Taking Stock: Soup for Healing Body, Mind, Mood, and Soul
Soup-- the surprising secret to staying juicy for life.
Posted February 20, 2012
A South American proverb claims "Good broth will resurrect the dead,"1 and that's not all it might resurrect! Good old-fashioned bone broth can put spring in your step, sparkle in your eyes, love in the heart and lust in the loins.
Broth is also the go-to ingredient in gourmet cuisine, the secret to making delicious soups, stews and sauces. As Escoffier put it, "Stock is everything in cooking. Without it, nothing can be done." And Brillat-Savarin added, it is "good for all of humanity" because it "pleases the stomach, stimulates the appetite and prepares the digestion."2 If broth seems quintessentially French, know that stock also plays a vital role in Italian, Chinese, Japanese, African, South American, Middle Eastern, Russian, and other traditional cuisines.
Traditional broths begin with bones. Feet, knuckles, necks, marrow bones and other bones — sometimes even "naughty bits" — go into the stock pot. Add meat and fat, vegetables and/or beans, good quality water and a little wine or vinegar, which is essential to extract calcium and trace minerals from the bones. For recipes, pick up Mastering the Art of French Cooking by the lusty and long-lived "French Chef" Julia Child or Nourishing Traditions by the Weston A. Price Foundation's president Sally Fallon Morell. Once we have our basics down, we can adapt recipes from numerous cookbooks. Prefer to buy your soup readymade? Upscale markets now carry Saffron Road brand nationwide while Amish farmers and other traditionalists sell excellent homemade broth to neighbors in their communities. Sadly, nearly all soups sold in stores and restaurants attain their savoriness from MSG and other "natural" and artificial flavors and most of them are not made with bones at all. While some of these might taste delicious — and provide the comfort and psychological benefits of warm soup3 — modern quick processing methods and dubious ingredients pose health risks with few health benefits.
In contrast, genuine, old-fashioned bone broth is a traditional remedy used around the world to help people recover from colds, flu and other ills. Science has shown it boosts the immune system— with chicken soup richly deserving its reputation as "Jewish penicillin". 4-10 Bone broth soups and stews are also recommended by many doctors and health practitioners to heal the gut, relieve digestive distress, reduce allergies and sensitivities, and even help turn around arthritis and auto-immune disorders.11 The bones in stock yield minerals in forms the body can absorb easily, and there's not just calcium, but also magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and other trace minerals. Tendons and cartilage give up chondroitin and glucosamine, now widely sold as supplements for arthritis and joint pain, while fish heads and carcasses provide iodine and other thyroid-strengthening substances. 12
Gelatin — the component of broth that makes it stiff and jiggly when cooled down — provides many of the best-studied health benefits associated with broth. Indeed researchers from the 17th through the early 20th century considered gelatin a "functional food," useful in the treatment of peptic ulcers, tuberculosis, diabetes, muscle diseases, infectious diseases, jaundice and cancer. 13 Scientists also found that bottle-fed babies experienced fewer digestive problems when gelatin was added to their milk, and broth has also long been used to help babies and children with "failure to thrive."14 American researcher Francis Pottenger, MD, determined the secret to gelatin's success was its ability to attract and hold liquids. As a "hydrophilic colloid," gelatin improves digestion by attracting digestive juices to food in the gut. 15
Although gelatin has been heavily studied over the years, the data are inconsistent and contradictory. One scientist would find that gelatin helps prevent, say, muscular fatigue, the next would find some benefit and a third would see no benefit at all. And so on with anemia, jaundice, ulcers, impotence and other ailments.16 Why were the study results so variable? The most probable explanation is that the substance described as "gelatin" was not consistent from study to study. Knox and other commercial gelatins today are brewed exclusively from pigskins or cowhide. Years ago, however, some commercial gelatins derived from mystery blends of cartilage, bones, skin and other junked animal parts. Not surprisingly, these various combinations differed in terms of their physical and chemical characteristics and in their physiologic actions. Even glue was sometimes sold as gelatin. Complicating matters further, some of the so-called "gelatin" studies were done with the isolated amino acid glycine.17
