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Dr. Zorba Paster: Bone broth may be tasty but science is out on health claims

December 22, 2018
David Stluka Portrait of Dr. Zorba Paster on Tuesday, January 15, 2013 in Oregon, Wis. (Photo by David Stluka)

Dear Doc: My friends all talk about the benefits of bone broth. I don’t know much about it. They tell me it will improve my strength and my stamina, and prevent heart disease. Sounds too good to be true. What’s your take? — K.P from Minneapolis

Dear K.P.: My mom used make “bones” for us twice a month. My English grandfather loved the stuff. I can remember sitting down to those big beef knuckle bones steaming in homemade beef broth accompanied by boiled greens — celery, green onions, parsley and a green that was chewy, which I now realize was kale.

Every other Thursday, the day my mom worked late at the Wieboldt’s department store in Chicago, bones were served. (By the way, the other late nights we had liver and onions.)

Bones are in with a flare. According to the New York Post, people line up by the hundreds at Brodo on 12th Street for a steaming cup of bone broth at $10 a cup. And that doesn’t count the add-ins that usually cost a couple bucks more. These bones cost as much as a New York cocktail.

The basic ingredient in the stuff is collagen, which reportedly reduces joint pain and arthritis, boosts the immune system, heals the digestive track and promotes smoother, younger-looking skin. Hmm … sounds like it’s a cure to me, doesn’t it? That probably explains the rise in bone broth supplements.

Now, the supposedly scientific studies — a small study of 20-year-old college varsity team members — found that bone broth decreased their joint pain when they weren’t playing or working out. How much joint pain do these 20-year-olds have anyway?

Another study in Germany found that bone broth helped heal ankle fractures. In a study of senior citizens, drinking 15 grams of bone broth helped build muscles if it was combined with strength training.

So where to go from here? Consumerlab.com is my go-to place to evaluate this kind of stuff. It’s an independent organization that relies on subscriptions to survive — good people, good advice for anyone taking supplements.

So if you want to try bone broth, go to them and find out which brand to consume. They found the amount of protein and collagen per cup varied widely.

One brand, Ancient Nutrition Dr. Axe Bone Broth Protein, came in at 13 grams of protein per cup. That was at the top of the list, while Bare Bones Bone Broth weighed in at only 3 grams of protein per cup. The Bare Bones brand claimed to have 10 grams per cup, but independent testing showed that wasn’t true. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate this stuff, so it’s easy to get cheated.

My spin: There’s a lot of hype around bone broth. All the studies surrounding this were small, not well controlled and pseudo-science. If you use science to sell your product, it should be good science.

If you want to prepare your own bone broth, do what my mom did — buy bones from the butcher. Make a soup out of it and enjoy. If you want to take a shortcut then buy the commercial stuff. But to get what you want, you have to check it out from an independent source like Consumer Lab. Stay well.