Bone broth: 5 health benefits

by Hannah de Gruchy September 08, 2022

Bone broth 5 health benefits

Bone broth is a nutritious liquid, made from simmering the bones and other inedible parts of animal carcasses. It’s been made for generations as a way of using the whole body of an animal for food and nutrition. Traditionally used as a stock in soups, sauces and gravies, it’s now popular as a health drink due to its rich nutritional profile.

Consuming bone broth is linked with numerous health benefits, including better skin, improved gut function and support to the immune system.

Bone broth: fast facts

  1. Bone broth is made by boiling animal bones and tissues on low heat for 12 to 24 hours.
  2. It’s nutrient-rich and is a great source of protein, collagen, hyaluronic acid, vitamins, and minerals.
  3. Bone broth can be made using the bones of most animals, but most commonly it’s made by simmering the bones of cows and chickens.
  4. It can be used to make soups, stews and gravies or drunk as a nutrient-rich drink.
  5. When bones are boiled, they release gelatine, which is also rich in nutrients that support the health of the skin, joints, gut and immune system.

What is bone broth?

Bone broth is made by boiling the bones, ligaments and tendons of animals including chickens, cows and fish. It can be used as a stock, added to soups, to make gravy or drunk as a warming drink.

Making bone broth

For generations, people have consumed bone broth, since the times of our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors when it was made to make full use of animals killed for food, especially if the food was in short supply. It’s recently gained popularity as a health drink due to its rich nutritional content.

Typically, the inedible parts of an animal carcass are used to make bone broth, including the beaks, hooves, feet, knuckles and fins, as well as the bones and connective tissues.

Since the ingredients vary with different recipes, so does the nutritional content. But generally, bone broth is rich in protein which provides amino acids, the building blocks of the proteins required for healthy bones, muscles, blood vessels and skin. In particular, the amino acids glycine and glutamine.

It’s also a good source of collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body, that’s responsible for plump, youthful-looking skin, and well cushioned, supple joints. It contains hyaluronic acid too, which helps to keep the skin well hydrated, as well as glucosamine and chondroitin that support the health of the joints.

This nutritious broth also contains minerals essential for bone health, including calcium, potassium and magnesium, plus zinc, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin K.

What are the different types of bone broth?

The most common type of bone broth is bovine, made by simmering the bones and connective tissues of cows. This tends to have the most savoury, meaty flavour.

Chicken bone broth has a lighter flavour and colour, and it’s this type that is most typically made at home using the bones, cartilage, and other inedible parts of a roast chicken once the meat has been consumed.

However, most animals can be used to make a bone broth, including fish, pigs, lamb, sheep and turkeys. Even bison and buffalo bones can be used if available. The bones of different animals can be combined in the same recipe, helping to provide a range of nutrients. Fish bones for example provide iodine, whereas other animal bones do not.

What are the benefits of bone broth?

The health benefits of bone broth are plentiful and include supporting both the immune system and the joints, as well as the skin and gut function.

1. Healthy, youthful skin

Skin

Bone broth contains collagen and hyaluronic acid, that support the health and appearance of the skin by minimising fine lines and wrinkles, retaining moisture levels, and hydration respectively.

What’s more, when animal bones are slowly boiled, some of the collagen that’s leached from the bones into the cooking liquid is turned into gelatine, making bone broth a plentiful source.

Gelatine itself is rich in the amino acids glycine and glutamine which are important building blocks of collagen. Studies show that consuming bone broth helps to increase the levels of these amino acids in the blood which can then be used to synthesise collagen that helps to maintain plump, youthful skin.

2. Protected joints

Joints

Gelatine is important for joint health because it promotes the synthesis of collagen which forms an essential part of the cartilage that cushions the joints. Preventing the bones from rubbing against one another.

As we age, our collagen levels begin to drop, which has a visible effect on the skin, causing fine lines, wrinkles and sagging as well as stiff, painful joints. So consuming collagen-boosting foods such as bone broth are considered a good way of supporting the joints.