More recently, researchers have focused on proline and glycine. These two amino acids are found abundantly in broth and are best known for their starring roles in collagen and cartilage production.18 Proline and glycine are considered "non essential" amino acids because, theoretically at least, the body can manufacture proline and glycine as needed and therefore suffers no shortfall. The ability to manufacture them easily as needed, however, is probably true only of people enjoying radiant good health. Common sense suggests that the millions of American suffering from stiff joints, skin disease and other collagen, connective tissue and cartilage disorders might be suffering serious shortfalls of proline, glycine and other needed nutrients readily found in broth. And although research on proline and glycine is far from a growth industry, science seems to support this assumption. Indeed most researchers have concluded that both proline and glycine should at least be considered "conditionally essential" (along with arginine, cysteine, glutamine, serine, taurine and tyrosine) , which means that under most conditions, the body simply cannot make enough of these compounds and must get them directly from food. 19-21 High carbohydrate diets, vitamin C deficiencies and the decline of homemade soup making have all led to poor proline and glycine status. 22,23
Proline and glycine entwined together are keys to beautiful, supple skin and strong flexible joints. Glycine, the simplest amino acid, also constitutes a basic nitrogen pool for manufacture of other amino acids, and it is used in the synthesis of hemoglobin, creatine, porphyrin, bile salts, glutathione and the nucleotides DNA and RNA. It is involved in glucogenesis (the manufacture of glucose), and low levels may produce hypoglycemic-like symptoms. Glycine also enhances gastric acid secretion and has a long history of helping patients with gastrointestinal disorders. Yet, another vital function is detoxification. The human body requires copious amounts of glycine for detoxification after exposure to chemicals, and it conjugates directly with the widely used food preservative benzoic acid. Finally, glycine plays a vital role in recovery from wound healing, jaundice, acute and chronic illness and malnutrition. In such cases, it is almost impossible for the body to make all it needs. 24-27 No wonder homemade broth rich in proline and glycine is the traditional food given to convalescents.
Proline, glycine and gelatin as well as broth itself have excellent safety records. The only documented cases of harm came when subjects were fed excessive amounts of gelatin —probably poor quality gelatin — and little else. This occurred quite frequently during the early to mid-19th century when administrators running hospitals, soup kitchens and poor houses tried to economize by serving gelatin at every meal in the form of bouillon, gelatinous biscuits and other gelatin-based edibles -- or inedibles as the case may be.28 Gelatin bashers have long been fond of quoting one scientific study in which dogs died after a few weeks on a gelatin diet. While it was certainly true that the dogs died, no account was taken of the fact that the animals refused to eat the food! 29 Today's overriding fear is "Mad Cow" disease, but commercial gelatin today is never made from brains or spines,30 and few consumers cook brains at home, even from animals that are almost certainly safe because they have been grown outdoors on grass and in the sun, never fed feed containing other cadavers or other animal parts or sprayed with insecticides.31 To date, there have been no documented cases implicating either commercial or homemade gelatin in "Mad Cow" disease or any other neurological disorders.
Those impressed with gelatin's therapeutic benefits would be wise to skip amino acid or gelatin supplements and stick to broth made from the skins, cartilage and bones of free-range or pastured meat and poultry or wild fish. As Dr. Francis Pottenger was wont to say: A big stock pot is the "most important gift" newlyweds could ever receive.32
For those still not prepared to cook, America needs healthy fast food, and The Naughty Nutritionist has the answer— brothels in every town! Yes, brothels, meaning establishments that make genuine bone broth from scratch and serve up satisfying soups, sauces and stews. The idea is that people who can't get enough good broth at home can satisfy their need elsewhere. And those with a "sure thing" at home can get out and savor some variety. Clearly not every restaurant will do, and fast-food franchises with their shortcuts, cheap tricks and ingredients of ill repute will not do at all. The answer is the old-fashioned brothel with offerings that are simple, seductive, simmering and HOT. 33
1. Fallon, Sally and Mary G. Enig. Nourishing Traditions (Washington,, DC, New Trends, 2nd edition, p. 125.
2. Escoffier and Brillat-Savarin as quoted by Sally Fallon in Broth is Beautiful, Wise Traditions, January 2000, www.westonaprice.org
3. Troisi JD, Gabriel S. Chicken soup really is good for the soul: "comfort food" fulfills the need to belong.Psychol Sci. 2011 Jun 1;22(6):747-53. Epub 2011 May 2.
