02/23/2017 07:38 EST | Updated 05/11/2017 04:11 EDT

The Health Benefits Of Bone Broth: Science Or Science Fiction?

Chicken broth, bouillon, clear soup in a cup next to fresh herbs.
Photosiber via Getty Images
Chicken broth, bouillon, clear soup in a cup next to fresh herbs.

Think bone broth is the ultimate soup du jour? Think again.

Bone broth, particularly beef bone broth, is enjoying its day in the sun. Believers tout a wide range of health benefits, including healing a leaky gut, promoting healthy joints, upping immune system functioning and improving appearance thanks to its collagen content. Regrettably, the bone broth craze is leading a lot of healthy eaters astray.

"Unfortunately, there are no miracle foods, no matter how much people want one to exist," confirms William H. Percy, PhD, an associate professor at the Sanford School of Medicine of the University of South Dakota.


Debunking the Health Benefits of Bone Broth

Boiling bones does yield collagen (a protein made up of various amino acids that decreases in various parts of our bodies as we age). But, as far as using bone broth's collagen as a cure-all, Dr. Percy debunks those myths. "Since we don't absorb collagen whole, the idea that eating collagen promotes bone growth is just wishful thinking," he says.

"The amino acids we absorb from digesting collagen in the gut will be used by the body for any biochemical process that needs them. They're not specifically incorporated into collagen production because they came from collagen to start with. That's just how the body works." Compared to eggs, milk and chicken, collagen is also a poor source of important amino acids such as lysine, threonine, leucine and tryptophan, adds Percy.

And, the claim that bone broth heals a leaky gut, Percy debunks that too, saying that if there was any merit to bone broth having healing properties for the digestive tract, gastroenterologists would be using it to treat inflammatory bowel disease -- but they're not.

How to Promote Collagen Production

Bone broth aside, maintaining collagen formation with smart food choices that also lower your odds of developing other diseases is a wise route to consider. Here are some examples of nutrients needed for promoting collagen production:

1. Vitamin C - Go for citrus, berries, peppers and dark leafy greens.

2. Anthocyanins - Choose blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and dark skinned plums.

3. Manganese - Try nuts such pecans and peanuts, whole grains and pulses like dried beans.

Keeping damage to collagen at a minimum is also wise. To do so, steer clear of inflammatory compounds like trans fats and cut your added sugar intake. Not smoking and using sun protection regularly can also protect your collagen status.

Enjoying Soups, Stocks and Broths

While bone broth may not be the super food it's believed to be, eating soup, broth or stock still provides some health benefits:

1. Soup is an excellent source of vegetables.

Turns out, the old adage of chicken soup being a terrific cold remedy has some truth to it. Researchers from the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha found that chicken soup, when prepared in the traditional manner with chicken and vegetables, decreased the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.

Soup can also boost the nutritional value of some vegetables. Some nutrients, such as the beta carotene or Vitamin A in orange vegetables, or the red pigment, lycopene, which is found in tomatoes, are better absorbed when cooked. Other nutrients, like the water-soluble B vitamin folate that's found in spinach and other greens can be lost in the water when vegetables are cooked . But with soup, you get the benefits of both, the cooking water and the veggies.

Speaking of soup prep, you might be wondering about the differences between using chicken broth versus chicken stock, or beef broth versus beef stock. Broth is made by cooking meat or poultry and vegetables with water, while stock is made using mainly bones and yields a more gelatinous result. Whichever your choice, add some vegetables to the pot for more flavor, which lessens the need for added salt.

2. Soup helps with weight loss.

A hot bowl of soup also helps tame the appetite, as numerous studies have shown. In one investigation, Pennsylvania State University researchers found that subjects who ate a pre-lunch snack of soup consumed about one-third fewer calories than subjects who ate a solid snack with a glass of water.

In other research, overweight subjects on a controlled calorie weight-loss regime who had two daily servings of a low-calorie soup experienced 50% greater weight loss than those who consumed the same amount of energy with high-calorie snack food.

If that's not enough to get you stirring the stockpot, consider having soup as a complete meal in a bowl -- which is perfect for when you're cooking for one or two. To boost a soup's nutritional value, try adding protein-rich items like meat, poultry, fish, pulses, or tofu along with veggies and whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa or barley, to your recipe.

And be sure to prepare a little extra to store in the freezer for later.

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