Studies show that adding gelatine to the diet increases the level of collagen in the connective tissues of the joints, helping to protect them as we age. Doing so can also help the pain, stiffness and mobility problems associated with osteoarthritis.

Cartilage also contains compounds called glucosamine and chondroitin and bone broth contains both. Studies demonstrate that supplementing the diet with glucosamine and chondroitin can reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

3. Bone broth for gut health

Belly - gut

The amino acid glutamine, present in bone broth, is also demonstrating an ability to support the health of the gut in those with leaky gut syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

One study concluded that “glutamine supplementation helps to heal the intestinal barrier”. The mucosal lining in someone with a leaky gut has become compromised which prevents the digestive process from functioning normally.

Another study found that those with IBD tend to have lower levels of important amino acids in their bloodstream. Therefore, drinking bone broth regularly could be a relatively simple way of replacing lost amino acids.

4. Supports immune function

Evidence now supports the idea that much of the immune system resides in the gut and is closely linked to the collection of friendly bacteria, viruses and protozoa that reside there, collectively known as the microbiota.

A healthy gut, therefore, supports a healthy, robust immune system. The glutamine in bone broth supports a healthy gut by helping to prevent a leaky gut, and can also, therefore, help to protect the immune system.

5. Promotes good quality sleep

The amino acid glycine is showing promising results as a nutritional supplement that can promote good sleep. Studies show that taking glycine helps to promote better, more restorative sleep with less tiredness the next day.

Therefore, drinking bone broth in the evening can help to support deeper sleep with fewer disturbances and better mental clarity the following day.

Are there any side effects?

There are no known side effects to consuming bone broth regularly. However, bones are known to bind heavy metals such as lead and this is worth keeping in mind, especially if considering feeding children bone broth. Using only organic ingredients can help circumvent this risk.

Some people don’t like the taste and mouth feel of a stronger broth made using cow, bison or buffalo bones, and prefer the lighter taste of one made using chicken bones.

How to consume bone broth

Having bone broth

Bone broth can be made at home using the carcasses of meat and fish that have been used in other recipes. The bones and tissues from different animals can be used in the same batch.

There are no strict rules on making it, each person tends to make tweaks to standard recipes. But generally, bones and other animal parts are added to a large saucepan and simmered in boiling water with a small amount of apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper for 12 to 24 hours.

The addition of vinegar helps to draw the nutrients out of the bones and tissues into the broth as it simmers. Some people also add vegetables and herbs towards the end of the cooking process.

Either way, once cooled, the broth should be strained through a colander or sieve, and the solid parts discarded. The broth can then be stored in a refrigerator for up to five days and reheated as a drink or used to make soups and gravies. It can also be frozen in individual portions and defrosted and reheated when required.

Rather than throwing the bones away, they can be used to make nutritious drinks and stocks. Bones can also be frozen before boiling them at a later date. Your local butcher or supermarket meat counter may also be able to provide you with leftover bones, sometimes even for free. Organic, grass-fed animal bones are considered the most nutritious, so seek these out if possible.

 

Bone broth collagen powder
Ready-made bone broths are also available. Many people find using these as a supplement easier than having to find a saucepan large enough and keeping it on the hob for such a long period. These tend to be in a powdered form, that can then be added to hot water to make a drink or added to other recipes, but they also exist as liquids and soups.

 

Look for organic brands that don’t use any unnecessary fillers or artificial ingredients. Organic bone broth powder from Planet Paleo is made using organic, grass-fed bovine powder and organic natural flavourings.

Whether homemade or in a supplement form, aim to consume one cup of bone broth a day, or one meal made using it per day. If you prefer to consume it less frequently, aim for at least once a week.

Bone broth benefits summary

Bone broth contains many nutrients and the building blocks of nutrients that are essential for health. Consuming it regularly is an easy way of supplementing the diet with these beneficial nutrients.

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Hannah de Gruchy
Hannah de Gruchy

Author

Health and wellness author and biologist specialised in sustainability, nutrition and eco-living.


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