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Ask the RD

Question: There seems to be much buzz about bone broth and its healing effects. Can you shed some light on this for me?

Answer: Bone broth does seem to be getting its share of attention these days, and not just from the wellness community. While bone broth is very popular within the Paleo Diet™, professional athletes such as Kobe Bryant are turning to this hot beverage for an athletic edge (it is rumored that the Lakers team now offers bone broth to its players as a recovery drink, at Bryant’s request).

But the claims surrounding bone broth go far beyond post-workout recovery. They range from boosting the immune system to improving joint function to rebuilding bones, all as a result of the concentrated amount of collagen in the broth.

What Is Bone Broth?

Bone broth is essentially a broth made by simmering bones with some meat still attached to them, along with a small amount of vinegar, aromatic vegetables, herbs and spices for several hours. Some people use beef bones, while others use chicken, but most simmer the broth for over 5 hours, and many simmer it for as long as 24 hours with a slow cooker. The vinegar is said to leach the minerals from the bones, and the long cooking time extracts more collagen.

The Claims

Very few scientific studies exist to back the claims made about the health benefits of bone broth. As a result, it’s not possible to say that consuming this beverage will boost your immune system or help to rebuild your bones and joints. I believe it’s unlikely that consuming extra collagen via bone broth will result in your body using that collagen to rebuild bones and tissues.

Collagen is a protein. The body must digest or break down protein into amino acids in order for absorption to occur. If you consume large, concentrated amounts of collagen, the body will break down the proteins into amino acids and, once they are inside the system, the body will use those amino acids as it sees fit.

Bottom Line

Bone broth may not be a magic elixir, but it can be a great addition to your diet. As far as Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are concerned, the broth is probably a great postworkout recovery and hydration source, since it provides the athletes with water and a good dose of electrolytes (mostly in the form of sodium).

Keep in mind that hot beverages, such as chicken soup, have been used by countless cultures for centuries as a way of nursing the ill back to health. If chicken soup is good for the soul, the long at-home cooking time required to prepare bone broth may encourage you to cook more wholesome and healthful foods at the same time, which would definitely be good for both body and soul.

Broth vs. Stock

While many use the terms interchangeably, broth is prepared by simmering bones, meat and vegetables in water, whereas stock is made by simmering only bones and vegetables in water. The meat makes broth cloudier but also more flavorful than stock. Broth also tends to be salted, while stock is not.

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