Bone Broth: A Simple Food That Can Change Your Life

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Does bone broth really provide all those marvelous health benefits you've read about, or is it just another food fad?

I'm convinced that bone broth truly does pack an amazing wallop of nutrients which can enhance our health. And while some of today's bone broth enthusiasts may just be riding a fashionable health trend, I think the bone broth "revolution" has real permanence and can truly change the way people look and feel. Let me explain.

Bone broth really isn't anything new, rather it has an ancient history. Many cultures have, for hundreds of years, focused on bone broth as not only cuisine but also medicine. Even in our own country, broths were commonly simmering over fires and stoves just a century ago, and were a central feature in many of our ancestors' daily diets.

Yet as the country's wealth increased, the desire for convenience and easy-flavor led to an emphasis on muscle-meat and a disregard for bones, organ meats, and any other unusual parts. This led to an unbalanced diet, since bones and organs contain nutrients not found elsewhere. The negative health effects gradually became evident, which is why there has been a resurgence in demand for healthy bones, tallow, lard, liver, kidney, heart... you name it. People are looking for answers in ancient dietary traditions.

There are many anecdotal reports and several peer-reviewed studies which positively support the medicinal and therapeutic role of broths and broth-constituents. Generally however it is difficult for researchers to get funding support for non-patentable substances, so the science behind bone broth is still relatively undeveloped. And even when "natural" substances are researched, a reductionist pattern is often followed where individual nutrients are studied rather than the whole food. Therefore many of the positive reports on bone broth are word-of-mouth, people just sharing their experiences. When I see and hear about health transformations from people I know, I take notice.

While many of our friends and customers have successfully used bone broth therapeutically for an array of health issues, I've found the greatest number have been using it to lose weight and gain energy. Shedding pounds, feeling better, having more vitality, feeling less tired. But many are also using broth to treat specific ailments, often at the direction of their health professional. I've wondered what nutritional factors in the broth have primarily been causing these transformations, and I'm of the view that there are multiple factors working together, as you might expect, but the single most important may simply be gelatin.

This doesn't reduce the importance of red marrow, yellow marrow, trace minerals, hyaluronic acid, chondroitin sulfate, and the plethora of other nutrients which are found in bone broth. They're all important too. But gelatin seems to be the superstar, and the key element you want to be certain you're getting enough of.

Now, I'm aware that some may be thinking "OK then, I'll buy a packet of powdered gelatin from the store and consume that instead of bone broth". You may get some benefit from that, but you may also be following an unbalanced dietary strategy. Foods aren't meant to be eaten as individual nutrients, rather they are meant to be consumed whole. And besides that, the powdered gelatin you get from the store is likely derived from animal hides and subject to chemical baths and processing techniques which render it substantially different from the healthy gelatin you'll get from slow-cooked bone broth (I'll tell you more about that later on).

But what about store-bought broth, surely that's more convenient than making your own, right? Don't be fooled by the broth-in-a-box sold on the grocery store shelf, even the organic variety. Look at the ingredients and you will find that it is mostly salt-water with chicken flavor added to it. It is light on nutrition, and heavy on flavor supplementation. It is meant to be used as a flavor-enhancer in your cooking, not as a therapeutic food. Healthy bone broths require high-quality ingredients which are not usually cheap, and care must be taken to ensure gelatin levels are relatively high.

It has only been in the past hundred years that our diets have become gelatin-deficient. Modern folks consume much less gelatin than they used to primarily because they don't drink traditional broths and also because they insist on eating boneless meat --- even though cooking meat with the bone-in results in more gelatin and more flavor. Gelatin makes the meat taste better, and also imparts great nutritional benefits. Bone broth is very high in gelatin when properly made.

So, if gelatin is so great, why do some nutritionists downplay the importance of it? Perhaps because gelatin is considered an incomplete protein. It lacks certain of the so-called essential amino acids which are necessary for replacing/building tissue, such as cysteine (some) and tryptophan (none). But when you consider that animal-derived gelatin was never consumed without at least some meat (which contains tryptophan and cysteine) then its "incompleteness" may be irrelevant. And besides, health is not limited to tissue-building only. There are other considerations too, as we'll see.

Gelatin contains an array of amino acids but the most abundant (35%) is glycine, followed by alanine (11%), and proline/hydroxyproline (21%). Glycine in particular has been studied for its immuno-modulatory, cytoprotective and anti-inflammatory properties. It is particularly potent in its capacity to protect at the cellular level. Notice that these are aspects of health which are not necessarily involved in tissue building. Neither is longevity, intelligence, and absence of disease. So to describe gelatin as an "incomplete protein" is to focus on tissue generation which is just one component of health.

