With The Bone Broth Diet, Dr. Kellyann Petrucci has brought together a number of elements that we know work – a basic elimination diet, carbohydrate intake based around health and activity, intermittent fasting, and self-experimentation to find what works for you personally. Though the name focuses on the bone broth element, I think most of the benefit here will come from the combination of approaches. Importantly, all of this is based in reconnecting with real food by (re)learning how to cook, starting with creating bone broths at home. If you want a diet book that lays out a plan for you to follow and includes meal plans and recipes, using approaches that are likely to work in the long-term, this is a good one.
The Bone Broth Diet is based around meat, eggs, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. In general, it’s low carbohydrate, using largely non-starchy vegetables to go with the protein. Twice per week, there is a “mini- fast” day, which involves just drinking bone broth, with the option of a small snack in the evening. You start with a 21-day strict plan that comes fully planned, and from there you’re given some ideas on how to tweak the diet for long-term sustainability.
The book takes a simple approach to food, giving plenty of tips on how to make things easier, including preparation and batch cooking, and how to shop for food. There are lots of general cooking tips, and some simple rules for things like throwing together a variety of salads. The recipes are good-looking “paleo”-style fare that I’m certain most people will enjoy. These are all recipes I would happily cook and eat! Though there are options for those that don’t enjoy cooking, I think there’s a lot to be said for getting into the kitchen and preparing your own food, if only so that you truly know what you’re eating. Maximising the quality of your food and taking ownership of its preparation will be key long-term sustainability.
Overall, the book is just technical enough to give readers some scientific background without overwhelming them. References are provided throughout the text, though maybe not as extensively as they could be. The level of evidence behind the diet is pretty good, but it does remain in many places a “diet” book. This means two things:
- The science often takes a back seat in order to maintain the flow of the storyline.
- Almost every page includes a sentence about how this diet will lead to "weight loss, glowing skin, bright eyes, and vanishing wrinkles”.
The most obvious example of the former is the oversimplification of the storyline about carbs (and sugar) increasing insulin, which makes us fat. However, this is right in line with the current zeitgeist and therefore to be expected. As for the latter, I’m unsure if these sentences about weight loss and reversal of skin age are Dr. Kerryann’s own language, or if they have been added by a well-meaning editor that hopes to appeal to the traditional diet book audience. There are also too many references to “belly fat” and “bad cholesterol” for my liking, but I guess this language is an industry trait that won’t be leaving us any time soon.
In reality, these flaws are mostly understandable. If anybody ever chooses to write a diet book that truly and honestly represents all the data we have about diet and health, it will be so full of footnotes, caveats, and contradictions that most people would find it completely useless in terms of helping them eat better. However, especially for a book that occasionally uses fairly technical phrases, I do believe the audience will be savvy enough to be told whether the evidence cited comes from work with cells in test tubes (in vitro), in animals (in vivo), or in humans. Then the reader can at least begin to judge how strong that evidence is. This is done in many places in the book, but not rigorously, especially when relying on in vitro data to make a point. I’d have preferred to see more transparency there, but the book is clearly referenced, so the intrepid reader can figure that out pretty quickly.
As with most books that champion a paleo-style diet, dietary lectins and phytates rear their ugly heads in chapter 4. While I’m a big fan of strict paleo elimination diets as a starting point for many people, the pedantic side of me has to point out that some foods that are “allowed” on The Bone Broth diet contain a number of lectins (such as sweet potatoes, squashes, and some berries), and phytates have also been shown to have a number of potential health benefits. Simply saying that lectins and phytates are “bad” gives an incomplete picture, which can be confusing for people if they choose to do more digging. Also, eggs (one of the most common dietary allergens) are relied-upon heavily in the diet. Unlike nightshades (which we’re rightly told some people may need to avoid), there is little mention of egg-free options. Therefore, many of the recipes are probably not much use for those wanting to go down more of the autoimmune paleo approach.
