Personally, I always avoid the gristle on meat. However, if I value my joints then perhaps I should change my eating habits – or so some people claim. Given that eating meat (animal muscle) is a useful source of protein and good for muscle growth, it’s no wonder the idea of eating cartilage has gained support (animal cartilage, not human, obviously).
The white, tasteless bits attached to a cut of meat (a chicken leg or thigh, for example) are collectively called ‘tendon’ by many cooks. (NB: this isn’t the same as meaning as the term used in medicine.) The ‘cartilage’ is actually the smooth, pale coating on the ends of the longer bones where there was once a joint. This cartilage exists to help bones slide past one another with minimum friction and to absorb shock. It’s not very tasty to eat (although some people like to cook it) so tablet supplements offer an edible alternative.
Evidence for cartilage supplements is a bit flaky. Two of the components of cartilage, glucosamine and chondroitin, have been long taken as supplements to treat and protect against arthritis. There’s a lot of research showing that these supplements work – and millions of people take them. However, there is an equal amount of evidence to say that they do nothing. A recent roundup of all the research (a meta-analysis) shows that, on balance, chondroitin and glucosamine are about as good for arthritic joints as a water pill.
And as for gnawing the actual cartilage off bones – well, there is really no good evidence to show that it really helps your joints. There are, however, lots of things that you can do to promote healthy joints, even if the slimy stuff doesn’t help.
That said, eating cartilage won’t cause you harm – although it’s a bit fatty so you might want to go easy on it. But then I don’t suppose you’re going to find that a struggle.
Answer by Dr Stu