It’s hard to separate fact from fiction when it comes to healthy eating. One day we’re told that collagen powder smoothies will do wonders for our skin, the next they’re nothing but over-priced empty promises. So what’s the deal with the latest buzzy ingredient, bone broth? It has been around in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, but only recently has it become mainstream (at least in many major cities). Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, and advisor to Performance Kitchen is here to help us understand if it’s more than a fad (hint: it’s a lot more promising than collagen powder!).
What are the purported benefits of bone broth?
“Bone broth is typically made from animal bones and connective tissue resulting in a stock that’s richer in protein and certain nutrients than other broths and stocks. Many of the minerals, like calcium, are released from the bones. Because of the way bone broth is prepared, it’s thought that it provides an easily absorbable form of collagen, which is the structural element that supports your skin and joints, among other things. One of the best descriptions I’ve heard regarding collagen is that it’s like the body’s mattress springs. As you age and are exposed to environmental factors, your collagen declines. Using the mattress analogy, your mattress springs weaken and your mattress starts to sag. Essentially, you’ll start to notice wrinkling and your joints may weaken and be subject to injury.
People sip on bone broth for many of the reasons they use collagen supplements—to restore gut health, improve joint health, and reduce wrinkling.
Collagen peptides are often sold in powdered supplements, but they’re also made from animal or fish cartilage, which are then highly processed into a dissolvable powder.”
It turns out eating collagen does absolutely nothing for skin. Should people be worried that the same thing will soon be said about bone broth?
“There’s a difference between powdered collagen supplements and bone broth, so I wouldn’t assume that both are linked to the same outcomes. In one recent study that analyzed various preparations of bone broth, there was tremendous variation in the amount of collagen pre-cursors, meaning that it’s an unreliable source of collagen.
At this point, I haven’t seen research supporting bone broth and skin or joint benefits, but I have seen promising research around collagen peptides. There’s some evidence that it may relieve pain in people with osteoarthritis as well as studies suggesting it can reduce pain in injury-prone joints and tendons. Other studies have found that collagen supplements may improve skin elasticity and moisture, which would translate to more youthful, radiant-looking skin.
There are also potential concerns with consuming bone broth and supplements. For example, one study found that organic bone broth may contain high (and dangerous) levels of lead. Supplements are unregulated and always prone to marketing hype or worse, contamination. Also, none of the purported benefits are proven, so while there’s interesting evidence, we may find out there’s no real benefit to supplementing with collagen. Time will tell.”
When looking for bone broth options to buy, what should people look for?
“Because of the potential for lead contamination—even among organic preparations—I’d suggest buying from a reputable brand and not relying on this as a sole source of collagen or protein.”
Is there a vegetarian/vegan alternative you recommend?
“It’s worth noting that collagen precursors are found in all protein sources—plants and animals, though as far as I’m aware, only animal sources are used to create bone broth and supplements. But here’s the thing: You don’t necessarily require bone broth or a collagen supplement, providing you’re consuming adequate protein (plant sources include pulses, like chickpeas, beans, and lentils, along with nuts, seeds, and to a lesser extent, whole grains) and a healthy diet, which supplies other nutrients (like vitamin C) that help your body synthesize collagen.
If you want to go the supplement route, buy from a reputable brand and when it comes to collagen peptides, ideally one that’s testing for contaminants or is third party tested to ensure it has what it states on the label and is unlikely to be contaminated.”