Foods we love: bone broth

Collagen-rich bone broth is low in calories and carbs, rich in flavor, and a source of key amino acids that can curb inflammation and support metabolic health.

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Bone Broth Basics

Bone broth is a savory liquid prepared by slow-simmering beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, or other animal bones and their attached connective tissues (think: cartilage-rich joints)—usually along with a splash of vinegar and a mix of veggies, herbs, and spices—in water for about 12 to 24 hours. The result is a nutritious broth that can be sipped straight as a warm beverage or used as a base for soups, stews, sauces, dressings, and other dishes.

As the broth simmers for a prolonged period, collagen—a structural protein abundant in connective tissue and bone—breaks down and dissolves in the cooking liquid. When the broth cools, these proteins realign and form a gelatinous layer on top of the broth that will redissolve once reheated. This gelatin is the hallmark of a bone broth rich in collagen, providing essential and non-essential amino acids. The long simmer will also extract small amounts of minerals and vitamins from the bone matrix and bone marrow, and any bits of meat still attached to the bone will provide additional flavor, trace micronutrients, and amino acids.

While “bone broth” is a relatively new term, made trendy during the Paleo and ancestral health boom of the early 2010s, it’s very similar to traditional stock. Both require simmering bones for hours to yield a slightly viscous liquid with a silky mouthfeel and savory but mellow flavor. The main difference: Bone broth recipes may call for a much longer simmering time than stocks to extract the maximum possible collagen and nutrients from bones and connective tissues. So, while stock is commonly used to add body and subtle flavor to other dishes, bone broth is often considered a nutrient-dense food fit for direct consumption.

Traditional broth, on the other hand, differs from both of these and is intended to add flavor but not necessarily body to dishes: It’s made with fewer bones and more meat and requires a shorter simmering time, which yields a final product with more flavor, less protein, and a thinner texture. And don’t be deceived by the marketing on most store-bought broths. Many of these options are made without bones, diluting the nutrient density while adding extra ingredients like MSG or yeast extract and natural flavors. You’ll find high-quality bone broth in the freezer section or near the other shelf-stable broths/stocks. Want to make sure you’re choosing actual bone broth? Turn over the package and ensure the ingredients specifically list bones, ideally slow-simmered for at least 12 hours.

The nutritional breakdown of bone broth varies based on the preparation method, bone types, and other ingredients used. In general, it’s low in calories, with moderate protein and little to no carbohydrates and fat. Several popular store-bought varieties of beef and chicken bone broth contain 40 to 45 calories, 10 grams of protein, 300 milligrams (mg) of sodium, and trace levels of micronutrients like calcium and potassium per eight-ounce serving. Homemade bone broth may contain a bit more fat unless it’s skimmed off the top once cooled, as described in this recipe.

Bone Broth’s Metabolic Punch

Bone broth is one of the rare foods that deliver a meaningful dose of protein and flavor for minimal calories, fat, and carbohydrates—making it a blood sugar-friendly snack and a great way to up the protein content of meals so they’re more filling and less likely to cause a post-meal glucose spike. What’s important to keep in mind is that the predominant protein in bone broth—collagen—isn’t a complete protein. That means it doesn’t contain all nine essential amino acids you need from your diet for optimal health (whole-food sources of animal protein such as meat and eggs, on the other hand, contain all nine). So, while bone broth can be a great supplemental source of protein, it shouldn’t be the sole form of protein in your diet. Instead, aim for a variety of animal and plant-based sources.

Still, bone broth contains various essential and non-essential amino acids that support health. In one study, the primary amino acids found when beef bone broth was analyzed were glutamic acid, histidine, arginine, aspartic acid, lysine, glycine, threonine, and valine. Of these, glycine and glutamine may offer significant metabolic benefits.

Animal studies suggest that supplemental glycine may help counteract liver fat accumulation triggered by a high-sugar diet, normalize triglyceride and insulin levels, and increase levels of the antioxidant glutathione. Researchers speculate that supplemental glycine exerts some of its benefits by boosting levels of GLP-1, a hormone that promotes fatty acid oxidationsatiety, and improved glycemic control. Preliminary research suggests glycine may also promote healthy sleep, essential for maintaining insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control.

