What You Should Know About Bone Broth, an Ancient Remedy Turned Hot New Food Trend
For centuries, broths and stocks have been central to culinary traditions in locations as diverse as Italy, the homeland of brodo, Vietnam, where pho originated, and the good old US of A, where grandmothers have long held that chicken noodle soup (or matzo ball soup, depending on the region and cultural background of your family) can cure all. Rich, meaty broth is foundational to many of the most comforting dishes out there. But can bone broth truly improve your health and soothe your soul? According to devotees of bone broth—a rumored superfood that’s become massively popular—the answer is a resounding yes.
Made by simmering some combination of bones, tendons, cartilage, and skin, as well as (optionally) herbs, spices, and small amounts vegetables for a long period of time, it’s technically not a broth, but a stock. “In traditional chef speak, stock is made from bones, and broth is made with meat,” clarifies food editor Ann Pittman.
Whether or not it’s truly a broth, the long cooking process—typically between 6 and 24 hours—used to make bone broth draws the nutrients contained inside the bones into the water. This results in a liquid that’s thicker and more flavorful than what you’d typically associate with either the word “broth” or “stock.”
Thanks to the plethora of nutrients it contains, such as collagen and gelatin, a number of healthy eating philosophies have embraced bone broth, from the paleo diet to the GAPS diet. In fact, the increasing popularity of the paleo diet, which highlights the concept of making use of all parts of an animal to reap the greatest nutritional benefits, has significantly increased the profile of bone broth.
Anya Fernald, CEO of Belcampo Meat Co., a certified-organic and animal welfare-approved company that sells bone broth, believes that Americans are increasingly interested in exploring the roots of traditional approaches to food and nutrition. “All the science isn’t there yet, but we’re learning that our grandparents’ generation’s approach to being thrifty—extracting every last bit from everything—have a role in health,” said Fernald. “Our grandmas knew that broth was a relatively cheap, easy, and low-calorie source of nutrients in an easy-to-digest form, and we’re just now realizing they were right.”
Join us as we explore the most salient bone broth nutrition facts and benefits. Then, we’ll go over best practices on how to make bone broth at home. And we’ll even include a research-backed bone broth recipe.
Key Bone Broth Nutrition Facts
Bone broth can be made from many different base ingredients—chicken, beef, fish, lamb, even goat—and there’s plenty of flexibility in terms of additional ingredients too. This means bone broth nutrition facts vary depending on exactly what went into a specific batch, as well as how long it was cooked. This makes it difficult to pin down something like, say, the standard bone broth protein content.
According to the USDA Food Composition Database, the nutrient content of a cup of homemade chicken or beef stock ranges from 31 to 86 calories, 0.2 to 2.9 grams of fat, and 4.7 to 6 grams of protein. Oh, and significantly different amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, and other minerals and electrolytes.
Some general bone broth nutrition facts do remain consistent. For instance, bone broth is low in calories and relatively high in health-promoting nutritional compounds. Here are five of the most beneficial nutritional compounds likely to be found in bone broth.
This natural chemical compound belongs to a family of polysaccharides called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) that help to maintain the connective tissues in our bodies. This makes them essential to our overall health and well-being.
Glucosamine and other GAGs can be especially impactful when it comes to digestive health, since they help to restore the intestinal lining. A real-world pragmatic clinical trial published in Natural Medicine Journal in 2015 found that, because a deficiency of GAGs can lead to digestive conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), increasing your intake of these compounds can also help to treat those conditions.
The two main types of glucosamine, hydrochloride and sulfate, play vital roles in the upkeep of your cartilage, a resilient connective tissue that cushions your joints and serves as a structural component of your rib cage, ears, nose, bronchial tubes, intervertebral discs, and many other body parts.
As we age, our glucosamine levels can begin to decline, which can lead to joint pain and other problems. Adding glucosamine-rich foods to your diet, like bone broth, can prevent your health from deteriorating. According to the Mayo Clinic, glucosamine can be especially beneficial for individuals dealing with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
2. Hyaluronic Acid
This molecule, which is also a GAG, can be found throughout your connective and neural tissues as well as your skin. Hyaluronic acid assists with hydration throughout the body as well as with lubrication of joints. It also serves what researchers refer to as “a space filling capacity,” serves as a framework through which cells migrate, and helps with tissue repair and wound healing.
Perhaps the most noticeable impact hyaluronic acid has is on the appearance of your skin. As an article published in Dermatoendocrinology notes, 50% of the hyaluronic acid in the human body is concentrated in the skin. The hyaluronic acid in your skin has many important roles, including regulating moisture levels. As we age, hyaluronic acid levels in our skin decrease. Evidence indicates that replenishing the body’s stores of this molecule can correct age-related skin damage.
