We recently had a friend from New York City visit us who claimed that the latest health craze in the Big Apple is bone broth! She described how it's available on the streets, in cafés, in health food stores - it was taking hold with the likes of wheatgrass juice and Starbucks coffee. I didn't believe it, until I read this article in the New York Times, followed by this article on CBC.ca. Bone broth is officially going viral!
So What's the Big Deal with Bone Broth?
Why is bone broth considered the next superfood? As NDs, we often prescribe this simple, prehistoric food to our patients, especially in gut healing protocols. You may have heard of such terms as glucosamine, chondroiton or glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), or minerals like phosphorus, calcium and magnesium. Bone broth has 'em - not in abundance, but it has 'em. More importantly, what seems to be its main benefitial ingredient is gelatin. Gelatin is that jelly-like substance that we often associate to jello (natural forms don't come in green and blue). Gelatin and other non-muscle meats (eg organ meats, skin, marrow) are necessary to balance the methionine levels found in muscle meats.
In the current era of crossfit-toting paleo hacks, muscle meat consumption has skyrocketed. On one hand, a diet higher in protein is excellent and there is ever more research to support that animal proteins, fats and cholesterol are in fact good for us! On the other hand, high levels of muscle meats, as well as eggs, can increase our systemic load of methionine, an amino acid that partially metabolizes to a substance called homocysteine. High homocysteine levels have been associated with heart disease and stroke by contributing to plaque formation in arterial walls. It's also been associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Before we villainize the essential amino acid methionine, let's quickly review why it's an essential nutrient - meaning we require it in our diets. Methionine is the precursor to another amino acid called cysteine, both of which are required for protein synthesis. Methionine is also required in the synthesis of carnitine and S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e), which both serve multiple biochemical functions, most notably detoxification. The trouble begins when methionine is metabolized in part to homocysteine, which contributes to adverse health effects. To balance the effects of homocysteine, we require another amino acid called glycine.
Homocysteine neutralizing nutrients include the methylating vitamins B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), B12 (cobalamin), as well as betaine and choline. Good sources of B vitamins are fruits and vegetables. Betaine is readily found in spinach. Choline is found in egg yolks and dark leafy greens. In addition, when consuming an elevated level of methionine (which metabolizes to homocysteine), another amino acid called glycine is required to balance it. The main source of glycine is animal skin and bones, or the gelatinous parts of the animal.
So now we're back to gelatin.
Increased organ meats, bones and skin = increased gelatin =
increased glycine = decreased homocysteine.
Benefits of Glycine
Glycine is a non-essential amino acid derived from serine and threonine. Its benefits include a calming effect (works with GABA as an inhibitory neurotransmitter), a component of collagen formation, regulates biles acids, helps with fat metabolism, and is required for the synthesis of heme (a component of red blood cells). In other words, glycine is good!
How to Make Bone Broth
Sources vary on the best way to prepare bone broth. Some say a few hours of simmering is sufficient; others say slow-cooking for 24-36 hours is required for adequate marrow and bone matrix dissolving. From experience, it seems the longer you cook it, the more the bones break down and the more benefit you yield.
So here's our version. We get our beef bones from a local organic butcher for approx $3/pound, who cuts them to manageable piece for us. One 3-lb bag lasts us approx one month when doing one batch of broth per week.
1) Place two 1" x 1" bone pieces in pot
2) Fill pot with 2L of water
3) Add 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or liberal to taste)
4) Add 1/2 - 1 tbsp of salt (or liberal to taste)
5) Add herbs for flavour (bay leaves, marjoram, rosemary, thyme)
6) Bring to boil
7) Reduce to simmer for 8+ hours
We often let our broth simmer overnight and keep consuming it gradually over the course of two to three days. If we don't want to consume it all in one shot, we refridgerate or freeze it, but we've found it easier to consume one to two batches per week without storing it.
So, to sum up...
Tapping into our ancestral diets, it seems consuming the entire animal is more benefitial than just the lean (or
not so lean) muscle meats. When considering how we evolved, our ancestors certainly didn't catch their game and selectively slice off prime cuts of steak. They would have consumed the entire animal, including organs, skin and bones. As a result, they received balanced levels of methionine, glycine and choline. They also would have foraged for wild produce, which would have contributed essential B vitamins and betaine that assist with homocysteine neutralization.
In the end, it comes back to eating a balanced diet of all types of meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and if you can tolerate them, whole grains.
Caballero B, Allen L, Prentice A. 2005 Enclyclopedia of Human Nutrition. Elsevier: Kidlington, Oxford
Gaby, Alan R. 2011 Nutritional Medicine. Fritz Perlberg Publishing: Concord, NH