What is Bone Broth? The Ultimate Guide


Written and Medically Reviewed by Ioannis Nikitidis MD, MSc, BSc on January 24, 2020.

The name says it all: bone broth is a broth made by simmering bones and connective tissue of animals. But what’s so great about it and why it became a buzzword in recent years? What benefits does it have and how it relates to intermittent fasting?

The meal dates to prehistoric times when food shortage made hunter-gatherers use every otherwise inedible part of the animal's body. It can be made from pork, beef, chicken, or even fish bones. Besides being used in soups, sauces, and gravies, it is now regaining its popularity as a health drink and is even called superfood and liquid gold for its incredibly high nutrition value. How so? Well, bones are the storehouse of essential nutrients such as calcium and magnesium, as well as a source of collagen and gelatine - the two nutrients known for their benefits for skin, joints, and gut health.

Intermittent Fasting and Bone Broth

As you will see later, the effects of Bone Broth on many departments mirror those of intermittent fasting. This makes bone broth an excellent food for fasters.
Also – and this may come as a surprise – bone broth, according to the experts in the field, do not break your fasting state, meaning that you can drink it during your fasting windows. This is excellent, since many regimes of fasting, e.g., 16:8 or a 20 hour fast (The Warrior Diet), come with quite long periods of fasting. Tea, water, and coffee might not always work so well when it comes to reducing hunger pangs.

That’s where bone broth comes in. If you prefer, you can also go for vegetable broth, but note that it contains fewer nutrients. It is however not recommended to eat canned broths or add bouillon cubes that are full of artificial flavors and monosodium glutamate. They usually lack the good stuff and are also higher in calories, which puts you at risk of having a spike in blood sugar levels thus breaking the fasting state.

It’s always better to add your own vegetables, herbs, and spices. During longer fasts, it is possible to experience a salt deficiency which can lead to dehydration. Since it’s not present in water, tea, or coffee, you can add a pinch of salt to your homemade bone broth. Salt has plenty of minerals including potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, zinc and magnesium, which can be particularly beneficial not only during fasting but also for the overall health.

Stock vs Bone Broth

Many people get confused between stock and (bone) broth.

A simple broth is what your mom gave you when you were sick. It’s primarily made from meat scraps, such as chicken, beef or pork. It can also be made by using leftover water from boiling or blanching veggies. Those are simmered somewhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours. However, a shorter simmer time prevents certain nutrients from being released from the bones, so it doesn’t form a thick, gelatinous texture.

Soup stock is often very flavorful, in many cases, salty and is a relatively thin liquid.

It is made by simmering bones and connective tissue for 3-4 hours.

Even though 3-4 hours is enough to release some collagen and gelatin, simmering the bones for at least 12 hours also helps to release proline, glycine, and glutamine, the amino acids known for their positive impact towards joint and gut health.

Best of all, the prolonged simmering makes all of the beneficial nutrients in bone broth more bioavailable, meaning they’re ready to be absorbed by your body.

Bone broth often has a less expressive taste. Its texture is oily and feels thicker in the mouth. The bone broth is simmered for 12-48 hours (depending on the bones). This assures that all of the good stuff is released and therefore, gives you the best nutritional value.

Benefits of BB

The following is a list of the most striking benefits of bone broth. As you will see, they combine naturally with the health effects provided by intermittent fasting.
Thus, if you’re still wondering whether bone broth is really that good for you, read on, and we’ll prove you: it is.

Good for your gut health and digestion

Even a small portion of broth (250 ml) can help you reduce the permeability of the intestinal wall. Normally, the intestine exhibits some permeability, which allows nutrients from digested food to pass through the gut. But it’s also supposed to maintain a barrier function to keep potentially harmful substances (such as antigens) from leaving the intestine and spreading to the body. Poor nutrition, inflammation or infections may lead to the widening of intestinal walls, allowing bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles to pass through into your bloodstream. This may lead to chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating. An amino acid called glutamine, which is found in bone broth, supports the gut barrier by reducing those symptoms, as the following study confirms. Bone broth can even help on constipation issues because it provides you plenty of liquids.

Supports joint health

According to a 2013 study Glucosamine might contribute to the maintenance of healthy joints - glucosamine in your body helps to maintain the health of your cartilage, the rubbery tissue that cushions bones at your joints. But as you get older, your levels of this compound begin to drop, which leads to the gradual breakdown of the joint, causing pain and reduced mobility. Glucosamine is a naturally occurring substance found in bones and bone marrow; and naturally, bone broth is an excellent source of it.

Keeps you looking young

Bone broth is a natural source of collagen. It is the main structural protein in the extracellular space in the various connective tissues in the body. It makes our skin look firm and elastic. The natural body's production of collagen slows in our mid-to-late 20's and continues to decrease dramatically after age 30. From there, the collagen levels in our skin begin to drop by 1-2% each year. That’s why collagen is so popular in cosmetics, such as anti-aging face creams and serums. However, if used externally, the rate of absorption is very low compared to when consuming it with food. Luckily, bone broth is full of collagen. Not only it is more effective than face creams collagen-wise, but it also is way cheaper! It’s probably the cheapest way to get your skin glowing.