4. Rennard BO, Ertl RE, Gossman GL et al. Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro. Chest. 2009 Nov;136(5 Suppl):e29.
5 Rennard BO Ertl RE, Gossman GL et al. Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro. Chest, 2000, Oct;118 (4): 1150-7.
6. Hopkins AB, Chicken soup cure may not be a myth. Nurse Pract. 2003 June; 28 (6):16.
7. Durfee A. Free range chicken soup. Chest. 2001 Jun;119(6):1976.
8. Rosner F. Therapeutic efficacy of chicken soup. Chest, 1980; 78; 672-674.
9. Ohry A, Tsafrir J. Is chicken soup an essential drug? CMAJ. 1999 Dec 14;161(12):1532-3.
10. Rosner F. Hot chicken soup for asthma. Lancet, 1979 Nov 17;2(8151):1079.
11. Daniel, Kaayla Why broth is beautiful: essential roles for proline, glycine and gelatin. Wise Traditions, Spring 2003, 25-36. www.westonaprice.org
12. Fallon, Sally. Broth is beautiful. Wise Traditions, January 2000, www.westonaprice.org
13. Gotthoffer NR, Gelatin in Nutrition and Medicine (Grayslake IL, Grayslake Gelatin Company, 1945).
15. Pottenger FM. Hydrophilic colloid diet, Health and Healing Wisdom, Price Pottenger Nutrition Foundation Health Journal, Spring 1997, 21, 1, 17.
18. Resnick, Donald and Niwayama, Gen. Diagnoses of Bone and Joint Disorders, (Philadelphia, WB Saunders 1988) p. 758.
19 Irwin MI, Hegsted DM. A conspectus of research on amino requirements of man. J Nutr, 1971, 101, 387-429.
20. Jacsic et al. Plasma proline kinetics and concentrations in young men in response to dietary proline deprivation. Am J Clin Nutr, 1990, 52, 307-312.
21. Miyahara et al. The effect of age on amino acid composition of human skin collagen, J Gerontol, 1978, 33, 4, 498-503.
22. Bates CJ, Vitamin C deficiency in guinea pigs: changes in urinary excretion of proline, hydroyproline and total amino nitrogen. Int J Vit Nutr Res, 1979, 49, 152-159.
24. Jackson AA et al. Urinary excretion of 5-oxoproline (pyroglutamic aciduria) as an index of glycine insuffiicency in normal man. Br J Nutr, 1987, 58, 207-214.
25. Richardson CT et al. Studies on the mechanism of food-stimulated gastric acid secretion in normal human subjects J Clin Invest, 1976, 58, 623-631.
26. Wald A, Adibi SA. Stimulation of gastric acid secretion by glycine and related oligopeptidesin humans Amer J Physiol, 1982, 5, 242, G86-G88.
27. Ottenberg R. Painless jaundice. J Am Med Assoc, 1935. 104, 9, 1681-1687,
28. Gotthofer NR. 1-6.
31. Most people believe Mad Cow disease is caused by feeding animal parts including brain and/or spine to livestock. Another theory is Mad Cow disease develops because of insecticides sprayed on animal backs. For more information: Purdey M. Myths and truths about mad cow disease, Parts 1 and 2. And Purdey, Mark. Auburn University Research Data Confirms Purdey's Environmental Research Data on TSE. These articles can be found at www.westonaprice.org.
33. The naughty idea of opening brothels in every town came from my good friend and mentor Sally Fallon Morell, President of the Weston A. Price Foundation, who first proposed it in her article Broth is Beautiful www.westonaprice.org.