Yet another GAG, chondroitin is a component of human connective tissues in your cartilage and bones. There are some indications increasing your intake of chondroitin can reduce pain and inflammation, improve joint function, and slow the progression of osteoarthritis. It’s believed to do this by enhancing the shock-absorbing capacity of your cartilage (which, as you may recall, cushions your joints), as well as by slowing the breakdown of cartilage.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and the main structural protein in the connective tissues that make up our tendons, ligaments, muscles, and more. Collagen also “seals” the protective lining of the gastrointestinal tract, preventing substances from leaking out into the bloodstream.
If your intestinal lining gets damaged, then it can become too permeable, allowing particles to travel out of the digestive tract and into the bloodstream, a condition called leaky gut syndrome. Collagen helps keep that lining intact, helping to prevent leaky gut syndrome as well as associated gastrointestinal disorders such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease and autoimmune diseases such as lupus, Graves’ disease, and multiple sclerosis.
Again, the process of aging causes collagen production to decrease. This produces effects such as diminished structural integrity of the skin and weakened joints.
The gelatin in bone broth contains arginine, glycine, glutamine, and proline, all of which are considered conditional amino acids. Unlike essential amino acids, your body can produce these substances. Under certain circumstances, however, such as times of severe stress, illness, or injury, your body may not produce them very well and could benefit from a boost via diet or supplementation. When it comes to the essential amino acids, however, daily supplementation is recommended for everyone!
According to Dr. Kaayla T. Daniel, also known as the Naughty Nutritionist and co-author with Sally Fallon Morell of Nourishing Broth, the standard Western diet with its emphasis on processed carbohydrates and its dearth of quality, grass-fed animal proteins likely makes these amino acids “chronically essential.”
Here’s why your body needs the four conditional amino acids in bone broth:
- Arginine: This amino acid increases nitric oxide production and blood flow and reduces blood pressure, meaning it’s vital to the health of your heart. It also flushes ammonia from the body and enhances immune function.
- Glycine: As a glucogenic amino acid, glycine is a precursor to the production of glucose, which we need to fuel our brains. It also functions as a neurotransmitter, helping to calm the central nervous system and contributing to the processing of the motor and sensory information we need to see, hear, and move. Glycine assists with the breakdown of fats by regulating the secretion of bile acids from the gallbladder.
- Proline: Nearly one-third of the amino acids that make up the collagen in your body are proline. We need more proline to recover from soft-tissue trauma, such as muscle or tendon strains and tears, burns, and surgery. Proline may also help to prevent arteriosclerosis, a heart condition characterized by the hardening of the arteries.
- Glutamine: We need glutamine to synthesize proteins and lipids. It’s normally the most abundant amino acid in your muscles, and depletion of glutamine stores can be an indication of overtraining. It’s also a hallmark of muscle wasting caused by severe illnesses.
As mentioned above, the amounts of all these nutrients will vary depending on the bone broth ingredients and preparation methods.
6 Exciting Bone Broth Benefits
Although bone broth’s star continues to rise, and many health professionals swear by its medicinal benefits, little hard scientific data has yet been gathered to validate those benefits. Yet what does exist is quite exciting.
And while there’s limited research on bone broth as a whole food, there’s substantial evidence on the health benefits of a number of the individual nutrients in bone broth, such as collagen.
Many bone broth benefits stem from the collagen it contains. Have you ever noticed a jiggling layer atop the juices in your roasting pan? That’s natural collagen. As discussed above, collagen is a protein found in the bones, marrow, cartilage, vertebrae, tendons, and ligaments of humans and all other mammals.
When collagen is simmered for a long time, as occurs during the process of making bone broth, it breaks down into gelatin. This irreversible process, called hydrolysis, transforms long collagen protein fibrils into smaller protein peptides. The chemical compositions of collagen and gelatin remain quite similar, though.
Benefit # 1: Safeguards Joint Health
As just noted above, bone broth is a superb source of collagen, the primary protein that makes up much of the human body and that’s especially vital for ongoing joint health. Over time, our joints undergo wear and tear, which takes a toll on our cartilage. Our cartilage also begins to break down faster and regrow slower.
Some experts believe that the body can use the collagen—and gelatin—found in bone broth to restore its own natural supply. According to a 24-week study published in Current Medical Research and Opinion, supplementing your body’s supply of collagen produces “an anabolic effect on cartilage tissue,” meaning it helps to rebuild and fortify your cartilage. The randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study conducted at Penn State University found that collagen significantly reduced joint pain over the course of six months.
Benefit #2: Heals the Gut
Gelatin, one of the first functional foods ever used as a medical treatment, also gives bone broth its signature, slightly jelly-like consistency. Based on the findings of a 2015 study, it appears gelatin can both prevent and treat chronic atrophic gastritis, a condition that causes inflammation of the stomach lining and that can lead to digestive problems and nutritional deficiencies.
