One of the Season's Hottest, Healthiest and Tastiest Trends!
So why would I write yet anther piece about bone broth when there is already so much out there?Well …
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I’ve personally experienced, and have seen many women who, regularly consume bone broth and experience amazing health changes! Despite a complete lack of research ‘proving’ it works (more on this in a minute).
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I’ve got the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) take on bone broth. Although it’s super trendy right now, it’s also super old school and part of many traditional diets including the one that I am personally trained in.
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I want to give those who want to try it a one stop resource for good, easy to use information on how simple it is to make, ways to trouble shoot issues you may have, and also where to buy it if you don’t want to spend the time making it yourself.
I’ve seen women who regularly consume bone broth get better in all sorts of ways.
I didn’t menstruate for 2+ years, and a big part of my holistic treatment to get my period back included drinking bone broth, making soups with bone broths, and consuming them once or twice a day for several months. I’ve worked with women who have gone from having terrible responses to western fertility cycles to responding well and getting pregnant while eating bone broth (well, not literally at the same time ... if you are imagining someone drinking bone broth while getting inseminated you are taking me too literally. It’s good for a smile though!) I worked with one woman who had over a half a year of dysfunctional uterine bleeding that no western treatments could help. She stopped bleeding after regularly eating bone broth. I’ve seen women with terrible gluten sensitivity get to a place where they can eat some gluten and not get sick after adding bone broth to their diet.
Are these cases to say the bone broth is the magic cure all and if people drink it all their problems will go away? Nope, not at all. I’m not a crazy person! Saying all these things happened while a person was also regularly consuming bone broth is not at all the same as saying bone broth caused these things to happen. The truth is these women were all doing more than just one thing to help themselves get healthy. For example, every one of them was also getting acupuncture and many were also taking herbs. But, I do see patients who just do acupuncture and herbs and then add bone broth and I feel that the bone broth often coincides with a noticeable jump in progress which makes me think it’s pretty special, even if there isn’t a study ‘proving’ it. And even if I’m 100% wrong and it’s pure coincidence, drinking bone broth certainly didn’t have any negative results for any of these women.
“ Sadly, studying bone broth isn’t likely to ever happen - it won’t make anyone a bunch of money and isn’t very sexy. ”
So, what about the science? Or the lack there of? The Mother Jones article listed above above goes into why science doesn’t back up these sorts of claims. But the article’s very first evidence in support of the author’s argument is the fact that there is only one study (done in 1934) on bone broth. So, how can you say what something does or doesn’t do from a scientific perspective if you have no scientific data? Sadly, studying bone broth isn’t likely to ever happen - it won’t make anyone a bunch of money and isn’t very sexy. The only other studies close to the study of bone broth, which the article does actually mention, are ones that look at chicken soup for colds. And those studies actually do seem to show that chicken soup moves nasal mucus, changes white blood cell migration, and calms cold symptoms!
But without hard data on actual bone broth, other theories on what bone broth can or cannot do is based on individual components within bone broth. The arguments go, “because there is X nutrient in bone broth and the data on X nutrient doesn’t equal big results, then bone broth is a crock” (ahh, slow cooker puns, how I love thee). The problem with this is it’s way too reductionistic. Let me give you an example. Science supports beta carotene (found in carrots) is, and isn’t, related to certain functions in our body. But that is not the same as saying eating a whole carrot is, or isn’t, exclusively associated with those same functions. Or that taking a beta carotene supplement is the same as eating a carrot. Especially in nutrition, it is easy to miss the forest for the trees. The sum is always greater than the parts. So, yes, bone broth contains collagen, glutamine and glycine. But there is likely something about all these things (and much more) all being together and naturally occurring that is more complex and wonderful than what any one of these nutrients does alone.
The TCM of bone broth.
Many a paleo believer will tell you bone broth is what we are meant to eat because our paleo ancestors would have eaten it. This will be quickly followed up by many a paleo doubter telling you that is a bogus argument, because paleo people wouldn’t have had the tools (pots for example) to actually make bone broth. Yes, they ate marrow, but no, not bone broth. I won’t go into all that, but I will say, from a TCM perspective, bone broth makes sense.
In TCM you are born with a certain amount of good stuff (I use ‘good stuff’ or ‘resources’ instead of getting into the technical mumbo jumbo of TCM because most people can better relate to these ideas than words like Qi). This good stuff we are born with is called our Prenatal Essence or Energy. It comes from our parents’ constitution (or DNA), and our gestation, or what we absorbed in utero. Once we are born, there are only two ways to replenish the good stuff. We can add more through eating and drinking, and through breathing. That’s it! These two sources are called our postnatal energy.
Consider what a big deal this is. It’s huge! And even if you consider it from a Western perspective you’ll soon see it rings true from that perspective as well. We just don’t make a big deal out of it like we do in TCM. We literally are what we eat.
