Bone Broth: The Missing Link in Our Diets?

For those of you who’ve been following me and my social media posts of late, you know that I’ve had some serious bone broth fever this year. So I was super stoked when my dear friend and brilliant nutritionist Dr. Kaayla T. Daniel co-authored Nourishing Broth: An Old Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World with Sally Fallon. I caught up with Kaayla this week and sipped my own chicken-beef broth blend while we dished on all things broth and liquid love. Read on to learn all the amazing things that bone broth can do for you and how it can help you get your health groove back!  E: Why are you such a fan of broth?

 K: It tastes great! And it’s a “souper” food that’s nourishing too.

E: What type of health benefits does bone broth offer?

K: We have lots of science supporting chicken soup’s reputation as “Jewish Penicillin.” Healers have known for thousands of years that it can help us recover from colds, flu and other acute illnesses.   It improves digestion and is the #1 food for gut healing. Less well- known is that cartilage and other components found in genuine homemade bone broth can help prevent and even reverse chronic illnesses such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune disorders, digestive distress, mental illness, and even cancer.

E: Sounds like broth’s good for all that ails us.   Anything else you recommend it for?

K: It’s the missing piece in most athletic programs and anti-aging therapies. It can even help eliminate cellulite.

E: No way! Now you’ve got my attention. But did cavewomen drink broth? Is it Paleo?

K: Believe it or not broth dates back to the Stone Age — before people even had pots to cook in!   The first soups were probably cooked in animal skins and turtle shells. Paleo people also enjoyed many of the benefits of broth by eating the crispy skins of animals roasted on spits, chewing cartilage off drumsticks and other bones and scooping out marrow from shank bones.   All those components end up in homemade broth, soup and stews.

E: Let’s go back to cellulite. Can bone broth truly help with cellulite, or is that just hype?  

K: Most attempts to reduce cellulite focus on attaining lean body mass through diet and exercise. Exercise definitely helps because it increases blood flow to the connective tissue and strengthens the muscles that support our skin. But exercise alone won’t do the trick unless the diet also includes plenty of foods that build strong, flexible connective tissue. To build up connective tissue, we need to eat plenty of foods high in collagen and cartilage. Those on vegan and plant-based diets will obviously come up deficient. Surprisingly, so do many people on Paleo diets! The reason is most of them choose lean protein in the form of muscle meats such as steaks and chops. Our ancestors, in their wisdom, did it differently. They practiced “nose to tail eating.” They regularly ate liver and other organ meats and also enjoyed broth, soups and stews from the skin, cartilage and bones. Before the invention of pottery, they cooked broth in animal skins and turtle shells. In terms of cellulite, the overemphasis on lean protein is the reason many lean, fit women suffer from cellulite no matter how much they work out.

E: Are you saying women with cellulite don’t have a fat problem so much as a connective tissue problem?  And that they should be eating more saturated fats within the meat of pasture-raised animals?

K: Yes, studies show women who suffer from cellulite don’t have larger fat lobes or even more of them. The problem is not the fat, but lobes of fat poking through.  What prevents that from happening is healthy connective tissue that is strong, flexible and able to hold the fat in and keep it where it belongs.   And we all know that consuming saturated fats can be highly beneficial in the context of overall health.

 E: Even though men don’t necessarily eat more soups and stews than women, they don’t seem to have as many issues with cellulite.   Why is that?  

K: When it comes to connective tissue structure, women are at a disadvantage.   In cellulite-prone areas of the body such as the thighs and butt, men have a criss-crossing connective tissue structure, whereas women’s is more linear. Compare a chain link fence to a picket fence and consider how the chain link fence excels at keeping things inside or outside your yard. Even so, not all women suffer from cellulite. Those who don’t have stronger and more flexible connective tissue with a bit of cross linking.   I say strong and flexible because rigid connective tissue actually helps subcutaneous fat get a grip and push through.

E: Are there any other factors?

K: Yes, women are also more prone to cellulite than men because they have three subcutaneous fat layers and not just one, and because they have nine times more alpha estrogen receptors (which produce fat) than beta receptors (which breakdown fat). We can’t do anything about those sex differences, but our dietary choices can make a big difference in terms of building quality connective tissue.

E: Many people, including myself, say a contributing factor of cellulite is toxicity. What’s your take on that?  

K: Many health experts blame pesticides, preservatives, fluoride, and other environmental toxins stored in our fat tissue of our bodies. But if they were the primary cause, men would show as much cellulite as women.   We also can see from old photographs and paintings that the dimpling and lumpiness of cellulite is not a modern phenomenon.   That said, I’m a big believer in avoiding a toxic life style and keeping a clean diet with foods that are organic, pastured and grass fed. Just don’t expect those choices to clear your cellulite unless your diet is also rich in collagen.

E: Okay, so collagen is really an important piece of addressing the cellulite situation. Let’s switch gears and talk about bone broth and athletes. Would athletes benefit from bone broth as well?