And a report published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology found that gelatin has impressive anti-inflammatory properties that make it a promising treatment option for intestinal disorders linked to inflammation.
Benefit #3: Enhances Skin Elasticity and Hydration
This benefit, too, stems from the collagen found in bone broth! Collagen assists with the formation of elastin and other molecules necessary for your skin to have a firm tone and smooth texture. Having an adequate supply of collagen helps reduce puffiness, prevent wrinkles, and generally enhance the appearance of your skin.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, a peer-reviewed medical journal, found that increasing your collagen intake has a noticeable impact on “skin biophysical parameters.” Skin elasticity, moisture, and roughness were objectively measured at the beginning, mid-point, and end of the study, as well as at the follow-up a month after the study’s conclusion. The skin of participants in the group who supplemented with collagen showed statistically significant improvements, especially in skin elasticity.
Anecdotal evidence also links collagen to a decrease in cellulite. This seems plausible, as cellulite formation is thought to be related to weakness in connective tissue, and collagen is a key structural element in your connective tissue.
Benefit #4: Supports Healthy Immune System Function
As touched on in the section about bone broth gut health benefits, when the lining of your stomach becomes too permeable, this can have a cascade effect that undermines your overall well-being and spurs the development of chronic conditions.
One reason for this is that when foreign particles enter the bloodstream, your immune system detects them and attempts to eliminate them. When this happens continually, it causes your immune system to enter a state of chronic overdrive and inflammation that seriously compromises your health. So by healing your gut, bone broth also supports healthy immune system function.
Bone broth helps your immune system cope with genuine threats, such as colds and other viral and bacterial infections. Researchers in the Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Section at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha set out to investigate whether it’s possible to identify the mechanisms that make bone broth—specifically in the form of chicken soup—such a time-tested remedy for upper respiratory tract infections. They suspected that chicken broth might have an anti-inflammatory effect that could explain its benefits. Their findings, published in Chest, a peer-reviewed medical journal, showed that chicken broth inhibits neutrophil migration, an inflammatory immune system response that can increase the severity of respiratory infections. The authors concluded that chicken broth “may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity.”
Benefit #5: Improves Sleep Quality
Reports indicate that consuming bone broth in the evening can significantly improve the quality of your sleep. This may have something to do with the minerals it contains, especially magnesium, which is known to promote muscle relaxation.
The hearty dose of glycine you get from bone broth also helps you sleep more deeply. According to a 2015 study published in Neuropsychopharmacology, a peer-reviewed journal, glycine decreases your core body temperature, making it a “novel and safe way” to improve the quality of your sleep.
And a 2007 study published in Sleep and Biological Rhythms, a journal put out by the Japanese Society of Sleep Research, found that ingesting 3 grams of glycine before bed improved both subjective sleep quality and sleep efficacy, meaning subjects both felt that they slept better and that they felt more rested. The authors also noted “lessened daytime sleepiness and improved performance of memory recognition tasks—evidence that, as many of us know from experience, sleeping better helps us stay alert and think clearly.
Because glycine is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter, it helps us to stay calm and stabilizes our moods. If you’re ever been kept up by racing thoughts or emotional unrest, you have an intuitive sense of how these effects of glycine can improve your sleep.
Benefit #6: Strengthens Bones
We don’t often think of bone as a living tissue, but that’s exactly what it is. Our bones are composed of a complex matrix of connective tissues, including—you guessed it—cartilage and collagen.
The collagen in our bones helps them remain strong yet flexible. It binds together the rigid minerals that form our bones, solidifying them while ensuring they stay pliable.
Research indicates that increasing your collagen intake improves bone health, particularly for individuals with osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
A literature review and assessment of clinical investigations and therapeutic trials published in Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism in 2000 determined that collagen has the potential to be a useful therapeutic agent for the treatment of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Because of its high level of safety, the authors state it’s “attractive as an agent for long-term use in these chronic disorders.”
And Nourishing Broth, the book co-authored by Dr. Daniel, shares the story of a woman who added bone broth to her diet after learning she had lost 12% of her total bone density. By the next year, measurements showed a gain of 19% total bone density.
The Rise of the Bone Broth Diet
Many credit Dr. Kellyann Petrucci as the originator of the concept of the bone broth diet. According to Petrucci’s site, “Bone broth isn’t just broth. And it isn’t just soup. It’s concentrated healing. This broth is nutrient-rich ‘liquid’ gold, one of the world’s oldest and most powerful medicinal foods.”
While studying biological medicine at the Marion Foundation and Paracelsus Clinic in Switzerland, Petrucci became convinced that lifestyle changes—like a bone broth cleanse—can heal the gut, slow aging, quell inflammation, and shed stubborn belly fat that’s correlated with numerous adverse health outcomes.
Petrucci even authored a book, The Bone Broth Diet, to introduce her naturopathic, diet-based approach to treating numerous health conditions and achieving optimal well-being.
