From folk medicine to your childhood home, traditional chicken soup has long been recommended as temporarily relief for symptoms related to internal health challenges. (1) However, as it turns out, a similar traditional health remedy from prehistoric times known as bone broth may be even more nutritious for your health.
If upper respiratory health challenges, digestive issues, or feelings of joint discomfort have you feeling down, consider the potential health benefits of a homemade bone broth to promote optimal health. Not only is bone broth a flavorful and quick meal or beverage, but it also provides hydration, nutrition, and psychological comfort to the body. Learn more below.
What is Bone Broth and How Does It Work?
Bone broth is an ancient type of nutrient-rich food made from the remnants of cattle, poultry, lamb, pork, veal, or even fish. The parts of animals that can’t be eaten directly, such as bones, bone marrow, feet, joint cartilage, knuckles, skin, ligaments, and tendons are boiled in water and simmered on low heat for up to 48-72 hours. (2) An acid such as vinegar or lemon juice is added to help break the bones down, extracting beneficial nutrients from the bones into the soup. (3)
The long process of simmering the bones and other components draws out important vitamins, minerals and amino acids (which comprise proteins) – three crucial parts of a healthy, balanced diet. Bone broth can be consumed as a snack or meal on its own, as a base for sauce, or as the base for a soup with vegetables, herbs, and spices. You can also substitute it for water when cooking rice or other grains.
Bone broth nutrients are also available in some over-the-counter bone broth protein powder supplements, as well, available online and in natural health stores.
Bone broth is sometimes confused with broth and stock. However, there are some differences.
What’s the difference between soup, broth, stock, and bone broth?
Broth – a pot of water is simmered with vegetables, meat, and aromatics, cooked for up to 2 hours, and then strained and seasoned.
Stock – a pot of water is simmered with vegetables, bones, and aromatics, cooked for 4-6 hours, and then strained. As a result of long-simmering bones, stock releases gelatin for a more full-mouthed, flavorful feel. Stock is usually used as a base for a sauce or gravy, not on its own. (4)
Bone broth – a hybrid of broth and stock that features a blend of bones (typically with some meat and fat still attached), a few vegetables, and aromatics typically cooked for more than 24 hours for its nutritious minerals. After being strained and seasoned, it can be eaten like a broth. (5)
Soup – a broth is simmered with pieces of meat, vegetables and other additions, such as rice, barley, pasta, or dumplings.
Common Bone Broth Ingredients
- Bones – Look for high-quality bones from grass-fed, certified organic sources such as cattle or try pastured poultry or wild-caught fish.
- Bone Marrow – The two types of bone marrow used for bone broth are yellow and red. Yellow marrow, found in the hollow interior of long bones, is where lipids and fats are stored. Red marrow, found in flat bones such as the hips, ribs, and skull, is where myeloid stem cells (the precursors to red blood cells) and lymphoid stem cells (the precursors to white blood cells and platelets) are formed. Red and white blood cells support a healthy immune system, blood clots and blood oxygen levels.
- Cartilage – Made from collagen, elastin proteins, and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), ingesting broth from cartilage may help support a healthy heart, gastrointestinal tract, and maintain cholesterol levels already in the normal range. For bone broth, select joint cartilage, or try beef knuckles, chicken feet, trachea, or ribs.
- Skin – Eating the cooked skin of an animal provides natural fats full of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
- Tendons and Ligaments – Sometimes referred to as bone gristle, these parts of the animal contain amino acids and collagen that your body needs to function optimally. Ligaments connect bones, while tendons connect muscle to bone.
A Brief History of Bone Broth
Bone broth was a part of the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors during the late Stone Age. Over the centuries, this prehistoric food was also incorporated into traditional Asian meals, acting as a digestive, a palate cleanser and a drink. (6)
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, for example, donkey-hide gelatin (also called “ejiao”) has been used to make a tonic or porridge similar to bone broth. The hide is mixed with medicinal Chinese herbs, such as dried tangerine or orange peels to support women’s reproductive health, blood circulation, bones, muscles, and healthy-looking hair, skin, and nails. (7)
Bone broth was also used for gut health support in the days of Hippocrates. It lost its popularity temporarily when armies (such as Napoleon’s) needed more portable soup options on the field, which eventually led to the invention of condensed, canned soups.