 K: For many years, athletes and bodybuilders took gelatin supplements to build muscle, gain energy, prevent injuries and boost immunity.   More recently the fitness world has shifted its recommendation to glutamine. Yet both are found naturally in broth.   When broth is made using plenty of collagen, cartilage and bones, the final product will be rich in gelatin, which is what makes it get jiggly when we put it in the frig.   Supplements can certainly help, but I prefer to focus on the dietary foundation.

E: Can you discuss how broth helps athletes with immunity?  Science has shown us that since 70% of our lymph nodes line the intestinal tract, a healthy gut = a healthy immune system.  But how else can it help athletic performance and recovery?

K:  Working out can be highly stressful on the body.   Athletes who overtrain and fail to rest sufficiently are highly prone to colds, flu and other infections.   Luckily broth can help!   Broth not only helps us recover from colds, flu and other acute illnesses but prevent us from getting sick to begin with.   Glutamine, which is a conditionally essential amino acid that helps rebuild the gut, is one of the top three amino acids in broth. So it does double-duty in both healing the gut and boosting immune function. Plus, Glutamine helps repair and build muscle. It is well known to support the immune system under conditions of physical or even emotional stress.

Many active women work with weights to help with bone building.  The name “bone broth” suggests it could help with that, too.

Calcium is the first thing most people think of for bone building. Health conscious women probably think of Vitamin D and trace minerals too.   While these all help, the bottom line is we cannot build strong, flexible bone without collagen.   Think of it this way: collagen fibers build a scaffold for the bone’s minerals the way rebars reinforce concrete.

E: Can broth help with weight loss?  

K: Homemade soup is highly nourishing, delicious and and filling, too.  Accordingly, many weight loss experts suggest a bowl before a meal to help prevent overeating.  I would add that a cup of broth or soup mid afternoon or mid morning is the perfect energy-giving snack.   A cup before bed helps many people sleep well.  Recent studies have indicated that sufficient high-quality sleep helps people lose weight by reducing carb cravings.

E: We’re all so busy today and often eat on the fly. Most of my clients do not cook. Do we have to make our broth from scratch?

K: Unfortunately, most of the readymade broths and soups don’t make the quality cut. Most broths and soups found in the supermarkets — and even the health food stores — aren’t genuine long-cooked bone broth made from bones, cartilage and skin.  Most rely, instead, for their savoriness on MSG and other flavorings. The good news though is that homemade broth can be a fast food. Our great grandmothers may have hovered over the stove all day — and gourmet cooks may do it still — but crockpots and slow cookers make broth making fast, easy and efficient.   What could be simpler than tossing together a few basic ingredients before rushing off to work in the morning and coming home hours later to the delicious smell of soup or stew?

E: Yes, I totally agree with you, Kaayla—the slow cooker is a game-changer! It really takes 5 minutes at most to make homemade bone broth. It’s just getting people over the mental hump and planning ahead. But the results are well worth it and require zero technical skills in the kitchen.

Now, let's talk about getting gorgeous.  Can you tell me what’s the very best broth for health and beauty?  

K: Whatever bone broth you are willing to make! Ideally, work with bones from pastured animals. Quality matters for both personal and planetary health.   I enjoy a variety of soups and stews from chicken, lamb, beef, and fish. Bean soups made with ham hocks are a winter favorite in my family.   Do include nutritious vegetables, especially celery, onions and carrots.   The magic ingredient is chicken feet.   That’s the secret to a jiggly gelatinous broth rich in collagen.   After your broth is done, take out the softened chicken feet, pluck out the bones and give all that good collagen and cartilage to your pets.   My dog and four cats can all thank chicken feet for their thick, shiny fur and the good looks that epitomize “Paleo Chic!”

E: Good to know, Kaayla, because I’m drinking broth made from chicken feet and bones as we speak! I feel more gorgeous already. Thanks so much for today—I love your book and have had a ton of fun trying out the different recipes. Both my boys love it, too! After I cook the broth, I cool it and store it in mason jars in the freezer. There have been a few days I was sick this winter. I spent the day sipping gently warmed homemade broth and felt MUCH better the next day. Amen to that! What a cost-effective and delicious home remedy.

Here’s a basic version of bone broth you can easily enjoy at home:

3 pounds knuckle and neck bones (ideally from pastured cows)

¼ cup vinegar

1 organic onion, quartered

2 organic carrots, peeled and chopped into large pieces

1 organic celery rib, chopped into large pieces

Place the bones into a 7-quart slow cooker and pour the vinegar over the bones. Let sit for 30-60 minutes. Add the chopped veggies and 16 cups of water. Cook for 16 hours on low overnight. Cool, strain, and pour into glass mason jars. Keeps for 5 days in the fridge and in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN, is The Naughty Nutritionist® because of her ability to outrageously and humorously debunk nutritional myths. She has been a guest on The Dr. Oz Show, PBS Healing Quest, NPR’s Peoples Pharmacy, and other shows, is Vice President of the Weston A. Price Foundation and author of The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of Americas Favorite Health Food.

Kaayla’s new book — coauthored with Sally Fallon Morell — is Nourishing Broth: An Old Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World.  Join their broth making community at www.nourishingbroth.com and get two free gifts: Be Souper: 7 Ways to Boost Your Health and Energy with Broth and Extra Helpings of Nourishing Broth.