Athletes across the country such as NBA superstar Kobe Bryant have heeded LA Lakers nutritionist Dr. Cate Shanahan’s advice and started to include broths made out of chicken and beef bones in their diet. Have you?
Every traditional culture on earth includes some sort of soup or broth made with the bones of an animal. The French use it as a foundation for many sauces. Certain tribes of indigenous America would give the children bones to suck the marrow out, as did people in some parts of Italy — I know my Dad did feasted on marrow bones growing up! In Scotland 50 years ago people would “pass the bone” (no, not that kind), meaning that they would pass a bone from house to house until you couldn’t make any more broth from it. “Jewish Penicillin” is a soup that contains the bones of the chicken. Even in America, home-made chicken noodle soup was once considered the go-to healing meal for anyone with a cold or flu — unfortunately, processed, store bought soup isn’t curing anyone, and many of us aren’t getting any of the benefits that this superfood has to offer.
Why is this such an important dietary staple, and how can athletes benefit from it?
Let’s look at what’s in soups containing bones (broken, preferably, to release marrow):
Glycosaminoglycans — ever heard of the supplement glucosamine? Glucosamine is one molecule that has is used as a supplement to treat arthritis in recent years, in some cases helping to regrow cartilage. Glucosamine is one subset of the collagen-building molecules glycosaminoglycans. These molecules actually survive digestion and go straight to the joints, repairing the tissues around them — tendons, ligaments, and the ends of bones (all made of collagen). While scientists do not currently undersand how they know where they need to go, our ancestors have understood this for thousands of years, as it has been a staple in so many cultures for so long. Additionally, these molecules aid the building and rebuilding of bone, hair, skin and arteries.
Broth beats the pill form of glucosamine for several reasons: It contains the full spectrum of molecules that glucosamine is only a small part of, and it does not undergo the high heat processing that pills undergo, which often ruin or lessen the nutrients in a given substance. It also gives you calcium and minerals needed to absorb that calcium as an added benefit.
Omega 3 DHA Fatty Acids — help build nerve, brain and bone tissue, as well as strengthening immunity.
Amino Acids — bone contains as much as 6x the amount of glycine that muscle meat contains. Also contains arginine and proline.
Magnesium — this mineral will receive its own post on the blog due to its importance for so many bodily functions. Among them are “guarding” the channels by which calcium enters the bones — meaning that if magnesium is not present in the body, calcium cannot be absorbed by the bones. Magnesium is also a factor in over 300 enzyme systems that regulate reactions in the body, including those required for muscle and nerve function, glycolysis and energy production.
Phosphorous — required to build healthy bones and teeth, and to create ATP (energy).
Silicon — required for healthy eyes, tendons, skin and arteries.
Sulphur — required to build collagen, keratin (for healthy nails/hair) and for respiration.
Calcium — it has been debated whether or not there is a substantial amount of calcium in bone broth. However, it is worth noting here even if it is not a large amount, because due to the presence of the aforementioned minerals, whatever calcium exists in the broth will be readily absorbed by the body.
In short, it’s really, really good for your tendons, ligaments, joints and bones. Sound like something an athlete wants in their diet?
So, unless you can secure stock from a source that you know uses actual bones and avoids using the high heat and high sodium used to over-process the aforementioned nutritional benefits, you may be wondering how to make your own. It may sound a little complicated, but it is actually quite cheap and easy. It will take some time to cook, so if you do not have one, I’d recommend a crockpot so that you can just toss everything in and wait, not worrying about a flame on in your house. If not, a giant soup pot will do.
Sam’s Homemade Chicken Stock — adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe, with suggestions to maximize nutritional value from Dr. Cate Shanahan
1–2 pounds chicken bones — cracked to release marrow — you can find them in Whole Foods for a dollar a pound. You can also keep bones from previously cooked chicken dishes. Better to use organic because a healthy animal is a healthier meal, but I don’t always. I usually just freeze the bones left over from roasting chicken and take them out when I need them.
4–6 chicken feet — I was once told by an older (quite healthy looking) Chinese man that making soup with this is like “sticking an IV in your vein.” Very rich source of collagen, feet are a delicacy in China and have been used for healing and health for thousands of years. Tyson chicken actually exports the feet that they don’t use over to China to be sold. Be sure to scrub them before you use them. I usually visit Mayflower Poultry in Cambridge, MA for chicken feet.
2 cups white wine or some sort of vinegar — this, along with the following three acidic vegetables, will help to leach extra calcium out of the bones you are using.
3 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
6 carrots, unpeeled and halved
4 stalks celery with leaves, cut into thirds
20 sprigs fresh parsley
15 sprigs fresh thyme
20 sprigs fresh dill
1 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in 1/2 crosswise
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
Step 1: Put bones, feet, wine/vinegar and veggies into the crock or stove pot. Pour cold water over it, up to the top (some will evaporate), bring to a boil, and turn down the heat. If using a crockpot, putting it on low will do just fine. I leave it uncovered so that it can evaporate and so that I can remember to skim the fat off of the top when it rises up there, but it’s debatable if you need to cover it or not. Leave no warmer than a slight bubble (NOT BOILING unless you want rancid stock) for 17 hours (some western chefs cook for much less than this — however being determined to maximize the nutritional benefit I shoot for the full 18 hours in total I heard from a Traditional Chinese Medicine textbook).
Step 2: Add veggies, herbs etc. to the pot.
Step 3: Let sit another hour, then let it cool before straining the stock into a big bowl. A cheesecloth works great for straining.
Step 4: Pour your earnings into mason jars to store it! I keep one jar in the fridge (will be good for a week or so), and the rest in the freezer (can keep for a few months). Make sure you use freezer-safe mason jars.
Use as a base for soups, or in place of some or all of the water for making things such as rice, quinoa, buckwheat — I actually find the flavor preferable to using water. It’s really tasty, a large reason why my rice tastes so good!
As for the expense:
The veggies and herbs I usually pick up at Trader Joe’s, usually costing me under $10. Chicken bones and feet are usually a dollar a pound or cheaper, so we’ll say $2.50. So $12.50 for the base of a lot of what I do in the kitchen for 4–6 weeks. I usually use at least a cup and half a day in something or rather…so that’s around $.29-$.44 per serving…a worthwhile investment given the above information.
Above: Soup made by roasting olive oil, parsley and garlic in one saucepan for a couple minutes before adding chickpeas, covering the pot and cooking 12–15 minutes, while cooking the aforementioned broth, onions, broccoli, salt, pepper and grass-fed butter in the other for the same amount of time, before combining for the last five minutes. On the side is organic whole milk yogurt with apple and chia seeds.
“Deep Nutrition” by Dr. Catherine Shanahan
“Healing with Whole Foods” by Paul Pitchford
Weston A. Price Foundation, westonaprice.org
Ina Garten’s Chicken Stock: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/chicken-stock-recipe.html