Why is everyone talking about bone broth?
Lots of you have been asking us this question lately. And I understand why. Recently, media coverage of food and health trends has had plenty to say about bone broth. Nutrition gurus, social-media influencers, celebrities, athletes… they’ve all been sharing their enthusiasm for it.
Well, the claims made about bone broth certainly are intriguing. Devotees say it offers a wide variety of health benefits — that it boosts immunity, speeds healing, eases away wrinkles, strengthens hair and nails, soothes digestion, and more!
It’s also said to support healthy bones.
That’s a lot for a food to live up to. And when something seems too good to be true, it’s natural to be skeptical. I certainly was!
So, I decided to dig into the bone-broth trend. Where did it come from? And is it really as beneficial as it’s made out to be?
Here’s what I found.
What is Bone Broth?
Even if you aren’t familiar with the term “bone broth,” you actually already know what it is. That’s because it’s existed for centuries under many other names — most commonly, stock. The French call it bouillon or consommé. In Italy, it’s known as brodo. The bases used to make steaming bowls of Asian noodles are a type of bone broth. You might even just call it soup!
Bone broth is one of the oldest cooked food preparations. Basically, it’s animal bones (cut in pieces to expose their marrow) boiled in water for several hours. Our prehistoric ancestors would have done this over an open fire, using the bones from that day’s kill.
While the recipe for bone broth has evolved a bit (nowadays we tend to add vegetables and herbs), not much about it has changed since caveman times.
And, in a funny way, it’s because of cavemen that you might’ve been hearing so much about bone broth. Have you also heard about the Paleo diet? Well, the two are deeply connected.
The Paleo diet is based on mimicking what primitive (Paleolithic) man consumed millions of years ago. The Paleo diet is defined as a diet that “typically includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds — foods that in the past could be obtained by hunting and gathering.” It’s high in protein and low in refined carbs, and restricts the consumption of dairy, grains, legumes, sugar, potatoes, and processed foods.
Why? Well, Paleo is based on the theory that the human body wasn’t designed to consume many of the foods in the modern diet. (“Modern,” in this case, means after the introduction of 20th-century agriculture.) The Paleo diet, the thinking goes, is in harmony with what nature intends us to eat — the diet of our primitive ancestors, who didn’t experience the widespread problems of obesity and disease that are so common today. As a happy side effect, Paleo can also promote weight loss.
So, what could be more “primitive” — and, therefore, better for our bodies — than bone broth, right?
Fortunately, you don’t need to be following any particular diet to enjoy bone broth.
As for the argument that bone broth is really just stock with a newfangled name — that’s mostly true. In fact, culinary experts point out that broth, as we’ve traditionally known it, is different from stock because it doesn’t contain a lot of bones. Rather, broth gets most of its flavor from meat, such as a chicken carcass. Stock, on the other hand, is made with lots of bones (which may still have a bit of meat on them). The bones are often roasted beforehand to provide a richer taste. Veggies and herbs can be added to both broth and stock.
|Broth doesn’t contain a lot of bones and gets most of its flavor from meat, such as a chicken carcass.||Stock, on the other hand, is made with lots of bones (which may still have a bit of meat on them). The bones are often roasted beforehand to provide a richer taste.|
Something lots of people agree on about bone broth, though, is that it’s delicious. It’s also a deeply nostalgic dish if you have childhood memories of a parent or grandparent who cooked homemade soup when you had a cold.
But is bone broth actually good for you?
The Nutritional Value of Bone Broth
Millions of people have believed in the healing power of soup for a very long time. But there’s surprisingly little scientific research to either support or disprove its therapeutic value.
In fact, to find one of the few known studies about it, we have to go all the way back to 1934. That’s when British researchers tried to get to the bottom of a typical broth’s healthfulness when fed to infants. They concluded that it was “not of great nutritional value.”
In 2000, a U.S. study found that “traditional chicken soup” “may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity” in cases of upper respiratory tract infection, although their combined therapeutic impact is mild.
Since then, though, no further scientific studies about soup have been published. And none of the studies that do exist are specifically about bone broth. That’s a key point, because bone broth isn’t exactly like an ordinary soup. Why?
