Let’s start with the bad news: When something is touted as a panacea for everything from clear skin to better immune function (ahem, celery juice), it’s usually more hype than substance. And yes, bone broth does somewhat fall into that category given that there are more unsubstantiated claims than legitimate scientific research about it. But just because it’s not a cure for all your ailments doesn’t mean that bone broth doesn’t provide some great benefits and can’t be a healthy addition to your diet.
What Is Bone Broth?
First things first, what is bone broth? In short, it’s a form of stock. “By simmering bones and water for over 12 hours, or as long as two days, the collagen gets extracted from the bones into the liquid,” explains Abbie Gellman, R.D., registered dietitian and chef at the Institute of Culinary Education. “This creates a really rich form of stock. Any type of bones can be used to make bone broth, including beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and veal. Because it’s cooked for so long and there’s so much collagen extracted, bone broth is gelatinous at room temperature. Bones are typically roasted prior to using as well.”
You Can Make a Plant-Based Version Too
Technically, bone broth requires the use of animal bones, but for vegetarians Casey Means, M.D., physician and cofounder of Levels, says you can make extremely nutritious broths filled with nutrients from vegetarian ingredients. And you’ll get similar health benefits to traditional bone broth. “Take assorted vegetable scraps, filtered water, sea salt, and spices, place them in a large pot, and bring to a boil. Then simmer for about an hour with the lid on and strain. Or, you can do this in a slow cooker or a pressure cooker.”
Choose Your Ingredients Well
The key is to be thoughtful about your ingredients to build a strong nutritional profile for your vegetarian broth. “For example, adding wakame seaweed can give extra potassium, calcium, folate, iodine, and omega-3 fatty acids. Adding spices like turmeric and ginger can boost the anti-inflammatory potential of the broth due to the compounds curcumin and ginger, respectively. Adding mushrooms can give a rich, deep flavor and offers a source of B vitamins, amino acids, and vitamin D. Additionally, adding vegetables rich in amino acids such as glycine and proline can provide building blocks for the body for natural collagen production that many people strive for by eating traditional animal bone broth—these include watercress, turnip greens, spinach, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, and mushrooms. Vitamin C is also crucial for collagen production, so broccoli scraps, kale, and bell peppers are good additions.”
Whether you’re going the traditional or vegetarian route, it’s all about the quality of your raw ingredients. “There’s no scientific data on specific health benefits of one bone broth over another—it comes down to taste and preference,” says Amy Lee, M.D., head of nutrition for Nucific. “The most important thing to focus on is acquiring the best quality ingredients, considering you’ll be slow-cooking and likely eating everything in the pot. Think organic, free-range, grass-fed, and so on, for better flavors and health benefits.”
Is There a “Healthiest” Type of Bone Broth?
For those opting for traditional bone broth, it’s also worth bearing in mind that while one isn’t necessarily better than another, different animal bones will have different amounts of nutrients. “Red meat bones (beef, goat, and lamb) will produce a broth with more CLA, a naturally occurring fatty acid that can help retain lean muscle mass and control type 2 diabetes,” says Ashley Shaw, M.S., R.D., CDN, IFS, dietician at Preg Appetit. “Chicken bone broth will yield more protein per serving, while fish bones are an amazing source of iodine. Both are great sources of collagen.
“While, in general, the experts we spoke with agreed that there is very little research showing that bone broth is better for you than a traditional stock or broth, consuming it daily can help supply your body with protein, collagen, and other nutrients that make up a healthy diet. Bone broth is also relatively easy to make and allows for a lot of flexibility with ingredients, which is key because diversity of nutrients is incredibly important. “If you’re trying to get the benefits of bone broth, it makes sense to eat a serving of it daily over the course of six to eight weeks to assess the benefits,” Dr. Means says. “Also switch up the recipe now and then, using a variety of different spices, vegetables, and types of bones, to cover the bases of a large swath of potential nutrients. This gives your body the time to adapt and incorporate the nutrients in a way that you can notice.”
5 Health Benefits of Bone Broth
Bone broth is high in protein.
Animal bone broth is an excellent source of protein. “One 8-ounce cup of chicken bone broth, for example, has about 10 grams of protein,” Gellman says.
Bone broth high in collagen
Bone broth is an excellent source of collagen, a protein found in connective tissue. “Collagen is essential in wound healing, skin elasticity (think less wrinkles/stretch marks), healthy nails and hair, and improved joint health,” Gellman says.
Bone broth can boost micronutrient status
Micronutrients are a critical part of overall health. “Micronutrients are the tiny vitamins, minerals, and other compounds that act as regulators and building blocks for the molecular machinery of our bodies,” Dr. Means explains. “When we eat, we should be on a micronutrient hunt to get a diverse and adequate array. Bone broth provides many of these, including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin K2, iron, zinc, selenium, and manganese. Many of these micronutrients are important for our metabolic function, for how we process energy in the body, and something that humans are often low in. Vegetarian broth, for example, will include rich amounts of micronutrients.”
Bone broth is a source of glycine, which may have benefits for metabolic health.
Dr. Means notes that the amino acid called glycine functions as a neurotransmitter, which is a building block of collagen and needed to make a critical antioxidant, glutathione. “Glycine also plays a role in blood sugar metabolism and metabolic health, and supplemental glycine has been found to improve liver fat content, cholesterol levels, insulin levels, and oxidative stress in animal models,” she says. “Glycine also is able to promote the secretion of acid in the stomach, which is important for adequate digestion and healthy gut function. Surprisingly, low stomach acid can actually lead to gastric reflux symptoms, so supporting healthy acid production in the stomach is important for overall digestion. Vegetarian sources of glycine that are easy to put in a broth include seaweed, watercress, turnip greens, spinach, kale, cauliflower, and cabbage.”
Bone broth is low glycemic.
“Homemade vegetarian or meat-based broths are very low glycemic, with no added sugar, low in calories, and a great way to get hydration,” Dr. Means says. “As such, it can make for a great snack to tide you over between meals without an insulin spike that can lead to post-meal crashes in energy.”