The health benefits of bone broth

Bone broth has been a central part of many cuisines around the globe for centuries and many modern Paleo enthusiasts preach its health benefits. Up to the last century, bone broth was even used to prepare homemade infant formula and blood substitute. There are many good reasons for the universal appraisal of this super food that should definitely become part of your real food-based diet if you are truly interested in optimizing your health.

After all, there is a South American proverb that claims that

“Good broth can resurrect the dead.”

Don’t be tempted by bouillon cubes or commercial broth found at the grocery store though. As convenient as these options might be, these broths are not prepared according to the tradition and are instead made with a mixture of processed ingredients, including MSG (monosodium glutamate), cottonseed oil partially hydrogenated, corn starch, sugar and disodium guanylate to name only a few. Commercial broth does not provide ANY of the health benefits homemade bone broth has to offer and can actually do harm if you are, like many people, sensitive to MSG. Many commercial bone broths even contain gluten. Check the labels yourself and you’ll see.

You know the drill, always go for REAL food!

Bone broth is so easy to make.

Bone broth is so easy to make.

Bone health

Many people starting on a dairy-free Paleo diet worry about the adequacy of their calcium intake. Although calcium is definitely not the only factor involved in bone health (think phosphorus, vitamin D, vitamin K2, anti-nutrients and weight-bearing exercise to name only a few examples),  bone broth is an excellent way to provide your body with highly bioavailable minerals to keep your bones and teeth strong and healthy.

Although the exact calcium content of bone broth is unknown (and is likely to vary depending on the bone and preparation method), it makes sense that the minerals found in the bones of animals could be beneficial for your own bones, doesn’t it? One of the main advantages of getting part of your calcium intake from bone broth is that it allows you to get many other minerals, such as phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur, sodium and potassium, in exactly the same proportions as in your bones. To make sure you extract as much minerals as possible from the bones into your broth, make sure to add vinegar (see recipe below).

Digestive health

Historically, bone broth has been prescribed (before the advent of drugs obviously!) to assist with digestion. Glycine, an amino acid, can help stimulate stomach acid secretion. Gelatin, another compound of homemade bone broth, has also been reported to make proteins easier to digest. This probably explains why stews and soups prepared with real bone broth are usually easy to digest even for people with a weakened digestive system. Drinking bone broth right before a meal or including it in a soup or stew can improve your digestion.

Bone broth can also help correct abnormal intestinal permeability (leaky gut), a common problem for people dealing with all kind of digestive issues (bloating, abdominal pain or abnormal bowel movements) or any autoimmune condition (rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, celiac disease and many more…). It is mainly the gelatin found in bone broth that can contribute to maintaining the integrity and healing your damaged gut lining.

In the beginning of the 1900s, gelatin was routinely prescribed by some doctors to their patients suffering from “intestinal catarrh”, which would today correspond to a diagnosis of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Digestive health is crucial for your overall health. Even Hippocrates knew this over 2,000 years ago when he said “All disease begins in the gut.”

You need your digestive tract to be intact and healthy to absorb the precious nutrients you eat. Whether you have problems gaining muscle mass, experience skin problems, suffer from an autoimmune or digestive condition or want to prevent any of the above, homemade bone broth can be the magical pill you need. And it’s guaranteed to be absolutely free of side effects!

A cup of bone broth a day keeps the doctor away! It's my (almost) daily cup of "coffee" to start the day.

A cup of bone broth a day keeps the doctor away! It’s my (almost) daily cup of “coffee” to start the day.

Skin and joint health

The bone, skin, ligaments and cartilage used for making your bone broth all contain collagen. The amino acids found in collagen are of particular importance for the health of your skin and joints. In her book Deep Nutrition, Dr. Cate Shanahan explains that collagen is the protein found in the largest amount in the human body, corresponding to about 15% of your dry weight. Collagen is what is holding your body together. Collagen can hold a lot of water, keeping your skin moisturized and supple and helping you look younger. A lack of collagen can also contribute to cellulite (you know, the lumpy fat deposits on your butt and thighs) according to Dr. Shanahan. Another good reason to drink more bone broth!

Why buy isolated (and expensive) collagen or glucosamine when you can get these special proteins for a fraction of the price while benefiting from all of the other nutritional characteristics of bone broth?

How to make it

Although it may be a bit intimidating at first, making your own homemade bone broth couldn’t be easier. Whenever you can, collect the bones from your chicken or meat or try to get your hands on bones from grass-fed and pastured animals directly from your butcher or at the farmer’s market. Then, all you need is a bit pot, some water, unrefined salt and vinegar. Other seasonings and vegetables are optional, but they can definitely add depth and richness to your delicious bone broth.

Homemade bone broth

What you need:

  • 2 to 3 pounds of a chicken carcass or bones
  • 4 quarts cold filtered water
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons vinegar
  • Onions, celery and carrots, roughly chopped
  • Seasonings to taste (unrefined salt, thyme, pepper…)

Steps to follow:

  1. Put all the ingredients in a large pot (or slow-cooker).
  2. Bring to a boil and immediately lower the temperature to allow your broth to simmer gently.
  3. Let simmer for at least 6 to 8 hours and ideally up to 24 hours. If you’re using a crock-pot, use the lowest setting. The longer you simmer your bones, the more you concentrate the flavor and nutrients!
  4. Let cool down for 1-2 hours.
  5. Strain your bone broth.
  6. Refrigerate in glass containers.


Extra bone broth tips:

*  If your broth doesn’t get, it could be because the cooking temperature is too high. Make sure your broth barely simmers and doesn’t reach a heavy boil to preserve the precious gelatin.

*  If you are sensitive to FODMAPs, skip the onion, garlic and celery and replace them with carrots only. Onion powder and garlic powder (and their salts) should also be left out if you have digestive issues.

*  Add chicken feet, pig or calves foot for extra gelatin.

*  Bone broth can be frozen for a few months without any problem.

*  Once cooled down, the fat will form a layer on the top of your broth. It might be best to discard this fat since it can be damaged as a result of being heated for hours.

*  Enjoy your bone broth warm as a cup of tea, use it for stews and soups or make a reduction with it to serve as a sauce.

*  Drink liberal amounts of bone broth after an injury or a surgery to speed up your recovery.

Bottom Line

If you need extra help to get your digestive health in other, here are a few other things you can do:

* Article originally published in Paleo Magazine.

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