It is the dead of winter. The days are short, and the weather outside can be bitterly cold and harsh. What a wonderful contrast it can be this time of year to enjoy a hot and hearty soup or stew, enhancing the coziness of the indoors during this season of hibernation. However, it isn't just this romanticized vision of “coziness” that we can value here. Soups and stews prepared with homemade bone broth are loaded with nourishing amino acids and minerals that can enhance our health for the warmer months to come.
Bone broth, and soups in general, are considered to be one of the most ancient forms of food preparation employed by humans, likely going back tens of thousands of years into the Neolithic period. Bone broth can be thought of as nature's multivitamin. It is a highly nutritious “elixir”, made from the slow boiling of animal bones, with many versatile uses in various recipes. It is also a great way to reduce waste when preparing food, upholding that old ideal of using ALL parts of the animal. If you have stripped that tasty Christmas turkey down to the bone, don't just throw out those bones! Recycle those untapped nutrients for future recipes, by making bone broth from them.
Unfortunately, most people pass up the opportunity to take advantage of this super food, apparently unaware of its ability to boost their health during these cold dark months. It's one more way to brace one's self from the cold and flu viruses. All too often, if they do make use of broth in their recipes, it's the store-bought versions, filled with sodium, MSG, and preservatives, and bereft of nutritional value.
With homemade bone broth, your body gets the opportunity to absorb nutrients not easily gained from other common foods in the diet.
Glucosaminoglycans (GAGs) are a class of nutrient that plays a primary role in the maintenance of connective and structural proteins such as collagen and elastin. These proteins are essential for healthy joints and skin. These building blocks of cartilage and other structural proteins in the body include Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid. Boosting these nutrients in the body supports the growth and maintenance of the rubbery cartilage that lubricates our joints. As they tend to become depleted as we age, we will often take supplements to help prevent or slow the onset of degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis of the hips and knees. However, since these GAGs are found in abundance in the bones and cartilage of our animal-based “leftovers”, they will leach out of the bones and into the broth for easy absorption. Emphasizing bone broth recipes in the diet is an excellent nutritional strategy to employ outside of supplementation.
Minerals and electrolytes, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, as well as a myriad of other trace elements, are found in abundance in homemade bone broth. This is a great non-dairy source of calcium for support of bone density, and is also supportive of circulation and nerve signalling. As long as there is no added sodium, bone broth provides an ideal balance of electrolytes to support efficient cellular function.
Collagen is the major structural protein found within humans, and for that matter other vertebrate animals that we eat, serving functions in healthy skin, covering and holding together our bones so that they move smoothly, and helping to seal the protective lining of the intestinal tract. Irritation of the gut lining, perhaps due to consumption of excess refined carbohydrates, processed foods, or hidden food sensitivities, can lead to inappropriate permeability of the gut lining. As a rich source of gelatin, bone broth supports healthy gut lining, and thus appropriate and efficient nutrient absorption. Collagen is also a rather complex protein, containing 19 different amino acids. Some of these amino acids are “essential”, which means that our bodies cannot manufacture them on their own. They must come from outside dietary sources. Other amino acids are “conditional”, meaning the body does have some limited capacity to manufacture them under conditions of scarcity, but it is still ideal to support them from the diet. Some of the key amino acids provided by bone broth include proline, glutamine, glycine, and arginine.
More reasons to consume bone broth!!!
I think it is fairly obvious why bone broth consumption is good for bone and joint health, but lets further break down some additional benefits.
As previously discussed, bone broth supports gut health. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology in 2012 showed that gelatin, which is richly found in bone broth, supports intestinal health and integrity (1). Gelatin also makes a great “prebiotic”, meaning it is a food that supports the growth of healthy probiotic bacteria in the gut.
The body’s immune system is regulated to a significant degree through the gut-associated-lymphoid-tissue (GALT), which is provided gentle stimulation by healthy gut bacteria. Nutritionally supporting healthy gut flora like this helps to regulate healthy inflammation levels in the gut and the rest of the body. This also supports overall immune strength in defending against pathogens, such as during the cold and flu season (2).
