With the explosion of the bone broth craze in recent years, millions of people have learned about their health benefits. From easing gut inflammation to supporting immune health (our grandmothers knew best when they gave us chicken soup) and joint health, the benefits are numerous. As I often say, just try it and see for yourself. But can bone broth be bad for your health? Thankfully, the benefits far outweigh any potential downsides.
However, contrary to popular belief, there is one potential negative side effect.
In my recent presentation about Asian bone broths at the annual Nutritional Therapy Association conference in Portland, Oregon, I started out by discussing this little-known health issue. I wanted my fellow Nutritional Therapy Practitioners (NTPs) to be aware of this as it’s something I’ve only come to understand in recent years.
I started out with a slide summarizing the benefits…
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The minerals of course come from the bones. Collagen comes from animal parts that are rich in connective tissue such as feet, necks, backs, heads, wings, tails, and even internal organs. Traditionally, cultures used all parts of animals in bone broths for this very reason.
Many people now buy pricey collagen-derived supplements that help with a variety of inflammatory issues without realizing a simple homemade bone broth has all the same nutrients at a fraction of the cost. And those nutrients are in their whole, natural form in a bone broth.
The longer you simmer the bones and animal parts the more mineral and collagen-rich the broth becomes.
As you can see from the above slide the amino acid content increases with the increased simmering time. I took that info from a study performed by Certified Nutritionist Kim Schuette of Biodynamic Wellness.
Schuette hired a lab to test the amino acid content in both a short-cooked and a long-cooked organic chicken broth.
Not surprisingly, the amino acid content increased over time, as would be expected.
And that sounds good, right? I mean who wouldn’t want MORE nutrients in their food as opposed to less?
Most of us simmer bone broths for an extended period exactly for that reason – to extract more nutrients. A good sign you’ve done a good job of this is if the broth gels. Upon cooling, the broth should jiggle like Jello-O. That means you’ve extracted the gelatin (which is basically cooked collagen) from the bones and animal parts.
Unfortunately, this is where bone broth is bad for some folks.
In some people, especially kids, it can exacerbate a sensitivity to glutamates.
Glutamates come from glutamine, the second most abundant amino acid in bone broth according to Kim Schuette’s lab test.
And though glutamine has tons of health benefits the last bullet point on the slide above is where problems can occur.
One of glutamine’s many roles in the body is to convert to two neurotransmitters essential for good mental health – glutamate and GABA. These play balancing but opposite effects on brain chemistry.
In particular, glutamate is stimulating and GABA is calming. In a healthy person, the two are kept in a delicate but balanced ratio.
Problems can develop when there’s excessive glutamate in the brain which can lead to the following symptoms.
This can be exacerbated by a diet high in both synthetic and naturally occurring glutamates.
The primary culprit is, of course, monosodium glutamate (MSG), a synthetic form of glutamate and an excitotoxin that is known to overly stimulate nerve cells and cause neurological issues, among other health problems.
But synthetic glutamates exist in myriad forms in hundreds of processed foods beyond just MSG such as yeast extract, hydrolyzed protein, natural flavors, and other types of flavorings. These chemicals all give processed foods a meaty taste. They are prevalent in all commercial canned broths and soups including most organic ones too.
Unfortunately, glutamates exist naturally in healthy foods too. Though not as concentrated as in processed foods and not problematic in a healthy person, those who are sensitive need to avoid even healthy sources.
And unfortunately, that includes a long-cooked bone broth.
After I gave my presentation, someone came up to me and said, “You know I’ve never understood why after I drank bone broth I’d get migraines. I think I understand now.”
As a Nutritional Therapist, I’ve seen this in many clients as well.
Luckily, the solution is simple. It doesn’t mean all bone broth is bad for you. It just means you need to reduce the simmer time and consume shorter cooked bone broths. It may not be as nutrient-dense but its easily digestible, gut soothing qualities still remain.
For chicken broth, a good simmer time is 1 to 3 hours. For beef, lamb, and bison, shoot for 2 to 4 hours. And for fish broth, well, you should never simmer fish broth for longer than an hour anyway, so fish broth is never a problem!
When you do this in conjunction with eliminating processed foods and incorporating a good gut-healing protocol, over time you should be able to tolerate longer cooked bone broths (and other natural sources of glutamates).
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.