“ Even our ‘healthy food’ is being grown in less nutrient dense soil than it was in generations before us. “
So, here we are living in a world full of junk food, processed food, fast food, convenience food, etc. Even our ‘healthy food’ is being grown in less nutrient dense soil than it was in generations before us. We’ve also gotten completely away from eating the whole animal, which is something we did for centuries and indeed is the most complete and healthy way for us to eat. We used to eat things like organs, marrow, and blood. And now we only eat muscle meat from animals and think everything else is gross. We’re trying to replenish our good stuff through diet, and the good stuff is what is responsible for replenishing the actual cells of our bones, our blood, our organs, etc. But we aren’t putting in the building blocks that that good stuff is actually made out of. Not to worry, the body can often synthesis more of what we need out of the other stuff we give it, but it’s more work this way, and the body can’t always make up the full difference. Some nutrients are essential, meaning we cannot get them except through actually consuming them!
See the problem? To rectify it, you could eat organs, blood, marrow, etc. In fact there is a cool study from a researcher in the 1920s where they let orphan children choose their own foods for several years before the kids had any positive or negative associations with certain foods being desirable and others not desirable. This study showed that given the choice, and no bias, we would eat organs, blood and marrow and enjoy them!
But most of us won’t do that. Or if we do, it’s occasionally while dining at some trendy restaurant vs a regular part of our diet. So bone broth is looking pretty good now. It’s a way to get specific whole food nutrients we wouldn’t otherwise get, and fill a gap in our diet and nutrition needs.
There is another layer that makes bone broth very appealing in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The idea that the digestive tract is like a kettle with a fire burning under it. The kettle is the digestive organs, and the fire is the metabolism. Imagine a kettle that is struggling, either because the ingredients going in are hard to break down (processed, unnatural, excessive, etc) or because the fire is too low (thyroid issues, digestive sensitivities, aging, etc). Now imagine what happens if instead of a normal meal you put in some very nutrient dense bone broth that is already pre-digested and easy to cook down and assimilate. I’ll tell you. It’s a very nice gift to give your digestive kettle good ingredients that are already mostly broken down. It’s much easier for the kettle to function this way.
How To Get The Stuff?
Make-Your-Own Bone Broth
To make your very own bone broth, you need:
- A normal sized crock pot. Don’t do this on the stove, even though some recipes tell you to.
- Enough bones* to fill your crock pot 1/2 way. Preferably organic, grass fed, non-hormonally treated.
- 1 or 2 onions cut in 1/4’s, 2 or 3 carrots peeled and chopped into large chunks, a couple cloves of garlic if you like (peeled and whole), a couple stalks of celery chopped into big chunks, a bay leaf or two, and a teaspoon of salt. You can put in other veggies, more salt and pepper, spices, etc, but those are my essentials.
- Enough water to cover the bones and veggies. Don’t fill the crock pot too full or it’ll spatter water all over the place. Leave at least an inch or two below the lid.
- A metal colander and large bowl or pot.
- Apple cider vinegar (preferably raw, unpasteurized).
- More veggies (frozen work fine), and a handful of rice if you want to turn it into soup.
- Put the bones, veggies, and seasoning in the crockpot
- Drizzle with a couple tablespoons of vinegar
- Pour water over it all
- Cover and cook for 12-24 hours (I never do more than that)
- Once you are done cooking you need to strain all the chunks out of the broth. To do this, I set a big metal colander over a big pot or bowl. Then I dump all the contents from the crock pot into the colander and let the broth drain to the pot. If you just want broth you are done.
I make the broth into soup right away. I set the colander back over the crock pot and then pick through the bones and bits left in the colander to get the chunks of carrots, celery, onion, etc out. I chop those chunks up smaller and toss them into the broth. You can further season the broth and add more frozen veggies too. I pick any meat off the bones, especially if I’ve used a whole chicken carcass. Then I throw the meat pieces in and add a small handful of rice. I reheat it enough to cook the rice and eat it as bone broth soup. Yum!
* Bones - You can buy bones directly from your butcher counter. You just need to ask. Or you can save the bones from other meals in a Ziplock in the freezer. Once you have enough stored up, take them out of the freezer and make a batch of broth. I use a lot of whole chicken carcasses. If I roast a chicken for dinner on Saturday, we eat what we like, then I’ll use what’s left and throw it in the crockpot overnight and make bone broth the next day. If you don’t want to roast a chicken yourself, rotisserie chickens will do nicely as well. Eat the meat for your meal, then use what’s left for broth.
Troubleshooting your broth to get it to thicken and gel.
Bone broth ideally will thicken into a gel-like consistency when it is chilled. This is because all the collagen that cooks out of the bones and tendons creates gelatin. Some people go through all the trouble of making bone broth and it still doesn’t gel. If you are one of these people, and you are achievement oriented and even a little bit type A, you will take it as a challenge to make sure your next batch does gel!
If this happens to you, first thing to know is not to worry. Your bone broth still has lots of good stuff in it, just not a super high concentration of gelatin. You should be proud, drink and enjoy it. But if you want to make it even better the next time, check out this blog to see several options for making it gel up nicely.
Or store-bought bone broth.
If you don’t have any desire to make your own bone broth, but still want to try it, never fear. The internet has lots of places for you to buy it.
However you come to it, happy bone broth imbibing. I hope you try it and like it, especially on cold winter days like these. It can’t hurt.