Learn about the potential health benefits of bone broth and whether it’s a good choice for you.
Bone broth is having a moment. Although it’s an ancient tradition in many cultures, bone broth has become trendier more recently. It’s a featured component of the paleo diet, and many proponents rave about its nutrient density and ability to assist in ameliorating some chronic health conditions.
Similar to run-of-the-mill stock, “bone broth is made by simmering animal bones and connective tissue with salt and pepper for flavoring,” explains Razan Hallak, a registered dietitian with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
But bone broths are “simmered longer than stock or regular broth, which results in more flavor and collagen protein,” adds Amy McMahon, a registered dietitian nutritionist and coaching services practitioner with Teladoc Health, a telemedicine and virtual health care company based in Purchase, New York.
Recipes can also vary, according to Cesar Sauza, a registered dietitian and nutrition manager with AltaMed Health Services in Los Angeles. “Bone broth is usually cooked for 24 hours using roasted bones, and sometimes the bones are cooked with meat,” he notes.
Some bone broths are even simmered for up to 48 hours. The idea is that the longer the broth is simmered, the more nutrients will break down and stay in the liquid after the solid components are removed.
This slow-cooking process is key, says Kellyann Petrucci, a naturopathic physician, health and wellness expert and author of “Dr. Kellyann’s Bone Broth Diet” and “The Bone Broth Breakthrough.”
“It’s in that process that the vital nutrients are extracted from the bones, giving bone broth its signature thick texture, rich flavor and nutritious content. While stock has some health benefits, it doesn’t hold a candle to bone broth’s nutritional density,” she says.
Chock-Full of Nutrients
Bone broth is a rich source of several nutrients, including:
- Protein. This essential macronutrient helps the body build and repair muscles and can help regulate your metabolism and build strong bones.
- Collagen. This type of protein is integral to connective tissues (ligaments and tendons), skin, muscles and bones. Although the body can make its own collagen (provided you don’t have an underlying medical condition that disrupts that process), you can also acquire this protein from foods like bone broth and oral supplements.
- Amino acids. These acids are the building blocks of protein and are involved in virtually all metabolic processes.
- Calcium. The go-to nutrient for building strong bones and teeth, calcium also helps maintain heart function, blood pressure and facilitates communication between the brain and the rest of the body.
- Magnesium. Magnesium helps support normal blood pressure, keeps bones strong and supports nerve and muscle function.
- Potassium. This nutrient assists with maintaining normal fluid levels in the cells, supports normal blood pressure and helps muscles, including the heart, to contract efficiently.
- Phosphorous. This vital nutrient aids in building strong bones and teeth and helps the body metabolize carbs and fats. It also helps the body make proteins to repair cells and tissues.
- Gelatin. Cooked collagen becomes gelatin, which is beneficial for gut health.
Collagen and Its Health Benefits
Perhaps the marquee component of bone broth is collagen, which is the most plentiful protein in the body, constituting about 30% of all protein content. Collagen is responsible for maintaining the skin’s structure, and as such, Petrucci says, “I like to think of collagen as Spanx for the face because, without it, your skin would be falling right off your bones.”
However, as we age, collagen production drops off.
“With that loss of collagen, we begin to see wrinkles and sagging skin,” Petrucci explains. She says that when we replenish collagen, we can turn back the clock for firmer, more hydrated skin with fewer wrinkles.
For instance, a review of 11 studies that included 805 patients showed “oral collagen supplement increases skin elasticity, hydration and dermal collagen density,” Petrucci notes. She says this is in part because oral collagen supplementation can reach the deeperlayers of the skin versus topical lotions or creams.
In short, it appears that collagen supplementation could help you appear younger with little risk of side effects, Petrucci adds. She points to a 2021 meta-analysis that included 19 studies involving a total of 1,125 participants from 20 to 70 years of age. The vast majority – 95% – of participants were women, and results showed that hydrolyzed collagen supplementation offered favorable results for skin hydration, elasticity and wrinkles when compared with a placebo.
McMahon notes that these health benefits aren’t exactly collagen specific; rather, they’re “related to the function of amino acids in the body and not necessarily just the bone broth alone.”