Pro tip: To get the most glycine-rich broth possible, make your own. One study found that self-prepared broths consistently delivered higher levels—in some cases double—of all amino acids compared to commercially available bone broths. Bump up the glycine content of your bone broth even further by simmering those bones along with glycine-containing veggies such as seaweed, watercress, turnip greens, and spinach.

Another amino acid of note, glutamine (formed from glutamic acid), plays essential roles in curbing inflammation and supporting intestinal health. It suppresses pro-inflammatory signaling pathways, supports the growth and maintenance of enterocytes (cells that make up the intestinal lining), and is a precursor for the antioxidant glutathione. Glutamine depletion decreases the expression of tight junction proteins in the gut and may increase intestinal permeability (when toxins from the gut can leak into the bloodstream), which can trigger the type of chronic, body-wide inflammation that underlies many metabolic disorders. On the other hand, several human and animal studies have shown that glutamine supplementation can improve gut barrier function, potentially curbing the risk for some of those downstream inflammatory and metabolic consequences. Plus, a recent study found that bone broth containing glutamic acid and other amino acids successfully reduced inflammation and tissue damage associated with ulcerative colitis in mice.

None of this is to say sipping a daily mug of bone broth will provide the level of amino acids necessary to yield the same benefits. After all, research suggests homemade bone broth may contain anywhere from 800 to 1,600 milligrams of glycine per 250 ml serving, while the daily dose for supplements ranges from 2,000 to 4,500 milligrams. Still, bone broth may have some benefit in the context of an overall nutritious diet.

One area where bone broth may not quite live up to the hype is its micronutrient content. While it’s frequently touted as a rich source of metabolism-friendly calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin K2, there has been very little research in this area—and what exists suggests levels are low. One study that analyzed bone broths for calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and chromium after 8 to 12 hours of simmering found that levels typically amounted to no more than a few percent of the daily recommended intake per serving. The good news: This same study also analyzed broth for toxic metals such as lead and cadmium (which can build up in animal bones) and found that levels were generally relatively low and likely posed a minimal risk.

Adding a source of acid to your broth, like vinegar, during simmering to “draw out” vitamins and minerals may increase their levels slightly, but it’s unclear if this would have a meaningful effect. Even high-quality, commercially available bone broths featuring apple cider vinegar still contain negligible calcium (usually no more than 2%) and often no other vitamins or minerals.

A better way to bump up your bone broth’s micronutrient content and metabolic benefits: Load it up with nutritious plant matter. In fact, the very first research on bone broth (from 1934) found that broths made with bones and vegetables had more nutrients than broths made with bones alone. Try these:

  • Dried shiitake mushrooms deliver big umami flavor and B vitamins
  • Seaweed provides a briny punch, and minerals like iodine
  • Herbs and spices like turmeric and ginger offer complexity and potent antioxidants
  • Carrot peels deliver subtle sweetness and a dose of beta-carotene
  • Aromatic alliums like onions and garlic contain sulfur compounds that support the production of the critical antioxidant glutathione

Ingredient Sourcing & Buying Advice

If you’re feeling ambitious and want to make your own bone broth, here are a few essential ingredient-sourcing tips to keep in mind:

  • Use bones from high-quality sources such as organic, grass-fed beef; free-range chicken; or wild-caught fish. Unwanted compounds like heavy metals can build up in the bones of animals and enter your broth, but using bones from animals raised under the best possible conditions could minimize your exposure.
  • Use the right bones. The best ones are rich in collagen, such as marrow bones, knuckles, and feet. For added flavor, you can incorporate meatier bones such as oxtail and short ribs or use the carcass of a roast chicken with all those little meaty bits still attached (as described in this recipe). Your local butcher can guide you on their top picks.
  • If you don’t have access to high-quality bones locally, online sources like Greensbury Market and Wild Fork Foods offer convenient options such as organic, grass-fed beef bones and oxtails that are frozen and shipped directly to your home.
  • To boost the health benefits and micronutrient content of your broth, you can incorporate ingredients such as alliums (garlic, onions, leeks), spices (ginger, black peppercorns, turmeric), and veggies (celery, carrot, dried mushrooms, even seaweed).

