I posted before on the importance of eating the whole animal. This post is related in that broth goes a long way towards that goal, even if you can’t stomach the idea of liver. In fact, broth is so important, I decided to give it a whole post of its own! It’s difficult to find hard science to back up its healing power, likely due to a lack of funds for research on whole food rather than pharmaceutical remedies. However, we do have two things. First, humans have a long history of consuming it – an important point given the ancestral approach of Original Wellness. Second, we know the components that make up bone broth, we know their functions and we know our bodies need them.
History of Broth
In the Stone Age, hot stones from the fire were placed in the abdominal pouches of butchered animals. Water, herbs and wild grains were added, which resulted in a broth of meat, fat, bones and herbs. Native Americans lined baskets with clay so they could boil bones in them. In pre-modern kitchens, a cauldron was often kept simmering over the fire or on the stove. Ingredients were frequently added and people ate from it regularly. In the 9th and 10th centuries, Magyar warriors in Europe boiled beef until it fell apart, then chopped and dried it to bring with them on their travels. With the addition of hot water, the beef turned into soup again. And, finally, Lewis and Clark are reported to have gone over budget to supply themselves with ample ‘portable soup’ – a dried version of broth similar to what the Magyar warriors used. The use of portable soups continues today, however, they now come in the form of bouillon, which resembles meat, but is often full of MSG and artificial flavorings, with very little resemblance to real broth. (1)
Broth Provides Balance to an Ancestral Diet
The main reason broth is so healing is the collagen content. Collagen is what breaks down into gelatin when cooked. It contains many amino acids, most notably glycine. You may remember glycine from a previous post and I’ll apply the same explanation here, in a shorter version. When we eat lean meat, we get a lot of the amino acid, methionine. Without a balance of glycine, this may be damaging to our health. However, if we balance our intake, we can reap the benefit of including nutrient-dense meat in our diets while avoiding any potential pitfalls of including it. (2) While our bodies do synthesize some of our own glycine, it is considered conditionally essential, meaning in times of stress or disease, we cannot make enough to meet our demands. In our modern world, I think we can all agree these times happen more often than we would like!
Broth Improves Sleep
Collagen is good for more than just a dietary balancing act, it has also been shown to improve sleep quality in those with insomniac tendencies. (3) This is likely due its ability to lower the body’s core temperature and increase peripheral blood flow. (4) Interestingly, it’s been speculated that a drop in core temperature played a large role in determining our ancestor’s sleep patterns. It is less likely that they went to bed and got up with the sun than it is that they went to bed when it was cooler and got up as it got warmer. (5)
Broth Keeps Skin Looking Younger
Collagen is also found in our skin and is vital for it to remain supple. This is because it is actually part of the structure of our skin, and because it is necessary for the constant renewal of skin cells. Studies have shown collagen to reduce wrinkles (6) and to increase elasticity of the skin (7). Anecdotal evidence also supports the idea that broth could help to improve cellulite.
Broth Decreases Joint Pain
Like collagen, chondroitin sulfate is also found in the cartilage of animals. Both collagen and chondroitin sulfate have been shown to have beneficial effects on joint health. Chondroitin sulfate is an effective treatment for osteoarthritis (8) and collagen has been shown to decrease joint pain in athletes (9).
Broth Improves Bone Density
When we think of bone health, most of us immediately think of calcium. But, if that were the whole story, wouldn’t we have eradicated osteoporosis through calcium supplementation? Collagen (along with vitamin D and K2, but we’ll get to that in another post!) may be another necessary component. We know that it is a major structural component of bone (10), and supplementation has been shown to improve bone mineral density (11).
Broth Heals the Gut
Broth is a major component of successful gut-healing protocols, such as the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet and the AIP (Auto-immune Paleo) diet. Collagen has been shown to cure existing gastric ulcers, as well as protect against future ones (12). Our intestinal barrier is of utmost importance in determining our overall health and a permeable lining has been linked to a wide spectrum of disease including, but not limited to seasonal allergies, autism, ADHD, multiple sclerosis, mood disorders and skin health.
Making Your Own Bone Broth
Broth sold in stores doesn’t come close to the stuff you make at home. And, once you’re in the habit of doing it, it’s really very easy. The most basic of basic broths only needs to include a carcass (including skins, joints, heads or feet if you have them), water and a little bit of vinegar. It won’t be an amazing culinary experience, but it’s easy and it’s just as full of nutrients as a fancier recipe! I use it whenever I make soups or sauces, or when I cook rice. If you’re looking for gourmet, or for a broth you can drink as is, you can check out online recipes (for example, here for beef broth, here for chicken and fish).
I would love to hear from you if you have your own tips or tricks to make bone broth, or if you’ve experienced health benefits from incorporating it into your diet!