Well, during the cooking process for bone broth, the bones release their nutrients into the water. (They also give broth its rich, mildly salty taste.) Then you consume that nutrient-dense water. Unlike a basic soup — a meat-based broth that’s typically cooked for only a few hours — bone broth is simmered for as long as one or two days. That allows plenty of time for the water to draw out larger amounts of collagen and minerals. (Most recipes suggest adding a small amount of an acidic liquid to the pot, like wine or apple cider vinegar. This encourages nutrient extraction.) If you use bones from organic, pasture-fed animals and add lots of vegetables, you’ll improve its nutritional profile that much more!
But does even a long-simmered bone broth contain enough additional nutrients to raise it above the ordinary soup you already love? Read on to learn more.
When you make a traditional broth (that is, with meat but not bones), it remains a liquid after it’s allowed to cool. A bone broth, though, becomes a gelatin. That’s because of the collagen in the broth.
Collagen is the primary protein in your body’s connective tissue — the tissue that literally holds your body together. (The word collagen comes from “kolla,” the Greek word for glue, and “gen,” which means producing.) Collagen is in your muscles, skin, tendons, blood vessels, digestive tract and, yes, your bones.
Beginning in your 20s, your body’s collagen production starts to slow down at a rate of about 1% per year. This is why all of us eventually start to experience joint pain. Our cartilage (the protective tissue at the ends of long bones and joints) wears away and isn’t replaced.
So, you’re probably starting to see why bone broth is thought to be a valuable weapon in the fight against collagen loss. While a batch of broth boils away on the stove for a day or two, its bones release their collagen into the water. (At room temperature, collagen becomes a gelatin, which causes the broth to solidify.) By ingesting the collagen-rich broth, you’re restoring some of the collagen your body may no longer be able to make on its own.
But there’s another reason why your body needs more collagen. Remember the Paleo diet I mentioned earlier? Well, one of the ways the modern diet has changed for the worse is we don’t consume as much collagen as we used to. One of the big reasons for this is that our primitive ancestors didn’t just eat the “muscle meats” that are still popular today — things you’d recognize as ribeye steak or chicken breast. They ate the whole animal, including things like skin, tendons, ligaments and bones. That’s where the collagen is.
So, it’s not just that your body is producing less collagen due to aging. You’re also probably getting less from your daily diet. Bone broth is one way to add it back in. What’s more, bone broth also contains moderate amounts of calcium and magnesium — both of which are among the most important nutrients for achieving optimal bone health.
Now, while there’s no Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for collagen, remember that collagen is a type of protein. So, you can consider bone broth a part of your RDA for protein. Your personal protein needs will be determined by factors like gender, age, weight, and level of activity. This page can help you figure out your daily protein needs. You would need to drink gallons of bone broth in a single day to exceed a typical person’s protein RDA, so feel free to enjoy it!
In addition to bone broth, it’s always a good idea to eat more of the foods that help your body manufacture collagen on its own. Not surprisingly, these are foods that most of us need more of in our diet anyway, and that benefit the entire body in dozens of ways.
Specifically, reach for foods that are high in vitamin C. Adequate vitamin C intake is essential for collagen production, so be sure to enjoy plenty of oranges, kale, broccoli and red peppers. Or take a supplement that offers enough vitamin C to make up for the shortfall in your diet. The recommended daily dosage of AlgaeCal Plus provides not only a clinical amount of vitamin C… It also includes highly absorbable silicon — a nutrient that plays an important role in collagen production — plus calcium and magnesium in the preferred 2:1 ratio, and all the other essential bone-supporting minerals.
In short, bone broth may not be a “miracle food” on its own… but remember, no single food is. It may sound obvious, but you need a diverse diet to experience the full benefits of good nutrition. And bone broth — especially an organic one, enhanced with lots of vegetables — can certainly be a part of that.
Other Benefits of Bone Broth
Decreased collagen production affects more than your joints. It also has a significant impact on your skin.
Collagen makes up 70% of the protein in skin. When that collagen isn’t adequately replaced, it results in the signs of aging you’re all too familiar with. Wrinkles. Sagging. A less “dewy” appearance…
The idea that supplementary collagen can improve skin health isn’t a new one. In Asian countries — where collagen has been added to various snacks, and even a beer marketed to women — collagen is prized for its supposed age-defying properties. (In China, women have been consuming donkey skin, allegedly since the 1st century, to access its collagen content.) In the 1980s, collagen became a popular injectable, particularly for the lips. But its popularity declined because of allergic reactions in some patients and a short efficacy period.