Promotes nail and hair growth

Collagen again comes into play. Our hair and nails are mostly made of keratin, and collagen is rich in amino acids that your body needs to build keratin. That’s why consuming collagen is directly linked to stronger, faster-growing hair and nails. Collagen may also act as an antioxidant. It can protect hair follicles from the damage of free radicals, this way reducing hair loss linked to aging. Moreover, the iron that is provided through the bone broth can also contribute for the strengthening of the hair. In addition, according to a recently published review iron and some vitamins “may be involved in hair graying/whitening during childhood or early adulthood” and “it can improve premature graying”.

Helps to sleep and feel better

Glycine, that’s found in bone broth helps to improve the quality of sleep. Studies say this amino acid has a calming effect on your brain and could help you fall and stay asleep by lowering your core body temperature. It also may decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, enhance sleep quality, reduce daytime sleepiness and improve cognition. It also may improve memory.

Boosts your immune system

Remember we were talking about the benefits of bone broth to your gut?
It is closely linked to this part since about 80 % of all immune system cells reside in the digestive system. This means that as you heal your gut, you are also healing your immune system. Also, Bone marrow, which liquefies over time as your soup simmers, contains lipids, especially alkylglycerols, which are vital for the production of white blood cells. And we all know that they are the ones that protect our body against both infectious disease and foreign invaders.

Reduces inflammation

It is known that inflammation is at the root of many health conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease. It can also exacerbate symptoms of certain conditions you already have. Bone broth is full of glycine and proline - anti-inflammatory amino acids. Several studies also linked chondroitin sulfate, found in bone broth, to both anti-inflammatory and immune-regulatory effects, especially beneficial for those with the condition of Osteoarthritis. When preparing the bone broth you can add some anti-inflammatory spices or veggies like turmeric, garlic, ginger, fresh lemon juice which will give some extra anti-inflammatory action to your bone broth.

Good for your bones

It is only natural that nutrients found in animal bones are good for your bones as well!
Magnesium, phosphorus, calcium found in the broth help to build and protect the bone. Studies have also proved that the intake of amino acids (which we already know bone broth is full of) is associated with bone mineral density and the prevalence of low bone mass.

Is really economic

Making bone broth might require time, but it doesn't require any fancy ingredients, nor money. And it brings sustainability to your kitchen!
Why throw away turkey leftovers after Thanksgiving when you can make a delicious turkey bone broth? Why throw away pork ribs after a BBQ party when you can make a nutritious healthy drink for yourself and your whole family?
Or, if you live alone and never buy a whole turkey or a pork leg, you can visit your local market or a butcher and ask for bones left after cutting the meat away. Most butchers will just give you these for free, as they usually would just discard the bone altogether. Isn’t that a good motivation to make yourself some very delicious broth?

The Bone Broth Diet

There is no universal approach to how the bone broth diet should be.

It’s usually Paleo or Keto diet combined with 5:2 intermittent fasting. The 5:2 fasting method allows you to eat normally for five days and then restrict your calorie intake to 500-600 calories on the other two days. You can choose whichever two days you prefer. However, we highly recommend including at least one non-fasting day in between those two days.

So, on the fasting days, you have to drink three to six cups of bone broth and follow a Keto/Paleo diet plan.

Paleo diet is a dietary plan based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. It typically includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds — foods that in the past could be obtained by hunting and gathering.

Keto diet is a very low-carb diet. It includes food high in protein and (or) fat, such as meat, fish, cheese, avocados, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Like every other diet, it also includes a lot of vegetables. This diet brings the body to the state of Ketosis- a metabolic state in which the body burns fat instead of carbohydrates.

How to Make Bone Broth

As we already discussed, bone broth is made by simmering animal bones for quite long periods of time. It can be somewhere between 12 to 48 hours. Some bones, such as fish, should be simmered for much shorter periods of time (just up to 1 hour) since they are thin and release the nutrients faster.

Three basic steps include making bone broth:

Step 1 - Add the Bones

Put the bones into a large pot (it can be a regular pot or a slow/pressure cooker), cover them with a few inches of water.
If you’re making beef broth, consider roasting the bones beforehand. It will give the broth a richer flavor and a darker golden color.

Step 2 - Add Your Veggies

The most popular ones would be carrots, onions, celery, and garlic. Chop them in big pieces and don’t bother to peel them, as you want to maximize the nutritional value.
If you’re going to be using your broth as a base for an Asian-influenced soup, feel free to add some ginger to spice it up. As in any other soup, bay leaves are essential as well.

