• Sally Miller, B. S., N. E.

Going Boneless

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

A plant based way to get the same nutrients as in animal-based broths

Recipe at the end of the article

I am sure you have heard of the bone broth fad. I have been asked about it frequently.

As a nutrition educator, I work with people who make a variety of dietary choices. Some eat meat, some don’t. I educate people about the benefits of whole plant-based foods. Bone broth would not be on my list.

Bone broth is made from boiling the bones of animals for a long period of time to extract the greatest amount of minerals and collagen. It is now available ready-made in bottles on the grocery shelf.

Some people use it as a meal replacement. I don’t eat animals, and the thought of smelling an animal broth cooking in my kitchen is not appealing to me. There are other ways to feed your body valuable nutrition if you chose to not eat animals.

Animal bone broth is nothing new. However, it has become very popular with Paleo, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth patients as more functional doctors use it to heal leaky gut, arthritis and to modulate the immune system.

Supporters of consuming bone broth for these health issues also believe plants cannot provide everything the body needs to heal itself. There have been very few studies done to support these claims about bone broth, other than anecdotal. However, people who have seen improvements are steadfast supporters.

Is it possible, however, that when people clean up their diets in general and eliminate a lot of the problem foods they have been consuming, healing begins on its own? This can happen when adding more plant food and less processed food as well.

Eating collagen, for example, does not equal having more collagen. In Time magazine, William Percy, an associate professor at the University of South Dakota’s Sanford School of Medicine, said, “Since we don’t absorb collagen whole, the idea that eating collagen somehow promotes bone growth is just wishful thinking.”

Instead, he said, the digestive system will break down the collagen into amino acids, and the body will use these building blocks wherever they are needed.

“Bone broth as part of a well-balanced and nutritionally sound diet is probably harmless, but it is not some type of ‘miracle food source’ with the ability to cure a multitude of aches, pains and diseases all by itself,” he added.

In an article by NPR, Kantha Shelke, a food scientist for the Institute of Food Technologists, said, “If you want to build collagen, you need more than bone broth. Eating a diet rich in leafy green vegetables is ideal. ... Plants offer richer sources of collagen building blocks and, in addition, provide nutrients not found in sufficient quantities in meats of broth.”

What’s more, she said bone broth may provide vitamins and enzymes, but they are denatured from heat as the broth cooks, rendering them less useful to the body.

Noted author and Phoenix-based naturopathic doctor Alan Christianson said, “I have not gotten on board with this bone broth fad because I always try to avoid foods that have possible lead contamination. People with thyroid disease usually have MTHF-R gene abnormalities which make them really sensitive to toxicants like lead.

“In living things, lead and calcium go together like peanut butter and jelly. If cows have lead in their feed, it will end up in their bones. This is why I discourage bone broth as a source of calcium.

“A recent study questioned the safety of bone broth, showing that even when made from organic bones, it could have significant amounts of lead. Although, some have argued the amount of lead in bone broth is not that high, even the tiniest amounts of lead are worth avoiding.”

These statements are enough for me to warrant avoidance of using bones for broth. Coupled with my desire to help animals, as well as people, I will not be swayed into the “bone broth is the only thing that helps” mentality. All the calcium, potassium and minerals found in bone broth are more easily found and assimilated in plant-based foods that include the vitamins and enzymes to help the body utilize them quicker.

My version of alternative plant-based “bone” broth is warming and has the umami taste and feel on the tongue. The main healing foods in my broth are:

Shiitake or maitake mushrooms: Prized in Asia for their therapeutic value, they have played an essential role in Asian medicinal traditions. They are excellent sources of selenium, polysaccharides, iron, lentinan (powers the immune system) and glycosaminoglycans (helps build connective tissue). They are also good sources of protein, dietary fiber and vitamin C.

Seaweed (wakame): Great source of Omega-3 (helps with intestinal health). It is a great source of zinc, B vitamins and amino acids, and it helps with collagen production.

Coconut oil or olive oil: Healthy fats with a good omega ratio that helps the gut absorb nutrients and reduce inflammation. They also help with collagen production.

Turmeric: Powerful anti-inflammatory.

Spinach or kale: Full of vitamins and minerals, particularly high in vitamins K, A and C, magnesium, and calcium. Also a good source of protein and Omega-3. They also help with collagen production.

Unlike animal products, which are highly acidic, a vegetable broth is alkaline and can bring balance to a body that is too acidic.

If you are unable to find some of the ingredients or don’t like the flavors, add your own flavors and try to get as much variety as possible while keeping the above ingredients.

Use fresh mushrooms. The flavor is undeniably better than using dehydrated mushrooms.

There is a bounty of medicinal mushrooms to be found in this area. It is extremely important to only forage for mushrooms if you are trained to identify them properly. They can be poisonous when misidentified and consumed.

Healing Broth

Serves 10-12

If you cannot eat seaweed or mushrooms because of health issues, this soup is also delicious and healing without them. To get additional protein, add cooked adjuki beans or a scoop of hemp seeds when serving.

12 cups water

1 large onion, skins left on and cut into chunks

1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise

1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced

3 stalks celery, chopped

3-4 cups chopped shiitake mushrooms, washed and trimmed

1 stalk lemongrass, chopped

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1-2 teaspoons sea salt

2 tablespoons ground turmeric or 1 2-inch piece of fresh turmeric, sliced

1 tablespoon coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1-2 cups chopped greens, such as kale or spinach

¼ cup kombu or wakame seaweed

Add all ingredients into an 8-quart stockpot.

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low.

Simmer for 2 to 3 hours.

Place a strainer in a large bowl or pot and pour the stock through it.

Serve immediately with fresh herbs or sprouts, or cool for later.

Stock may be frozen for later use or stored in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days.

Drink and heal.

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