Bone broth: miracle health food?

TurkeySoup2015Bone broth, the latest health-foodie fad, isn’t new.  People have been making soup stock by boiling bones and meat for centuries.  But thanks to the influence of the manly meaty Paleo diet, bone broth is in the spotlight.  Now it’s not just a flavorful base for soup.  It’s a health food.

Some of the claims are ridiculous.  Mineral rich?  Boosts immunity?  Says who?  Another claim: it “supports” (Weasel Word Alert) joint, hair and skin health because it contains collagen.  An even more outrageous claim: the collagen helps reduce cellulite.

Biochemical reality check: collagen in food is NOT just absorbed intact into the blood stream, and carried to key collagen-dependent tissues.  Collagen is a protein.  And as with any protein in the food you eat, collagen is digested into amino acids, which are absorbed.  Your body then makes the collagen it needs from amino acids that you consumed.

According the USDA food analysis, a cup of home-prepared beef stock has:

  • about 30 calories
  • 5 grams protein
  • 20 mg calcium
  • 17 mg magnesium
  • 440 mg potassium

Mineral rich?  You’d have to drink 1-1/2 gallons of broth to meet your daily magnesium requirement.  The only thing that’s remarkable is the potassium.  The USDA table also lists a lot of sodium, which is strange since meat would not be naturally high sodium.  So I suspect the data reflect some “home made” recipe that included adding salt to the stock.  Which is completely unnecessary.

The real reason to use so-called bone broth (stock) is that it’s extremely flavorful.  Unlike the watery packaged broth you find in the grocery store.  According to Epicurious.com, broth is made by simmering chopped vegetables and meat for up to 2 hours.  Stock is made by simmering bones, preferably with some meat attached, along with vegetables for 4-6 hours.  This extracts more collagen, which helps give the stock it’s thick and flavorful quality.  In fact, well-made stock should gelatinize when it’s refrigerated.  Broth will not do that.

Stock made from animal bones and meat will gelatinize when cold.

Stock made from animal bones and meat will gelatinize when cold.

Epicurious goes on to note that “Bone broth” is a stock variation: you simmer the bones for up to 24 hours, which means the liquid is more reduced and flavorful, and probably has a higher content of collagen and some minerals from the bones.  Adding a tablespoon or two of vinegar to the pot can also help extract some more minerals.

So if bone broth isn’t really a health food miracle, why use it?  FLAVOR!  You can just eat/drink it straight, perhaps seasoned with a bit of pepper or a dash of salt.  Garlic is also good.  A great warming and savory food for cold days, or when you’re fighting a cold or the flu.  Because it’s mostly water, it’s filling and can help curb appetite.  It’s also a key ingredient for delicious home-made soups.  Add a variety of vegetables (use frozen for convenience), herbs and leftover meat if you like.  Or canned beans of your choice.  Make it more of a meal by topping with a bit of grated cheese.

Making your own stock (bone broth) isn’t difficult.  For example, after Thanksgiving dinner is over, remove all useful meat from the turkey.  Put the bones, skin and any attached meat into a very large pot, cover with water, bring to a boil and then simmer for 4-6 hours.  Strain the liquid into a large bowl.  Throw away the bones.  Store the stock in the refrigerator.  Any fat will rise to the top and form a firm layer when cold.  You can easily peel off the fat layer and discard it if you don’t want it.

Take Away Message:

Bone broth may not be a miracle health food, but it is delicious.  Use it as the basis for healthy vegetable-rich soups that fill you up, reducing your appetite for empty calories.

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