Are Bone Broth Diets a Good Idea?
Should you swap your juice cleanse for...a meat juice cleanse?
Honestly, is a health trend or superfood even real these days if it doesn't get transformed into a full-blown diet or cleanse? (Still waiting for the dark chocolate diet, TBH.)
Americans really love to take a health fad and run with it, and a perfect example is bone broth. Yes, you likely already heard about all the health benefits of bone broth when it was a "thing" a few years ago, but ICYMI, the trend has escalated all the way with the bone broth diet. (One diet plan that will stand the test of time? This totally-reasonable 30-day clean eating challenge.)
Is the bone broth diet as ridiculous as it sounds, and is it worth a try? Let's discuss.
What is bone broth?
"Bone broth is made by cooking the bones of meat, poultry, or fish on low temperatures for an extended period of time so that they release collagen, a building block protein found in bones, muscles, skin, and tendons," explains Holly Niles, a licensed integrative nutritionist in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
Your body's natural production of collagen—which builds your bones and repairs your skin cells—can decline with age, so consuming bone broth can help make the nutrient more available for your body to use, says Niles. (TBH, experts are torn on whether you can gain the skin-firming, joint-strengthening benefits of collagen by ingesting it—whether it's via bone broth or a collagen supplement—but some initial research shows that it may help with skin elasticity and joint paint.)
Specifically, it offers gelatin (a form of collagen protein found in joints and connective tissues) and the amino acids glycine and glutamine (which supports the structural integrity of the gut), says dietitian Isabel Smith, M.S., R.D.N. Plus, bone broth contains the minerals calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, which are especially important if you're active.
What is the bone broth diet?
The idea of a full-blown bone broth diet plan first popped up with the 2015 book Bone Broth Diet by naturopathic doctor Kellyann Petrucci, M.S., N.D. Since then, various forms of Petrucci's diet protocol have made waves across the internet.
The original 21-day bone broth diet plan Petrucci created doesn't involve only consuming bone broth. It combines five days of low-carb, paleo-style eating (goodbye grains and dairy!) with two days of modified fasting (in which you consume bone broth and limited—or zero—food).
The goal: to rebalance your diet and health by cutting out potentially-problematic grains, sugars, and processed foods, while loading up on nutritious whole foods and bone broth and reaping the benefits of intermittent fasting, according to Petrucci's website.
What are the potential benefits of the bone broth diet?
In her book, Petrucci claims the bone broth diet promotes weight loss, more youthful-looking skin, improved gut health, and reduced inflammation. (Related: 15 Anti-Inflammatory Foods You Should Be Eating Regularly)
But, is this too good to be true? If you ask Niles and Elena Villanueva, D.C., a holistic doctor and founder of Modern Holistic Health, these claims may not be that far off.
First of all, Petrucci's bone broth diet is paleo-inspired, meaning you focus on whole foods—like vegetables and nuts—and eliminate preservatives, chemicals, and added sugar, says Villanueva. For many people, this whole-food approach means they take in more vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, which can support gut, skin, and immune health, she explains. Plus, cutting carbs (which this diet ultimately does) may promote greater fat loss than other types of diets, says Villanueva.
And about those two days of bone broth 'fasting' each week: Various forms of fasting (including calorie restriction and intermittent fasting) might help support autophagy, which is the process through which the body clears out old cells and produces new cells, says Niles.
Because fasting also denies the body of carbohydrates to use as fuel, it can also "put the body in a more of ketogenic state, in which it uses fat for fuel," says Niles. Often, the fatty fuel used is your own body fat, contributing to your fat-burning ability over time.
What are the potential downsides of the bone broth diet?
That's not to say you should drop everything and consider bone broth your only major food group.
For many people, drastically cutting carbs (which is the case in the bone broth diet, unless you already eat low-carb), can contribute to a slew of issues, like "headaches, fatigue, bad breath, and weakness," says Villanueva. (Hellooo, keto flu!)
Though the keto trend has many people giving carbs the side-eye, they are your body's primary source of energy, says dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, M.A., R.D.N., author of Read It Before You Eat It. Healthy carbs help you do everything from think clearly throughout the day to work out hard.
Because this eating style is restrictive, you could potentially miss out on certain nutrients—like the vitamins, minerals, and fiber in legumes or whole grains, says Villanueva. Though people with sensitivities may want to avoid dairy and whole grains, there's no reason the average person should cut out these nutrient-rich food groups, says Taub-Dix.
And, it goes without saying that a diet rooted in drinking lots of bone broth is also a no-go for vegetarians and vegans.
You also need to factor in the fasting days; despite intermittent fasting's recent popularity, reducing calories—or abstaining from eating altogether—can make some people feel dizzy or sick, says Villanueva. Plus, "more often than not, restricting when, or how much, you eat also causes you to overeat later on," Taub-Dix adds. (It can also be an issue if you're planning to work out. Here's more on the risks of intermittent fasting.)
The restrictive and fasted nature of the bone broth diet not only does this diminish your ability to tune into (and listen to) your hunger and satiety cues and eat intuitively, but it also puts anyone with a history of disordered eating in a dangerous position, says Taub-Dix. For these reasons, Niles recommends pregnant or breastfeeding women—and anyone with a history of eating disorders—avoid fasting altogether. (Also read: Why You Should Give Up On Restrictive Dieting Once and for All)
The Bottom Line on the Bone Broth Diet
As is true with any trendy eating style, check in with your doctor before trying a bone broth diet—especially because it involves significantly reducing calories or fasting altogether, advises Niles.
Both Niles and Villanueva agree that—if you get the green light from your doc—the bone broth diet can be a helpful short-term (emphasis on 'short-term') approach to cleaning up your nutrition, jump-starting weight loss, and improving your health.
Taub-Dix, however, is far from sold. "Sure, eating more vegetables and cutting back on highly-processed foods is great, but long-term success is rooted in balance, and this diet certainly isn't balanced." Smith, too, believes balance is the key to sustainable healthy eating—and recommends sticking to something more general, like the '80-20 rule' in which you stick to your healthy eating principles ~80 percent of the time and enjoy your favorite eats the other ~20.
Niles also agrees that sticking to more general guidelines (and keeping a mindset of moderation) works best long-term. Her recommendations:
- Avoid simple carbohydrates, processed foods, and sugar.
- Avoid sugar-free and artificially-sweetened foods.
- Eat at least four cups of a rainbow variety of veggies per day.
- Drink at least eight glasses of purified water per day.
- Incorporate plenty of fiber-rich foods, like chia and flax seeds.
And remember that you don't have to follow a bone broth diet plan to nourish your body with broth! Niles recommends adding a serving to your diet two or three times per week. Try using broth as a base for warming soups in the winter, in a bone broth smoothie bowl, to add both flavor and nutrition when cooking quinoa and couscous, to sauté vegetables, or drink it straight. (You can even sip it when you're hungover.)
"Is bone broth a warm, tasty, nutritious food? Sure," says Taub-Dix. "Is It a magic bullet for your waistline and health? Of course not."