Step 3 - Boil the Water and Set the Timer

After you bring water to the boil, lower the heat and leave the broth on a light simmering. Leave the pot open a bit, but make sure you don’t lose too much liquid as it cooks. Keep an eye on your broth for at least every 4-6 hours.  

TIP: If it’s your first time making the broth we advise you to do it during the day time.
Cooking it while you’re sleeping is, of course, the most time-efficient method. But just so you can sleep peacefully next time you’ll be making the broth, have a try out on a lazy Sunday to avoid any mistakes.

This is just a basic guideline of bone broth making. To see some of the best and most popular recipes, click here.

When should you drink the bone broth?

Now that you know how to make one, let’s find out when to drink it. The timing depends on your goal. If you’re drinking it to sleep better, have a cup an hour before bed. If you’re trying to reduce hunger pangs - have a cup when you feel the most hungry. If you want to improve your gut health, drink it before or after a meal.

How much of the broth you should drink also depends on your goals.

For weight loss, it can be up to 6 cups per day.

For better skin, hair, nails, joint health 2 - 4 cups per day.

For better gut health and inflammation reduction- at least 2 cups per day.

When to avoid bone broth

Even though most people experience only positive effects of drinking bone broth, in some rare cases it might have some side-effects.

The reason for that is glutamates. They come from glutamine, the second most abundant amino acid in bone broth. Although glutamine has tons of health benefits, it can cause some problems for people who are glutamate sensitive.

Excess glutamate in the brain might lead to these problems:

  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Tics
  • Hyperactivity
  • Brain fog
  • Seizures

If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms it might be your diet is too high in both synthetic and naturally occurring glutamates.

A synthetic form of glutamate, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is found in many processed foods, as well as canned bone broths are known to overly stimulate nerve cells and cause neurological issues, among other health problems.
Thus, MSG should be a bigger worry of yours than the glutamate naturally occurring by simmering bones.
But, if you’re experiencing glutamate sensitivity, you should avoid glutamate no matter whether it’s natural or synthetic.
Luckily, this problem has a solution. You don’t need to stop drinking bone broth completely.
Since more glutamine is released when you simmer the bones for longer, simply reduce the cooking time. It, of course, will be less nutrient-dense, but its gut soothing, hunger reducing qualities will remain.

So, if you want your broth to have less glutamine, you should simmer poultry for 1-3 hours; beef and pork 2-4 hours. Or simply chose a fishbone broth, as it shouldn’t be simmered for much longer than 1 hour anyway.

If you eliminate processed foods from your diet and incorporate a good gut health protocol, over time you should be able to tolerate longer cooked bone broths (and other natural sources of glutamates).

Bone Broth Powder

Making bone broth isn’t expensive nor too difficult. But it does take a lot of time.

Bone broth powder is a solution for those who don’t like the cooking and the waiting part.

It is made by dehydrating bone broth at a low temperature and then turning it into powder. It is also popular to add protein to the mix so the powder has higher nutritional value.

If it’s a good quality powder, it should have all the usual nutrients such as collagen, gelatin, glucosamine, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid, certain amino acids and minerals.

It can be mixed up with any liquid of your choice.

Bone broth (protein) powder itself is bland and almost tasteless, but some brands add vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon, etc. flavor to it.

If you’re planning to add it to smoothies, you can consider buying the flavorful ones.

Getting the one with no added flavor works really well if you want to add it to soups, sauces or gravies.
You also should choose unflavored powder if you don’t want to change the way your meal tastes, but want that extra nutritional value.

Pros of bone broth powder are that there’s no prep or cooking time involved, easy to carry and is nutritious.

Cons of the bone broth powder can be that if it’s made by being processed under high temperatures, it might lose some of its nutritional properties. Also, the flavors added might be unnatural.

It doesn’t matter if it's bone broth powder or any other product - homemade things simply are better. When you’re the one who’s making it, you can choose your favorite, good quality ingredients. You know what you’ve been adding in the making process, what bones you used.

Where to Buy Bone Broth

As we already said, we do not recommend canned broths and those with a lot of sodium and artificial flavors.

You can find some good quality bone broth in bigger stores or buy it online.

Before buying the broth check its nutritional value, make sure it’s natural and organic. Broth made from free-range/grass-fed animal bones are normally higher in nutritional value, although they can be more expensive.

Swanson Organic, Kettle and Fire, Pacific, and Bonafide bone broths are among the best-rated ones and have a good quality/price ratio.

Bottom line

Bone broth really seems to live up to all the buzz and expectations built around it.

It doesn’t matter if your goal is to lose weight or to generally improve your health - bone broth is a must in your diet.
It’s cheap and simple to make, yet it can be as good for you as expensive supplements and cosmetics.

Combine broth drinking with intermittent fasting and benefits, such as lost weight, glowing skin, better hair and nails, reduced inflammation and slowed aging process will come twice as fast to you.


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