These foods have been a diet staple for many busy families, with some grandmothers opting for homemade versions of chicken soup, for example, whenever possible instead.
A study published in 2000 in the scientific journal, CHEST, by physician and researcher Stephen Rennard, M.D. from the University of Nebraska Medical Center suggests that commercially processed, canned chicken soups, which are often high in sodium, vary greatly in when it comes to supporting optimal health. (8)
However, the study found that homemade chicken soup may affect neutrophil migration, a term referring to the movement of white blood cells, also known as neutrophils, to the site of damaged tissue in order to help rid the body of pathogenic organisms and help prevent infection. (9) That means that there is something special about the combination of ingredients used in your grandmother’s homemade chicken soup recipe that may have some health benefits, especially for the upper respiratory system. Bone broth may have a similar effect.
Today, natural health advocates are reintroducing bone broth as an alternative to processed soups as a part a well-rounded nutrition spectrum. Some people have also included bone broth in the Paleo diet.
Potential Benefits of Bone Broth
One reason bone broth is an ideal addition for a health-conscious diet is its nutritional content, including many essential components needed to maintain a healthy body. There are many nutrients and potential health benefits of bone broth, as listed below.
Nutrients in Bone Broth
- Amino Acids from Collagen & Gelatin: Arginine, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline
- Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs): Chondroitin Sulfate, Hyaluronic Acid
- Minerals: Electrolytes (Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus), Sulphur, Silicon, Trace Minerals
Bone Broth May Support
- Connective Tissues
- Hair, Skin, and Nails
- Immune System
Here’s a breakdown of the most common nutrients in bone broth and what they may mean for your health.
The word collagen comes from the root “kola,” meaning glue. Collagen is a protein that maintains the structure of the skin and connective tissues, helping to bind them together. Collagen is also found in bones, ligaments, tendons, skin, cartilage, and bone marrow, but it requires vitamin C for synthesis. There more than 15 types of collagen making up 25% of the protein in the body. Protein plays many critical roles in the body, including maintaining the body’s tissues and organs.
Examples of Proteins
- Antibodies – protect the body from viruses and bacteria.
- Enzymes – form new molecules and carry out cellular chemical reactions.
- Messengers – transmit signals between cells, tissues, and organs.
- Structural components of cells – help the body develop and move.
- Binding agents – help transport atoms and small molecules within cells throughout the body. (10)
Gelatin, considered a functional food in ancient China, is produced by the breakdown of collagen and contains amino acids, also known as the “building blocks” of protein. There are 20 types of amino acids that can be combined to make a protein. The human body can produce 10 of these amino acids on its own; however, unlike fat and starch, amino acids are not stored in the body for later use. They must be included in the daily diet to help fill nutritional gaps. That’s another reason to try a bone broth diet. (11)
20 Types of Amino Acids
Naturally Produced by the Human Body
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid
Essential Amino Acids Required in the Diet
Bone broth gelatin contains the amino acids arginine, glutamine, glycine, and proline, which are important for maintaining optimal health. Arginine, found in bone broth gelatin, is considered an essential amino acid required for young developing children, but not for adults. It may support the immune system, male reproductive health, and cellular health. However, the human body does not make arginine on its own.
Bone broth gelatin also includes three types of amino acids that the human body does naturally produce, but supplementation may still be potentially beneficial to maintaining wellness. These include glutamine, glycine, and proline.
Glutamine supports gut health, cellular health, muscle integrity, and metabolism. Glycine assists the production of other amino acids and the production of heme, the part of the blood that carries oxygen. Glycine also supports tissue integrity, production of glutathione, detoxification, and cognitive function. Proline helps form the structure of collagen and may help support memory and mood health. It also supports joint and cartilage integrity, skin health, and gut health.
