It's being touted as a wellness cure-all, but is bone broth really that good for you? And, is it different from regular old stock?

Christine Byrne
January 08, 2020

Bone broth certainly isn't a new thing—cooks have been using bone-based stocks and broths for centuries. But, thanks to modern wellness culture, it's trendier than ever. The hype around bone broth highlights its collagen content, plus all of the vitamins and minerals it might contain. But, how much of that hype is actually based in science? We asked a registered dietitian to lay out the facts.

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Bone broth is pretty much the same as stock, although sometimes it's a little bit thicker.

If you've ever made stock or broth from scratch, you might know that they're fairly interchangeable. Both are made by simmering a mixture of animal bones, meat, and vegetables in water for several hours, resulting in a flavorful liquid that can be used as a base for soups, stews, braises and more. Traditionally, stock is made with mostly bones, whereas broth is made with a mixture of bones and meat. You can also make vegetarian broth with just vegetables and no meat or bones.

Actually, bone broth is essentially the same thing as stock, and different from traditional broth. "Bone broth and stock are thicker than broth," says Jerlyn Jones, M.S., M.P.A., RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Regular broth is consumed alone or as a base for soup and other dishes." That thickness comes from the gelatin that gets released from the bones as they simmer—yep, the same stuff used to give texture to Jell-O and gummy candies—which is why bone broth and stock thicken and get jiggly when refrigerated. Unlike stock, bone broth is often made without any vegetables, and a few teaspoons of vinegar are added to bone broth as it simmers, which helps release even more gelatin and nutrients from the bones.

Bone broth is packed with tons of key nutrients.

When it comes to nutrients, it's tough to know exactly what you're getting with bone broth. "The nutrient content varies based on the ingredients and amounts you use in the bone broth," Jones says. "It largely depends on the type and quantity of the bones and tissues that went into it. A variety of different bones may yield a higher nutrient content." So, for the most nutrient-rich bone broth, consider using bones from different animals.

"Animal bones are rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and other trace minerals—the same minerals needed to build and strengthen your own bones," Jones says. Again, it's impossible to know how many of these minerals are in each batch of broth, but you're likely getting at least trace amounts of each.

"Fish bones also contain iodine, which is essential for thyroid function and metabolism," Jones says. Now, making a bone broth with fish bones will result in a bone broth that tastes, well, fishy. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's something to keep in mind before you start adding fish broth to recipes that shouldn't taste like fish.

In addition to the nutrients from bones, you'll also get nutrients from the connective tissues. "Connective tissue gives you glucosamine and chondroitin, natural compounds found in cartilage that are known to support joint health," Jones says. To reap these benefits, use bones with some meat still attached.

Bone broth is also rich in collagen, although there's some debate over whether this really matters.

"All of these animal parts also contain the protein collagen, which turns into gelatin when cooked and yields several essential amino acids," Jones says. One thing to note: "The amino acids' structure weakens from heat as the broth cooks, rendering them less useful to the body."

Although collagen is one of the most talked-about benefits to bone broth, it's also the least evidence-based benefit. Jones points to this 2016 Time magazine article, in which William Percy, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of South Dakota's Sanford School of Medicine, calls it nonsense that eating collagen might lead to increased collagen production in our bodies. While it's very unlikely that eating collagen will cause harm—it's a type of protein, and protein is an essential macronutrient—there's also not sound science to prove that it has any real benefit.

If you're looking to up your collagen, make sure that you eat protein-rich foods to help build collagen and vitamin C-rich foods, since vitamin C is involved in collagen production.

You can buy premade bone broth or stock, or cook it at home.

If a product in the supermarket is marked as "bone broth" instead of stock or broth, it has likely been made with more bones, and simmered for longer with a bit of vinegar. That said, bone broth and stock are very similar, and it probably isn't worth spending money on more-expensive bone broths over conventional stock. Jones suggests looking for low-sodium or no-salt-added versions, and flavoring them with your own herbs and spices.

It's also fairly easy to make your own bone broth. There's not one single recipe, and you can play with different ratios of bones to water depending on your preferences and how many bones you have available. Here's a basic recipe to get you started:

In a large pot, combine:

  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 pounds animal bones
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer; cook for 12 to 24 hours. Strain.

You can also try our homemade Beef Bone Broth which adds vegetables and herbs, as well as bones.

Bone broth can be part of a healthy diet, but it isn't a magic-bullet wellness cure-all. And, it might be unhealthy in very large amounts.

"There's definitely a lot of hype about bone broth and its supposed health benefits—as a bone builder, immune booster and cure-it-all," Jones says. "But there is very little scientific research to support these health claims." That said, it does contain important nutrients and can add flavor to dishes without adding lots of sodium or calories.

It's very unlikely that drinking or eating bone broth could cause harm, unless you're consuming it in large amounts. "Animal bones are known to contain trace amounts of toxic metals along with minerals," Jones says. "When bone both is cooked, lead may be released. A small study conducted in the United Kingdom in 2013 looked at the lead content of bone broth made from organic chicken bones. The broth contained over 10 times more lead than the water alone." But a 2017 study conducted in Taiwan found that commercial bone broth had minimal amounts of lead, as well as being a relatively poor source of calcium and magnesium.

Bottom line

You can go ahead and use bone broth for soups and stews (the way humans have historically done), but know that drinking huge amounts of it is unnecessary, and may even be harmful.

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