What is particularly striking about the absence of gelatin in modern diets is that gelatin makes up around half the protein found in an animal's tissues (in the form of collagen). So if you were to analyze a chicken, or pig, or cow, you would find that about half of all the protein in the animal is in the form of collagen (which, when cooked, is gelatin). If you believe that using the whole animal is important from a nutritional and moral perspective, why throw any of it away? All of it can be used in some way, to our benefit, including by making the collagen/gelatin into a bone broth. Yet instead, modern diets have become dramatically skewed toward increased quantities of muscle-meat. More muscle-tissue protein, less gelatin protein. This has led to unbalanced diets which are high in tryptophan and cysteine, and low in glycine. During the past century we've witnessed a spectacular increase in degenerative and inflammatory diseases --- the very conditions that glycine is now being used to treat.

Most of us who are interested in health research have heard that caloric restriction plays a role in longevity, but I was surprised to learn that restriction of either cysteine or tryptophan produces even greater increases in lifespan than restricting calories. Consuming more gelatin and correspondingly less muscle tissue is a simple way to restrict the amount of tryptophan and cysteine you are ingesting. Bones, and cuts of meat which contain high amounts of connective tissue (the cheaper cuts), are high in collagen/gelatin and comparatively lower in tryptophan and cysteine. Yes, meat that is high in connective tissue is tougher although more flavorful, yet the toughness is easily dealt with through slow-cooking which "melts" the collagen into gelatin --- which is how a crockpot turns a round-roast into a delightful ultra-tender dinner in just a few hours. Slow-cooking is a traditional way of preparing meat which is healthy and simple, plus it's a convenient way of making bone broth.

Some researchers believe glycine may have anti-angiogenic properties, according to an article by Ray Peat. He also points out that glycine promotes sleep, perhaps because it results in a lower core body temperature. Plus, it has been used (Peat says) in the treatment of diabetes for more than a century, and has also been used to treat a wide range of digestive ailments. It is a foundational component of the GAPS diet which is used to treat various disorders which may be linked to gut health. You can find more detailed information in the above linked article by Ray Peat, where he provides research and analysis. There is also an abundance of information on gelatin, glycine and bone broth from the Weston Price foundation and also from Dr. Mercola.

As you look to include more gelatin in your diet, remember that much of the gelatin sold in powdered form in the grocery stores or included in various processed foods is derived from animal hides which, despite being subject to sterilization and chemical "purification" may also contain various toxic materials because they're often sourced from unhealthy CAFO animals. A better solution is to simply make your own bone broth which will be rich in healthy gelatin, as I'll show you here.

And remember, always pay close attention to the source of the bones used in the broth. Any beef, chicken or pork bones which are from CAFO raised animals are potentially toxic. Livestock animals function as nutrient concentrators for us, turning their food into our food. Anything they eat, drink or breathe becomes concentrated in both their hard-tissues and soft-tissues. Conventionally-produced meat and bones are traps for heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, GMO residues, and chemical/biological contaminants. Therefore, short of actually raising the animals yourself, you really have to be certain as to the "purity" of what you are buying, which is why it's so important to insist on bones which are certified organic and also certified humane. And, in addition to those certifications, you should get to know the farmer if possible, in order to understand more about your food.

Plus, remember to insist on soy-free animals for your bone broth. You may be aware that soy residues are detectable in products derived from creatures which are fed soy. Soy is, in my view, an unnatural product for livestock due to the presence of trypsin inhibitors (trypsin is needed to breakdown proteins) and therefore the soy needs to be roasted. Obviously cows, chickens and pigs were not designed to roast their food prior to eating it, which is why I believe it goes against their design to feed them soy. Plus, many people are sensitive to soy even when present as a residue in an animal product. I could go on about soy here but won't.

All that being said, you will need to decide what species and parts you intend to use in your bone broth, and then choose a corresponding recipe you like. In my view you will get much more nutrient density from a ruminant than from a chicken. Yet chicken broth has its own distinct merits which are important, such as the very pleasant flavor and also the unmistakable immune benefits which chicken broth provides. Personally I really enjoy chicken broth, but it is not the only broth I drink. Ruminants such as cows and sheep are grass-concentrators and their tissues are going to reflect the incredible nutrition of living pastures. Pork, when raised outside and allowed to forage, is also excellent, particularly when they are given the ability to live on pasture.

Another thing to remember is this: the older the animal, the more nutrient-density in their tissues, assuming the animal is pristine. Even the slow-raised chickens which we produce are still only around 11 weeks old, unlike the 6 week old chickens sold in the stores. Compare this to a beef cow which is going to be at least a year old or perhaps between two and three years old (grass-only beef cows grow much more slowly than grain-fed cows). Or a pig, which on our farm is typically going to be anywhere between 6 months and 12 months old when it gets turned into food for us (our pigs are grown about twice as long as conventional pigs). Slow-grown generally means happier animals and healthier meat. It also can mean more nutrition, which is one of the things you're looking for in bone broth.

I believe it is important to consume bone broth from more than one species, in order to obtain the distinct nutritional benefits of each one. Beef, pork and chicken are the three most common but lamb, turkey, duck, and goose are excellent too.