Bone broth, as well as the kinds of foods typically prepared with it (i.e. soups and stews) is easily digested and soothing to the digestive tract. These foods are almost “pre-digested”, given their manner of preparation, making the work of digestion easy for the digestive tract. This is especially helpful for individuals with digestive imbalances, or who are weak or nutritionally deficient.
Bone broth also supports the body’s natural detoxification capacity. In our modern world, most of us are routinely exposed, for much of our lives, to a variety of environmental toxins we were never originally evolved to deal with, such as pesticide residues, artificial additives in our food, and various forms of pollution inside and outside our homes. The toxic load resulting from this exposure can have long-term health consequences. The body has natural mechanisms for clearing these toxins, but the now overwhelming rates of exposure often out-pace the body’s capacity for clearance. Bone broth supports detoxification simply through its support of the digestive tract and its natural capacity to clear waste. Additionally, through its content of potassium and glycine, various sulfur-containing compounds, and glutathione, bone broth supports phase II detoxification through the liver. A Stanford University study showed that glutathione helps with the elimination of fat-soluble toxins, especially heavy metals like mercury and lead.
AND NOW........ Here is how to make a GREAT bone broth!
The essential ingredients of a great bone broth are bones, fat, meat, vegetables, and water. While the animal components are the most important, and arguably all you need, including select vegetables and spices has additional synergistic nutritional benefits, as well as enhancing overall taste. If using a chicken, consider including not just the bones, but also the feet and neck, for additional collagen and gelatin content.
The vegetables to include should be carrots, onions, and celery, as well as perhaps some sea salt for additional taste, along with parsley. Fresh thyme is a personal favorite herb that I like to include. You may also consider including herbs such as ginger or turmeric. There are many options for customizing your broth, including different animal bases, such as chicken, beef, fish, and lamb (lamb parts should be browned first), as well as any combination of the above mentioned herbs and vegetables.
Step 1: Place bones, and other animal parts, into a large pot or crockpot, along with your chosen vegetables and herbs, and cover with water. Be sure to leave enough room for the water to boil.
Step 2: Add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, and/or the juice squeezed from 1-2 lemons. This lowers the pH of the broth, and helps to leach all those nutritious minerals and nutrients from the bones.
Step 3: Heat slowly, bringing the solution to a boil, then lower heat to reduce to a steady simmer. Keep simmering for at least 6 hours. Skim off the excess fat from the top, as it arises.
Step 4: Six hours is the minimum amount of time, but consider that chicken bones can be boiled for up to 24 hours, and beef bones up to 48 hours. The more time you invest, the more nutrients you will extract from the bones. This is the most labour-intensive part of the preparation, but it is usually worth it for the extra nutritional benefit you will gain.
Step 5: Remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain out the liquid portion and discard the solids.
Step 6: Store the broth in the refrigerator, and use within a week. You can store it for up to 3 months if you keep it frozen.
Use your bone broth in your favorite soup and stew recipes. You will find that the homemade variety will deliver a more enjoyable meal than the store-bought broth cubes. And it is overall more satisfying. Preparing and enjoying hot and hearty meals is one of the best things about winter, in my opinion. I hope you can make use of and enjoy the information in this article for the rest of the season, and many more to come. Happy brewing!
Yours in Health,
Dr. Evan McCarvill, ND
1. Frasca G, Cardile V, Puglia C, Bonina C, Bonina F. Gelatin tannate reduces the proinflammatory effects of lipopolysaccharide in human intestinal epithelial cells. Clin Exp Gastroenterol. 2012; 5: 61-67.
2. Rennard BO, Ertl RF, Gossman GL, Robbins RA, Rennard SI. Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro. Chest. 2000 Oct; 118(4): 1150-7.
3. Epigenetic Labs. 2016. Bone Broth Breakthrough. [acessed January 1st, 2017]. www.epigeneticlabs.com.