Thanks to the popularity of the Paleo movement, there’s been a tremendous resurgence in traditional cooking methods that have been all but forgotten about in our modern world. Today we’re going to be talking about one of the oldest- bone broth soup. We’ll be covering not only the extensive history of bone broth, but also the different components of the bone and why you should include this superfood in your diet if you’re interested in improving your health. What Is Bone Broth? Bone broth is exactly what it sounds like- animal bones that have been cooked in water to form a nutrient-rich liquid. The bones can be cooked either with meat on them or by themselves and can be roasted and simmered for flavor before being served with other ingredients and in a variety of different combinations. The History of Bone Broth (And Why We Don’t Eat It Anymore) For most of human history, we evolved in a world in which resources were scarce, including food. In fact, one of the reasons modern humans have such difficulty losing weight and keeping it off has to do with our biological programming. We have, through hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, been prompted to consume as many calories as humanly possible, as quickly as possible. The rationale is simple- your body and brain are designed with the goal of helping you survive and reproduce, and that meant getting you through the next famine intact. In the modern developed world however, most of us now live in societies in which calories are cheap and abundant. And, given that we still have our “eat now” circuitry in place, it’s really no wonder obesity has become such an epidemic. In the pre-modern world, however, humans didn’t have the luxury of gorging on processed meats and high fructose corn syrup. Which meant that human beings, driven by the urge to consume as much as possible, gladly ate whatever they could get their hands on. Since humans evolved as omnivores, that often meant eating as much of the animal as possible- muscle meat, organs…and bones. The tradition of boiling and consuming bones likely goes way back before agriculture, but the first recorded uses of it show up in the early civilizations. In Ancient Greece, bone broth was used by Hippocrates to treat patients with a variety of ailments. The practice is so widespread throughout history that we have records of hen bones being used by the early Germanic cultures for soup, chicken bones by the Greeks, and beef bones by the early Vietnamese. The practice even continues today in foreign culinary traditions. Ox bones are still used to make the Korean soup seolleongtang, and pork bones are used in Japanese tongkotsu. But in North America (and the English-speaking world in general)? Not so much. With our modern diet and taste buds, many of us seem to think of bone broth as an outdated relic of the past, throwing the bones of our meat out along with the organs (and anything else that doesn’t suit our palette). Which is really too bad, because as we’ll be covering in this article, bone broth comes with some serious health benefits that may make you reconsider how you think about meat.
What Are Some of The Benefits of Bone Broth? In order to properly understand the benefits of bone broth, we really need a better sense of the different components of the bone itself. Once we understand that, we can break down the role that each part plays and the various health benefits that come along with it.
Collagen Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in the human body. Covering around 30% of your bodily protein count, collagen is tough and stringy and is found in your connective tissue. If you’ve heard of collagen before, that’s because it’s found predominantly in the skin, and is part of what holds it together and gives it that firm, smooth appearance. As we age, we tend to lose a lot of this collagen, which gives way to sagging and wrinkles. So, what exactly does collagen have to do with bone broth? Well, as it turns out, collagen actually makes up the fibrous part of the bone. Consuming it in the form of broth comes with a whole host of benefits. Let’s start with the amino acid profile. Amino acids are the fundamental building blocks of protein, and they perform a number of important functions in cells, muscle, and tissue. In human beings, there are two kinds of amino acids- essential and nonessential. Nonessential amino acids are those that can be produced “from scratch” by the human body, while essential amino acids must be taken in through food (one more reason to eat a high protein diet). The main amino acid in collagen is a nonessential amino acid called glycine. Although it can technically be produced by the body, glycine differs from others in the nonessential category because the body can only synthesize about 3 grams of it per day- definitely not enough for optimal functioning. Fortunately, bone broth is absolutely loaded with not only glycine but up to 19 other essential and nonessential amino acids, making it one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. Once the bones are boiled down, the collagen within them breaks down into gelatin (the liquid form of collagen). The following is a list of some of the benefits that you’ll find in glycine-rich gelatin. Cartilage The next part of the bone we’ll focus on is cartilage, which when boiled down with the rest of the bone, adds not only to the texture and flavor of the broth but also adds to the already impressive list of benefits. Cartilage contains gelatin, but it also contains elastin, a similar, stretchy protein found in the skin. And like collagen, elastin is one of the proteins that give your skin a firm appearance. Consuming cartilage has also been shown to improve joint pain and reduce certain kinds of arthritis. Cartilage contains both glucosamine, an amino sugar, and chondroitin, one of the structural components of cartilage. Both have been shown to reduce arthritis and joint pain.
Gelatin Helps Repair a Leaky Gut Leaky gut syndrome refers to a collection of symptoms that originate within the gastrointestinal tract. Glycine helps by reducing inflammation within the tract (particularly in the gut lining, which is a huge source of discomfort for those suffering from leaky gut). The gut is also extremely important when it comes to a properly functioning immune system. An inflamed gut leads the immune system to respond by releasing an oversupply of antibodies that can ultimately attack healthy tissue.
Gelatin Improves the Quality Of Your Skin This one should be a no-brainer, but all that extra collagen has a positive impact on your skin. Remember, as we age, we start producing less collagen, but by adding it back in through diet and supplementation, we can help slow down the aging process and keep our skin firm. No, it won’t work miracles for you, but it certainly will help keep you looking young.
Gelatin Is Good for The Brain One of the more impressive and lesser-known benefits of gelatin is its ability to promote quality sleep. In addition to being a nonessential amino acid, glycine also acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter (a neurotransmitter that’s non-stimulating). Glycine has been shown to have a number of powerful effects on the brain, including a reduction in anxiety and a deeper, more restful sleep. Similar to serotonin (another inhibitory neurotransmitter), it’s also been shown to improve mood disorders and promote an overall sense of calm and well-being.
Bone Marrow The final part of the bone we’ll be discussing is marrow, the spongy tissue within the bone. As a component of bone broth, many of the benefits of bone marrow come from its impressive mineral profile. A good bone broth will typically have a number of important minerals, including calcium, potassium, phosphorous and magnesium. In a perfect world, we would get all the minerals we need from our food (and in the right amounts). Unfortunately, thanks to our modern diets, the vast majority of people don’t get all the minerals they need. Magnesium deficiency is particularly common, with some research even suggesting deficiency rates of up to 50% of the US population. Since magnesium deficiency has been linked to everything from type 2 diabetes to depression, it’s extremely important that you’re consuming enough of it, and adding bone broth to your diet is certainly a step in the right direction.
The Bottom Line on Bone Broth While the thought of consuming bones may offend your modern, Western sensibilities, a good, quality bone broth is definitely something you should consider making a staple of your diet. Not only will it dramatically improve your health, but you’ll also have the opportunity to step into a culinary wonderland- from chicken and beef soup to Vietnamese, the list of options is endless, and is a fantastic way to spice up your Paleo diet.