Taking stock of bone broth: Is it beneficial, or just another wellness trend?

If it's about that time in the arvo when you reach for a cuppa to get you through, you might be making a coffee, a herbal tea, or perhaps a hot chocolate if you feel like a sugar boost. 

A mug of broth - made from soaking animal bones over the course of a day - probably isn't the first thing to come to mind. 

That's unless you're jumping on the bone broth train, a wellness trend gathering momentum as influencers, nutritionists and general fans of the flavour tout its benefits on social media. 

For the uninitiated, bone broth is made by simmering the bones and connective tissue of animals for hours at a time - as many as 24. 

And while it's been gathering steam in the wellness age, it's arguably one of our oldest food forms, dating back to prehistoric times when hunter-gatherers turned otherwise inedible animal parts like bones, hooves, and knuckles into a drinkable broth.

Like stock, it can be used as a base for soups, pasta sauces, risottos… the list goes on. 

bone broth
Broth is made by soaking the bones along with herbs and liquid for hours at a time. Photo credit: Getty Images.

But fans of bone broth also drink it for its numerous supposed health benefits, including its high content of amino acids like protein and collagen, which can reportedly support the health of your joints and stomach lining. 

According to the BBC, the amino acid glycine, present in bone broth, has multiple functions in the body including supporting healthy sleep patterns. Other studies suggest the collagen derived from chicken cartilage is effective at improving pain, stiffness and joint function in patients with osteoarthritis.

Bone broth maker Rob Mitchell from 'Mitchell's Nutrition' says it's a liquid gold which helped his body heal after being a professional snowboarder for over a decade. 

"Snowsports are high impact, I had lots of injuries to [rehabilitate] and was prescribed inflammatories and painkillers," he told Newshub.  "I was like, you need those things for pain, but they don't help you repair or recover." 

He started researching "more holistic ways" to help his body recover, and came across bone broth while living in wellness hotspot California. 

But as he experimented with making it, Mitchell's father informed him they had an "old family recipe" - over 140 years old in fact. 

Mitchell's great, great grandfather, James Mitchell, brought a beloved family bone broth recipe to New Zealand with him when he set off from Scotland in search of gold, and it became "fuel for the gold miners". 

"Times were tough so no part of the animal went to waste," said Mitchell.  "[But] the recipe wasn't that different to what I was doing today." 

"That became my tagline - traditional nutrition for modern life." 

Using his family recipe, Mitchell now makes bone broth into a dried, shelf-stable form that can be mixed with water. 

Rob Mitchell with bone broth and snowboard
Rob Mitchell with his powdered bone broth, made using his old family recipe. Photo credit: Supplied.

He's expanded now to a bone broth-based protein powder, which he credits as a highly digestible form of protein, much easier on the gut than other whey or pea-based powders. 

Other bone broth mixes on the New Zealand market include Nutra Organics, which also comes in powder form and Gevity 'Body Glue' which can be mixed from a paste. 

While fans of bone broth like Mitchell are evangelical about its benefits, the science is still out. 

In fact, New Zealand nutritionist Angela Berrill says claims of it being a 'superfood' are "often overstated and even untrue". 

"Claims around bone broth helping to rejuvenate skin, hair and nails (based around the collagen content) do not appear to have much merit to them," the ABC Nutrition founder told Newshub. "While bone broth does contain collagen, collagen is broken down into amino acids once digested and these then go to where the body needs them. 

"The concept that eating or drinking collagen will directly lead to more collagen in your body is therefore, simply misleading." 

She added many of the studies which claim there are generous beauty benefits from consuming collagen are funded by the supplement industry. 

"While some people believe broths are a rich source of minerals, such as calcium, the levels are often not as high as people might expect. Therefore it is not a good replacement for dairy or calcium-fortified plant-based milks," she added. 

Berrill also pointed out that just like stock, bone broth can be high in salt, so it would pay to check f you're watching your salt intake. 

“While including bone broth as part of your day won't be a problem for most people, it's best to discuss your specific nutritional needs with a registered dietitian,” she added. 

If you're a huge fan of sipping a bone broth on a cold afternoon, or adding it to a soup or sauce, you're probably not doing yourself any undue harm -  moderation is key and if there are the nutritional benefits the makers claim, so much the better!

Enjoy it alongside a balanced diet, don't drink too much of it in a day, and remember to enjoy some fruit and vegetables alongside it.