Still, Petrucci notes that “bone broth has emerged as a superior whole food source of collagen because it’s lower in calories and saturated fats compared to other sources.” Those sources can include cuts of red meat containing connective tissue – pot roast, brisket and chuck steak.
Other Health Benefits of Bone Broth
McMahon notes that “collagen research is still somewhat in its infancy regarding health benefits, but some research has shown that it may protect joints, help digestion and support weight loss.”
In addition to helping keep your skin youthful, collagen contains glutamine and glycine, two amino acids that have been linked to gut health. “Glutamine can help repair the gut lining and improve digestion,” Petrucci says.
The gelatin and other nutrients in bone broth support healthy digestion, she adds. She recommends bone broth for people with leaky gut or other gut-related issues.
Bone broth and its high collagen content have also been linked with reducing inflammation, which could help ease joint pain related to aging or rheumatic conditions. Inflammation is implicated in a variety of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and digestive disorders like ulcerative colitis.
While some proponents say it’s a great addition for battling these conditions, Hallak notes that “there is not enough research to prove the benefits of bone broth.”
Nevertheless, bone broth is considered low in calories, clocking in at about 70 calories per cup, Petrucci says. It’s also high in protein, with roughly 16 grams per cup, depending on the recipe. As such, “it can help with weight loss and satiety. It’s also low in carbs, with less than 1 gram per cup, and it’s keto-friendly and paleo-friendly,” she says.
McMahon notes that it’s “unlikely that using bone broth poses significant health risks unless you’re using it excessively as the sole source of nutrition” or if you have an allergy to an ingredient in the broth.
That said, Hallak notes that the high mineral content of some bone broths could be problematic for people with heart conditions and kidney disease, so she recommends checking with your health care provider before incorporating bone broth as a regular feature of your diet.
Sauza adds that lead poisoning is another potential danger if you consume too much bone broth because bones can become a repository of lead after environmental exposure. Because of this potential risk, he discourages daily use in most children younger than 15 years old. However, for the average, healthy adult, the lead risk “should not be an issue if bone broth is used in moderation.”
Bone broth is also decidedly not a vegan or vegetarian food, so folks following those eating plans will have to skip this option. Petrucci says she always recommends that “vegetarian clients incorporate immunity-building vegetable broths into their diets. Pescatarians can make an equally nutritious and delicious subtle broth out of fish bones.”
“Some bone broths can also be high in sodium,” McMahon notes. If you have high blood pressure, heart disease or are on a sodium-restricted diet, you need to pay careful attention to the salt content of any bone broth you might use.
How to Use Bone Broth
Bone broth is a versatile base that can be used as a launching pad for many recipes, from chicken soup and hearty beef stew to sauces or savory teas. Just add the veggies and spices you like best and simmer away.
It’s also great for “boosting nutrients in foods like soups and chowders for the average person,” McMahon says. She adds that if you’re on a liquid diet for a short period of time, such as after a dental procedure, “it can be a great option if you are looking to sip on something that may be more filling.”
For individuals undergoing cancer treatments or other therapies that make it difficult to eat, adding bone broth could be beneficial, Sauza notes. “I also recommend it to patients with complaints of fatigue or lack of energy as a boost,” he adds.
It’s important to remember that while it can be satiating and nutritious, “bone broth by itself is not complete enough to be considered a full meal,” McMahon says.
Sauza also notes that “bone broth is not a miracle food and expectations should be tempered. I find it most beneficial for people (who) struggle to eat animal proteins (meats) or struggle to eat overall.” He says that if you’re already consuming a variety of nonprocessed animal proteins and a diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables, adding bone broth isn’t necessary.
Homemade bone broth is simple to make but can take a long time. Companies offering premade bone broths have sprouted up to cut prep time, and these can be good options. But as with any food product, be sure to read the label.
Hallak says you should “check the ingredient list for additives that may be added to enhance flavoring and shelf life.” The fewer the additives, generally speaking, the better the broth.
McMahon adds that while bone broth has been around for eons, in terms of scientific understanding, it’s still a relatively new food that warrants additional research. She urges moderation and notes that no food can be a “cure-all for a health-related issue. It’s best to speak with a health care provider, such as a registered dietitian or primary care provider, before drastically changing your diet in any way.”