There’s been some research showing that collagen supplements might help reduce the visible signs of aging. This would suggest that the naturally occurring collagen in bone broth would have a similar effect.
But there’s a catch. Supplements are made with collagen that’s been hydrolyzed. (This means the amino acids have been purified and broken down, so they’re more easily absorbed during digestion.) The collagen in bone broth hasn’t been hydrolyzed, so it may not have an impact on your skin’s appearance.
Many bone-broth advocates say regular consumption of broth can be useful for preventing or even healing gut issues. “Gut,” in this context, refers to your large and small intestine, not your stomach. It may also be referred to as the “gastrointestinal tract” or the “digestive tract”. The gut is where all the food you eat gets processed, to be either absorbed by the body or passed out in a bowel movement.
Since about 75% of the body’s immune system activity happens in the gut, maintaining its delicate balance of “friendly” bacteria is critical to overall good health. Poor gut health can contribute to a variety of serious health issues, including obesity, diabetes, digestive disorders, insomnia and depression.
Not long ago, mainstream media articles started appearing about a condition called “leaky gut syndrome.” Although the concept is new to most medical doctors, researchers in alternative and integrative medicine have been aware of it for decades.
To understand what leaky gut syndrome is, it’s important to know that the walls of your intestines are lined with a protective barrier. This barrier is critical, because it prevents things like partially digested food and toxins from passing through the intestinal wall and getting absorbed into the bloodstream. If the barrier becomes weakened, that’s leaky gut syndrome. (It’s also known as “increased intestinal permeability”.) Some doctors believe it can lead to various inflammation-related illnesses — anything from food sensitivities and skin problems to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and even autism.
How to Make Bone Broth
Homemade Bone Broth
- 2 lbs bones
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups organic carrot roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 cup organic onion roughly chopped
- 1 cup organic celery roughly chopped
- 1 bunch parsley
- filtered water
- your choice of spices
- For a richer flavor, roast the bones first. Preheat your oven to 400F. Arrange the bones in a roasting pan or on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place on the middle oven rack and roast for 30 minutes.
- Place the bones in a large stock pot. Pour in cool filtered water until it covers the bones by about 1 inch.
- Add the apple cider vinegar to the water and let the bones sit, without heating, for 30 minutes. The vinegar will help draw more nutrients out of the bones.
- Chop the vegetables whatever size you like and add them to the pot, along with salt, pepper, and your choice of herbs and spices.
- Bring the pot to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it’s rapidly boiling, reduce the heat to low and cover almost all the way.
- After the first few hours of simmering, your broth may have a layer of foam on the surface. Use a large spoon to remove the foam and discard it. (Organic/grass-fed bones will produce less foam.)
- Continue to simmer, covered almost all the way, for 24-48 hours. (24 hours is usually enough for poultry bones.)
- If using garlic and/or parsley, add during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
- Let the broth cool. Using a metal strainer, strain the cooled broth into resealable containers. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days. Your broth can also be frozen for later use.
Takeaways of Bone Broth
As with so many food trends (especially those associated with health claims or a popular diet), it can be easy to be suspicious about bone broth. But not only is there an encouraging amount of evidence about bone broth’s benefits — there’s also nothing to suggest it’s harmful.
One thing I don’t question is that bone broth really is delicious and comforting. So if you enjoy it, by all means continue to do so. Just be aware that not all bone broths are created equal. Many commercially prepared broths contain added sodium, sugar, and artificial ingredients. The best bone broth (in terms of both quality and flavor) is homemade — ideally with bones from organically raised animals. If you do buy your broth from the store, though, make sure it’s organic. And check the ingredients list and nutrition panel. If there’s anything in it you wouldn’t add if you were making it at home, take a pass! There are plenty of quality brands to choose from.
And here’s a final key point. In most of the research out there, the most nutrient-dense broths are those that contain the most vegetables. So feel free to add lots (plus fresh herbs, too!), and experiment to find what tastes best to you. You’ll be improving the broth’s nutritional profile, and it’ll taste even better!