THE CLAIM: Bone broth is rich in nutrients.
THE TRUTH: Nutrient content of bone broths vary. In general, most clear broths are not great sources of any particular nutrients. I wouldn’t drink bone broth for the 20 or so grams of calcium that it contains.
The best way to add nutrients to your bone broth is to add vegetables and protein and make it into a hearty soup. In no way would doing that take away from the alleged benefits of the broth.
In short, there’s really nothing dangerous about drinking bone broth, so if you love it, enjoy! Just be careful about believing the claims that come with it.
Related: Is the Carnivore Diet Worth Trying?