Opting for a premade bone broth is still a great option, especially if you’re short on time (or patience). Consider the recommendations below:

  • Brands such as Bonafide ProvisionsFONDKettle & FireBare Bones, and Osso Good source their bones from grass-fed or pasture-raised animals. The bones are slow-simmered for 18+ hours (and many are organic too).
  • Unless specified, you can use all broths for cooking or drinking—but some brands craft especially sippable flavor combos, like FOND’s Liquid Light chicken broth with black pepper, thyme, and turmeric.
  • Sodium content varies by brand and may be moderate to high, so check those labels if you’re watching your intake. But keep in mind, if you’re consuming a minimally processed diet, you probably have nothing to worry about—and some extra sodium after a challenging workout could help replenish electrolytes.

Tips for Making, Storing & Using Bone Broth

Here are some essential prep and storage strategies for bone broth:

  • This slow cooker bone broth recipe keeps things simple while highlighting common bone broth mistakes—like not blanching and roasting bones before you simmer, which are two vital steps for improving flavor.
  • Don’t fear the thick, jiggly layer of gelatin that forms on your broth once it cools—this is a sign that you’ve extracted loads of beneficial collagen from the bones. The gelatin will dissolve again once heated and contribute to bone broth’s silky mouthfeel.
  • Homemade broth can be safely stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or frozen for 2-3 months (for best flavor), per the USDA. Consider freezing broth in silicone ice cube trays and popping out a couple of cubes as needed.
  • For premade broths, follow manufacturer storage instructions. Some brands are shelf-stable when purchased but should be treated like fresh broth once opened.
  • If you are sipping bone broth for health benefits, start with a daily eight-ounce serving and assess how you feel after a few weeks. Some sources call for drinking four (or even more) cups per day, but this advice is based mainly on anecdotal experience rather than research.
  • Consider sipping bone broth before a meal to help curb a post-meal blood sugar surge or between meals to help prevent all-day snacking. Because it contains minimal calories and carbohydrates, some people even sip it during periods of fasting.
  • If drinking bone broth isn’t for you, reap the benefits by cooking with it—soups and stews are obvious choices, but try the other unique ideas below too.

Ideas for Eating Bone Broth

Bone broth is easy to incorporate into meals. Here are some accessible ways to start experimenting:

  • Make an ultra-simple broth-based soup by combining leftover chicken, roasted vegetables, and bone broth. Or, if you prefer an actual recipe, try this bone broth chicken soup with turmeric and kale (swap the farro for cauliflower rice to reduce carbs), or use beef bone broth to make keto ramen with shirataki noodles.
  • To make a creamier soup, simmer veggies like cauliflower and butternut squash in bone broth until soft. Toss in some herbs and spices and a source of fat like olive oil, then puree with an immersion blender until smooth.
  • Easily incorporate bone broth into nearly any sauce, including chimichurri or marinara.
  • Make a superfood salad dressing by combining bone broth, olive or avocado oil, vinegar, and flavor-boosters like herbs, spices, dijon mustard, miso, or coconut aminos.
  • For sides with extra flavor and protein, use bone broth in place of water. For example, use it for cooking whole grains or beans, adding a bit to the skillet when heating a batch of cauliflower rice, or use it as your source of liquid in this cauliflower mash recipe.
  • Add a basic bone broth (maybe one not loaded with garlic or other potent herbs) to smoothies, like this paleo-friendly blueberry cardamom bone broth smoothie. Sounds strange, but when paired with the right flavors, you won’t notice it’s there.
  • Poach fish or chicken in bone broth and use the remaining liquid to create a flavor-packed sauce to drizzle on top.
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