Remember when you were a child and suffering from the common cold your mom would probably have fed you some chicken soup? Turns out your mothers really did know best after all! According to an old South American proverb a “Good broth will resurrect the dead”. While the latter statement is a bit of an exaggeration, there is a lot of scientific evidence demonstrating the many health benefits associated with a good, wholesome broth (1).
Meat broths were traditionally made from the boiling the bones of the animals with vegetables, herbs and spices for several hours. Cooking time is important here because it requires several hours for all the nutrients and minerals to come out of the bones and into the broth. Humans have used bone broth universally in traditional cuisines all over the world for thousands of years (2). Bone broth remains a staple in household kitchens and the finest restaurants in many cultures throughout the world. Just not so much in North America…
The store bought variety of soup broths cannot compare to the quality of a good, homemade broth. Today these canned, boxed, or powered broths lack many of the health boosting properties of homemade broth. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are labeled as organic either. These “quick and easy” broths go through extensive processing to decrease cooking time and are jammed packed with all sorts of chemicals and preservatives. Do your best to avoid consuming this highly processed store-bought alternative! Do not add bouillon cubes for flavouring. These are often full of chemicals and monosodium glutamate. Season instead with herbs, vegetables, spices and sea salt.
Bone broth is a highly nutrient-dense food. It is rich in minerals such as calcium and magnesium, in forms the body can easily absorb. It is also rich in the amino acids glycine and proline, which are not found in significant amounts in the muscle of meat – what we primarily consume (2). Vinegar is often added to bone broth preparations to more quickly dissolve the nutrients from the bone. The amount of vinegar is often too small to be noticeable in taste.
Bone broths are extremely inexpensive and easy to prepare. They can be made from the bones of healthy animals such as beef, bison, lamb, poultry or fish. Many ethnic food stores will sell the bones alone for very cheaply. At a local Chinese grocery in Toronto, you can buy 3 chicken carcasses for $1.50. Pork neck bones cost only $0.69/pound. That means using 3 pounds of bones would only cost you $2.10 for a large pot. They can be used in soups, stews, gravies, sauces and reductions. You can use them to braise and roast meats, or for sautéing or roasting vegetables. Drinking a cup of hearty bone broth every day also may help improve digestion, fight infection, build muscle, reduce joint pain and inflammation throughout the body (2).
What Makes Bone Broth So Nutritious?
High Mineral Content
Bone broths contain the minerals of bones, cartilage, marrow and vegetables as electrolytes, which is a form the body can easily absorb in the gut. It is one of the best sources of usable calcium and magnesium. In cultures where dairy products are not available, bone broth is an essential component to their diet. These minerals are very important for the development and maintenance of strong bones and tooth health. They are also critical for proper heart and nervous system function, and muscle growth and contraction (3).
Cartilage in bone broth may help treat symptoms of degenerative joint diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis. It contains chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine, which are commonly sold as supplements to reduce inflammation, arthritis and joint pain (4).
Collagen And Gelatin
Collagen is found in the connective tissues of both bone and cartilage. It supports healthy joints, hair, skin and nails. It has been shown to help in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Some think it may also reduce the appearance of cellulite as it supports smooth connective tissues (4).
Collagen a particular protein found in the body and gelatin is a food term referring to extracted collagen. As the broth is cooking the collagen extracted from the bones and cartilage and converted to gelatin. If your broth has been properly prepared, it will gel when it is cooled. If your broth doesn’t gel, then it is likely you added too much water or did not cook it for long enough. The more “jelly” it is, the more nutrients it is packed with.
Gelatin is thought to be one of the most unsung heroes in our diets. It is by no means a protein, but it helps the body utilize ingested protein more efficiently. It aids in digestion and has been proven to help improve the symptoms related to many intestinal disorders such as hyperacidity, colitis and Crohn’s disease. It can help heal leaky guts, prevents bone loss, and builds healthy skin, hair and nails. It may also be beneficial in the treatment of many other chronic disorders such as anemia, diabetes, and muscular dystrophy (4).
Gelatin contains large quantities of the amino acids, glycine and proline. Both amino acids play a critical role in wound healing and muscle growth and repair. Glycine is important for the synthesis of DNA, RNA and many of the proteins found within the body. It aids digestion by helping to regulate the synthesis of bile sales and secretion of gastric acids, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and is required for proper functioning of the central nervous system. It can be converted to the neurotransmitter, serine, which promotes mental alertness, improves memory, boosts mood and reduces stress. It is also important for detoxification within the body (4).
Proline is critical for healthy skin because it has a major role in the structure of collagen. It helps the body breakdown proteins to be used for the creation or new, healthy muscle cells. Studies have shown it may play a role in reversing atherosclerotic lesions by enabling blood vessel walls to release build-up (4).
Fasting And Bone Broth
Historically bone broths have been used during periods of fasting. The broth helps the body detoxify while you are fasting and prevents muscle degradation.
How to Make Bone Broth
It is always best to use high quality bones when making a bone broth. Try to purchase bones from grass fed cattle or bison, pasteurized poultry and wild fish. Bones from chicken, duck, turkey or goose can be saved from leftovers and frozen. You can also purchase bones from most local butcher shops or local farmers.
You want your bone broth to be as jiggly as possible! If it isn’t, then you have most likely added too much water or haven’t cooked it long enough. The bone broth should have a similar consistency as jell-o once cooled. It will liquefy once it is re-heated. The broth can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Bone Broth Recipe
– 2 – 3 lbs of bones
– 1 onion, coarsely chopped
– 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
– 2 stalks of celery, coarsely chopped
– 2 tbsp of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
– 1 tbsp of salt
– 1 tsp of whole peppercorns
– Other herbs and spices
- (Optional) Roast the bones in the oven on a roasting pan at 350°F/177°C for 30 minutes. This gives a nice flavour to the bones.
- Place the bones into a stockpot and pour cool water over the bones. Add the raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, and let sit for 30 minutes. The vinegar helps make the nutrients from the bones more available.
- Add the vegetables and dried herbs.
- Bring to a vigorous boil, then reduce to a simmer.
- For the first few hours try to remove any impurities that are on the surface.
- When 30 minutes are remaining, add any fresh garlic or herbs.
- Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes, then strain.
Chicken/Poultry 8 – 24 hours
Cattle/Bison 12 – 24 hours
Fish 8 hours
Freezing Tip: Freeze in ice cube trays. One ice cube defrosted is the perfect size for the average coffee mug!
By The Fasting Method
For many health reasons, losing weight is important. It can improve your blood sugars, blood pressure and metabolic health, lowering your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. But it’s not easy. That’s where we can help.
By Jason Fung, MD
Jason Fung, M.D., is a Toronto-based nephrologist (kidney specialist) and a world leading expert in intermittent fasting and low-carb diets.