Meena Hart Duerson, editorial director for the Today Show, committed to drinking a cup of bone broth daily for at least a week and chronicling her experience for Today’s site. Drinking her first cup, she found the “sheer meatiness of the smell” to be “off-putting,” but said that “as soon as the broth hit my tongue, I was a believer.” That said, she didn’t notice any significant differences after her week-long experiment.
But Nicole Tsong, a yoga teacher and writer who lives in Seattle, had a very different experience when she tried the bone broth diet. It’s worth noting that Tsong approached it more holistically than Duerson. Rather than simply adding a cup of broth to her typical diet, she read Petrucci’s book and decided to try the full-on bone broth diet, which she summarized as “the ketogenic diet, without the cheese.” To be a bit more specific, “You cut sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy, legumes and certain types of oil to take down inflammation and carbs, and focus on good protein and tons of vegetables, while snacking on broth, drinking two cups a day.”
In an article for The Seattle Times, Tsong shared how she felt during and after adopting the diet. She noted her surprise at how quickly her body entered ketosis, a fat-burning state achieved by cutting carbs so your body shifts to using fat as its primary source of fuel. “A week in, we both felt great,” Tsong writes. “My energy was steady and stable. I was over my sugar cravings. I was leaner, and sleeping well. I felt strong in workouts.” After sticking with it for three weeks, she still hadn’t gotten tired of the rich, savory taste of bone broth. Going forward, her plan is to follow the diet on weekdays and take weekends off, a maintenance approach she’s found to be effective in the past.
How to Make Bone Broth at Home
Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley, superstars in the health and wellness world and authors of the international bestselling cookbooks The Art of Eating Well and Good + Simple, have been extolling the benefits of bone broth long before it went mainstream.
Their advice on bone broth makes the process of making it for yourself feel highly achievable.
“Whether you like to cook it in a slow cooker, a pot in the oven, or on the stove, for us, the recipe is really simple: just bones, water, and a really long simmer with the lid on.”
If you’re using chicken bones, they say you should let the broth simmer for a minimum of six hours. And for beef or lamb bones, plan on 12 or more hours of simmering. If you’re impatient and you have a pressure cooker, you can cut the process down to three hours.
“Joint bones are especially great for bone broth because they are rich in cartilage and connective tissue that can render out in the super long cooking process,” says Fernald, the Belcampo Meat Co. CEO mentioned earlier. She also recommends meaty bones or bones with marrow. And the most important consideration, she says, is to select bones from healthy, pasture-raised animals, which will contain the maximum concentrations of the nutrients you want and no chemicals or hormones you don’t. “Toxicity in animals accumulates in bones,” Fernald explains. “So, although it’s always important to eat clean meat from healthy animals, it’s especially important when it comes to bones.”
Careful meat sourcing can also eliminate concerns about lead poisoning, which were stirred up by a 2013 study that many bone broth advocates believe was flawed. According to Fernald, the levels of lead found in the broth tested for the study were still well below the limit set by the EPA for tap water: 15 ug/L. “Even if you had a cup or two of broth a day that contained the levels of lead revealed in this study, you would still be far below the EPA’s acceptable limit.” And again, she notes that buying organic-certified, pasture-finished beef, pork, and poultry will help you steer clear of toxins.
When it comes to adding flavorful additions to your bone broth, the Hemsleys say there’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple. “A few bay leaves if we have them and a squeeze of something acidic like lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to help further extract nutrients.” They do say it’s important not to use brassica vegetables, like broccoli or cauliflower, which won’t hold up through the long cooking time. It’s also key to avoid using non-stick pans, plastic spoons, and certain ceramic-lined slow cookers, which, according to the Hemsleys, can leach out lead and other toxins during the cooking process.
A Research-Baked Bone Broth Recipe
This bone broth recipe comes from University of Nebraska Medical Center physician/researcher Stephen Rennard, M.D., one of the masterminds behind the study that identified the reasons why chicken soup is such an effective cold remedy.
That research actually began when Dr. Rennard’s wife, Barbara, prepared three batches of chicken soup in their kitchen at home, which Dr. Rennard then studied under laboratory-controlled conditions.
That recipe, known as “Grandma’s Soup,” includes chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery stems, parsley, salt, and pepper. Grandma’s Soup recipe doesn’t call for as long a cooking time as a classic bone broth, but it could easily be adapted so you can reap the benefits of both.
This nutrient-dense chicken bone broth recipe includes instant pot, slow cooker, and stove top methods. Recipe author Natasha Kravchuk, who shares hearty, homestyle recipes (often with a Slavic influence, courtesy of her Ukrainian heritage) on her blog, Natasha’s Kitchen, says the instant pot method is her favorite as it requires the shortest cooking time and yields the broth with the richest flavor. You can find all three variations here.