It’s hard to dish up a meal more paleo diet-friendly than a steaming bowl of bone broth. Not only does bone broth fit right into the current food trend because it’s something our hunter-gatherer ancestors might have eaten before the advent of organized agriculture, it’s also probably a lot more palatable than cracking into a caribou bone with the nearest stone to suck out the nutrient-dense marrow.
Indeed, cultures around the world have traditionally prepared homemade broth or stock to make use out of every part of an animal. That broth became the base for soups, stews, sauces, gravies and more, with the gelatin derived from tendons, ligaments and bones serving as a thickening agent and giving all sorts of foods a powerful protein boost back in the days when meat was a luxury. The stock pot was a staple in many kitchens until packaged, processed shortcuts replaced it simmering on the stove. But slow food advocates, paleo diet devotees and others are rediscovering bone broth as an easy, inexpensive source of vitamins and minerals that tastes good, too.
“Bone broth dates back to the Stone Age, likely contributing to its popularity,” says Kyleigh Kirbach, a research dietician nutritionist at Washington University’s School of Medicine. “Our focus is no longer on the latest and greatest food novelty, but on uncovering ancient foods and remedies. Our society, to my delight, has become fixated on finding foods naturally high in nutrients and making them staples in our kitchens. Bone broth is low in calories, high in nutrients and incredibly soothing during these cold winter months, leading to its growing popularity.”
The broth usually begins with bones (almost any bones will do), some pieces of meat and fat, vegetables and water, maybe with a little vinegar thrown in to help break things down. But time on the stove is what really transforms it into an elixir rich with minerals and other nutrients from bones, broken-down cartilage and tendons in a form the body can easily absorb. This includes “stuff like chondroitin sulfates and glucosamine, now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain,” writes Sally Fallon Morell, founding president of the Weston A. Price Foundation and co-author of the best-selling cookbook, Nourishing Traditions.
Potential health benefits are also supporting the bone broth trend. Advantages touted by natural health advocates like Dr. Joseph Mercola include:
- Reducing joint pain and inflammation through the glucosamine and other compounds that come from the animal’s cartilage and collagen
- Fighting inflammation through amino acids, including glycine and proline, that boast anti-inflammatory effects
- Promoting strong, healthy bones and robust hair and nail growth because of the collagen extracted from the animal’s bones during the slow cooking process
- Inhibiting infections caused by colds and flu
“Some of my joints hurt from time to time and I find that drinking the bone broth really does improve that,” says Leeny Hoffmann, a personal trainer who maintains the website PaleoCurious.com and makes her own bone broth from the scraps of half a grass fed cow she bought from a nearby farm. “I make a big batch, freeze it into big cubes and then put them in a baggie in the freezer. I pull out a cube at a time, reheat and enjoy.”
A research team from the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that chicken soup reduced the movement of neutrophils, the most common white cell in the blood that defends the body against infection. While that may seem like a bad thing, the study in fact suggested that slowing the cells down might have an anti-inflammatory effect that can ease symptoms and shorten upper respiratory tract infections overall.
While many of its greater potential health advantages are still being studied, bone broth’s nutritional value is undisputed, according to Kirbach.
“There is not enough research on bone broth to confirm its touted healing powers. With that said, this brew is full of beneficial nutrients such as calcium, phosphorous, collagen and conditionally essential amino acids critical to our health,” she says. “Add some vegetables and lean protein and you have a low-calorie, nutrient-packed soup. Although bone broth may not cure our every ailment, it’s still an excellent, soul-warming addition to a healthy lifestyle.”
If you want to give homemade bone broth a try, here’s a basic chicken recipe used with permission from OhLardy.com, which also offers a beef version:
Easy Crockpot Bone Broth
-Mixing bowl of chicken bones and cartilage (preferably from a pastured chicken)
-Coarsely chopped carrots, celery and onion
-2 bay leaves (optional)
-2 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
-Salt and pepper to taste after cooking
1. Add bones and vegetables to crockpot
2. Add bay leaves if using
3. Fill with filtered water
4. Add 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
5. Cook on low for at least 24 hours
6. Strain and store