Finally, considering the high protein content and the inclusion of occasional starchy vegetables, I’m not convinced the recipes and meal plan will have people in ketosis as much as the books suggests. Ketosis is a potentially complex area, and it feels as if it was almost thrown in towards the end, perhaps as the ketogenic diet was gathering popularity while the book was being written. However, I don’t think that prolonged ketosis is necessary to get the benefits of the diet. I just wouldn’t have mentioned it.
The Other Stuff
Throughout the book there are a number of checklists to give you some ideas in case things aren’t working out, or to tell you what to expect at various stages. If this is your first time approaching a new way of eating, these could be really helpful, and reassuring.
A host of well-known doctors and voices in the paleo world have also made a contribution to the book with sections dedicated to diet, disease, inflammation, and various aspects of health. However, the line “Every bite of food that passes through our lips—and every glass of water we drink—is a potential source of toxic chemicals” from Vani Hari is typical of the scaremongering that brings criticism to real food approaches such as Dr. Kellyann’s, and I think this detracts from the great messages in the book. I’m not sure why it was included. A couple of the other authors also seem to only provide thinly-veiled attempts at selling their own products, which is a little disappointing. Overall, though, the other contributors all have something useful to add, which makes this a nice touch.
Despite the diet book moniker, Dr. Kerryann also presses home some points that I think are incredibly important, and are really nice to see. These include not forcing yourself into starvation, not counting macronutrients, not using the scale as a measure of how attractive you are or how successful the diet is, and not beating yourself up when you fall off the wagon. All of these are crucial in the long-term battle towards a healthy and realistic relationship with the food we eat. However, just when I think that, one phrase jumps out at me and the whole spell is broken. In chapter 2, when you’re deciding whether to reintroduce foods and become a little more relaxed with the diet, you are told to ask yourself:
“What are your standards? For instance, do you want a perfect body, or are you content with being a little plump?”
Is this serious? Perhaps the book should elaborate on what makes a body “perfect”, and what being “plump” has got to do with that. This approach to self-scrutiny is exactly why the diet (book) industry is considered so detestable.
Ignoring that blip, the book does end with chapters that give a really good beginners’ approach to improving lifestyle with exercise (focusing on walking as a starting point), stress reduction (my girlfriend and I often enjoy a little Big Bang Theory “therapy”), and mindset. I think this is a really great way to round things off, and there are some great messages in there, including the fact that there is so much more to health than food.
Finally, for the grammar geeks, hats off to the author (or editor), who championed the use of the Oxford comma. This is a dying tradition that I wish we would resuscitate.
A word of warning
The more I read of the book, the more I liked it and was ready to recommend it. However, I would skip the online resources entirely. There’s almost no useful additional information on the website, and much of it seems to be driven towards selling Dr. Kellyann’s “SLIM” line of snacks, protein powder, bone broth, and supplements. I have nothing against somebody identifying a gap in the market and producing a good product, and if you want to support Dr. Kellyann and you’re certain you need a protein powder in your diet, I don’t see why you shouldn’t buy hers. However, the world is already full of the fairly generic fibre, omega-3, probiotic, and slimming supplements that I found elsewhere on the website. The book has a lot of great information in it, but the online portion is much more of a money making enterprise compared to the holistic approach to food and lifestyle that I think the book is trying to foster.
There aren’t many books that I feel give people the beginnings of a sustainable approach to diet and lifestyle that will enable them to find their own way to long-term health, but the Bone Broth Diet is one of them. The plan combines a number of things that are currently in vogue (nutrient-dense foods, intermittent fasting, low carb and ketosis, mindfulness etc), but I think most of them will stand the test of time in one guise or another. The book will help encourage people to cook and re-learn hunger cues without making those concepts rigid, as well as start thinking about the other stuff that can be so important in the long-term. If you ignore the name and a few diet book bloopers that undermine the overall message, this is a good book for anybody starting looking for a new approach to food and lifestyle in order to improve long-term health.
Dr. Tommy Wood