Collagen and Gelatin May Support
- Assimilation of Protein
- Bone Development
- Connective Tissue
- Gut Health
- Joint Health
- Healthy-Looking Skin
- Immune System Function
- Probiotic Balance
- Wound Healing
Glucosamine and Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs)
Glucosamine is an amino monosaccharide found in connective tissue, cartilage, and in the fluid around the joints. It plays an important role in cartilage and synovial fluid synthesis, specifically of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). It also helps to support cartilage regeneration. (12)
Glycosaminoglycan (GAG) molecules, found in animal tissues, play important roles in various physiological activities in the body, including cell growth, cell migration, protection from harmful microbes, and more. Major types of glycosaminoglycans include hyaluronan (hyaluronic acid) and chondroitin sulfate. (13)
Hyaluronic acid serves as a lubricant in the synovial fluid around joints. It also helps provide some of the strength and elasticity of cartilage and tendons. Chondroitin (found in supplements as chondroitin sulfate) is produced naturally by the body and found in healthy cartilage, helping the body retain water. It also supports the strength of cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. (14)
Glucosamine (the precursor to GAGs) and chondroitin sulfate, specifically, are commonly taken as dietary supplements to support temporary pain relief associated with discomfort and stiffness of degenerative joints, such as the hands, wrists, neck, back, knees, and hips. (15)
All of these important compounds are found in bone broth.
Minerals in bone broth include some electrolytes (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus), sulphur, silicon, and other trace minerals. Electrolytes are minerals found in the blood, including bicarbonate, calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium, which are essential for good health.
The body can’t function properly without electrolytes. It relies on these electrically-charged minerals to help regulate the amount of water in your body, support bone health, support nervous system function, promote muscle function, and support a healthy cardiovascular system – helping your heart pump and keep you alive. (16)
Roles of Minerals
- Calcium – supports strong bones, muscles and tissues.
- Magnesium – assists in important enzyme reactions and helps synthesize proteins.
- Phosphorus – assists energy production in the body as a component of ATP and support cell health.
- Sulphur – supports health of the joints, connective tissues (cartilage, tendons, and ligaments). (17)
- Silicon – supports structural integrity of nails, hair, and skin, overall collagen synthesis, bone mineralization, and bone health. (18)
- Micro-minerals (trace minerals) – such as zinc, copper, and selenium, support synthesis of proteins, enzymes, and antioxidants to help protect the body against oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals. (19)
What to Look for When Buying Bone Broth
Be careful to avoid high sodium store-bought broth or stock, which may be made with lab-produced flavored bouillon cubes and may contain the controversial meat-flavored ingredient MSG, also known as monosodium glutamate, which is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. (20)
Instead, health experts recommend shopping online for bone broth supplements made from organic sources, or shop for bone broth ingredients directly from a butcher or a farmer’s market, opting for organic ingredients and grass-fed meat if possible.
How to Make Your Own Bone Broth
- 01. Shop for components from organic grass-fed animals, if possible, with some meat still on the bones. (However, trim most of the meat and fat off.) Include bones, bone marrow, feet, joint cartilage, knuckles, skin, ligaments, or tendons.
- 02. Use kitchen scissors to break the bones into smaller pieces about 2-3 in long.
- 03. Place bones in a slow cooker or crockpot and cover with cold water.
- 04. Add 2 tbsp of rice, wine, cider, or balsamic vinegar per quart of water or per 2 lbs of bones. This helps extract nutrients from the bones.
- 05. Cook in a crockpot slowly on low, or in a pot gradually bring the soup to a boil and then turn the heat down and simmer the bones for several hours (6 - 48 hours for chicken bones, or 12 - 72 hours for beef).
- 06. Gelatinous broth means lots of nourishing nutrients for the body, but be sure to periodically remove the scum-like residue that rises to the top of the pot.
- 07. During the last 1-2 hours of cooking, add other vegetables and aromatics for taste. Add onions, garlic, ginger, or black pepper for flavoring. Also add coarsely chopped pieces of celery, carrot, parsley, or other vegetables. Don’t overdo on the ingredients. This should not be your catchall for the week’s leftover scrap meats and vegetables. Just include a few basic ingredients.
- 08. When finished cooking, discard bones and vegetables, and strain the soup through a colander.
- 09. Cool the broth until the residual fat hardens on top. Remove the fat.
- 10. Refrigerate the broth for up to 5 days, or keep it for months in the freezer. Reheat before serving.
Are you too busy to cook your own bone broth? Shop for Bone Broth Protein Powders from Naturally Healthy Concepts! (21)