Once you've decided on the species, remember that bones aren't the only thing to consider. Skin is high in collagen and other desirable nutrients. Although we don't sell beef skin, we do sell pork skin which is a good ingredient to add to your broth. And of course, chicken comes with the skin on too. But other organs can be added as well, not just for collagen/gelatin but also for their unique nutrients. Beef/chicken/pork heart is high in Coenzyme Q10, beef/pork tongue has an amazing fatty-acid profile, beef/chicken/pork liver is off-the-chart for several vital nutrients, and so on. We have plenty of certified organic organ meats to choose from. You can add anything you want, it's your bone broth.

As you assemble your ingredients, keep in mind the ratio of bones/meat/organs to final product will range between 1.5 pounds and 3 pounds, per liter of strained bone broth produced. In other words if you want to produce a liter of strained broth, you will need at least 1.5 pounds of bones/meat/organs, resulting in a ratio of 1.5-to-1. Or if you prefer a higher nutrient density, you can increase that to as much as 3-to-1. The higher the ratio, the more gelatin and nutrients will be in your broth. But in my experience, most recipes roughly hold to this ratio of 1.5-to-1 (1.5 lbs of bones:1 liter of strained broth), but there are some that go higher. I would not go lower however because I don't think you are likely to get enough gelatin.

First roast the bones for a little while - it improves flavor.
First roast the bones for a little while - it improves flavor.

Remember to first roast the bones for a little while in the oven --- it seems to improve the flavor. I believe this is particularly important with red-meat species like cows and pigs, not for nutrition but for flavor. Roasting isn't a requirement however, your bone broth will still be nutritious, but I believe an initial roasting in the oven for about an hour will help. Then put the bones (together with the fat drippings which will also contain gelatin and healthy red and yellow marrow) into a slow-cooker or a large pot on the stove and add enough water to just barely cover the tops. Some people add a small amount of vinegar to the water in order to assist the disintegration of the bones, although others believe this is unnecessary. I have no strong opinion on that and believe either is fine.

Try not to let the bone broth boil, rather it is just meant to simmer. The longer you cook it, the more gelatin and nutrients you will tend to get. A minimum of 6 hours, but a day or two is good. Red meat species like beef and pork need longer cooking time because the bones are much denser than poultry species. In my view, at least 24 hours or longer is good for beef and pork. Poultry on the other hand can be as short as 6 hours or even less, but probably not much longer than 24 hours. These are not rules, just opinion.

Next, keep in mind that if you want to add ingredients like onions or carrots or spices, you can do so right at the beginning. But as for salt or fresh herbs, wait until the bone broth is nearly finished before adding them. Also, remember to skim any scum off the top as the broth simmers. The scum isn't bad, it's just unpleasant to see in your broth and does nothing for the taste.

Let the bones simmer for 24 hours at least, although chicken bones can be less.
Let the bones simmer for 24 hours at least, although chicken bones can be less.

If your water level gets too low as you're cooking the bone broth, you can add more water. The point is, remember the above ratio I gave you. You should be shooting for 1 liter of finished strained broth for every 1.5 to 3 pounds of bones/meat/organs. If your final ratio is less or more than this, you've used too little or too much water.

When your bone broth is finished cooking, strain through a fine mesh and, if you like it less murky, use cheesecloth. You can save the leftover bones (and veggies if you've added any) for remouillage, if you like. Eventually however, you'll end up with bones and bone fragments which you can use by digging them deeply into your garden or burying them beneath a newly planted tree, the bone will provide nourishment for years and years.

Chill the bone broth immediately. You can do this by putting the bone broth into a pot and immersing it in ice. Or alternatively put it in the fridge. Some fat will rise to the top which you can skim off once it has hardened. Use the fat in your frypan to cook with, it's tasty and (I believe) nutritious. The chilled broth may quickly begin to congeal, like jello. If it doesn't congeal, there could be too little gelatin in your broth although there can be other causes too. Sometimes gelatin will not congeal due to total cooking time, or other factors. So even if your broth doesn't congeal, don't throw it out, it still is good, and very likely has more than enough gelatin in it. Use the broth within 3 days, or freeze.

Your delicious, healthy bone broth is now ready to serve.
Your delicious, healthy bone broth is now ready to serve.

Finally, you will need to warm up the bone broth prior to drinking it. Ideally you'll do this on the stove but I realize many will use a microwave. Some may want to add sea salt for more flavor. Some drink bone broth in the evening because they believe it promotes good sleep. I drink it anytime, including drinking it in the middle of the day as an alternative to lunch. By the way, as you drink it you will notice the texture may seem unusual because it is rather thick and smooth, unlike drinking regular soup. That's because of the gelatin in the bone broth.

I hope you've benefited from reading this article on bone broth! I believe that as you add bone broth to your diet you'll notice some remarkable changes, and will become a bone broth advocate, like so many of our friends and customers. You can choose from a variety of our certified organic, certified humane, soy-free products to make your own nutritious bone broth, or just order the bone broth already made in convenient, pourable pouches. Place your order for pre-made bone broth or bone broth ingredients here.