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Bone Broth: What You Need To Know About The Latest Health Trend

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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
There’s a hot new drink in town and it has nothing to do with Mezcal or smoked Himalayan sea salt. If you know anyone who fancies herself a paleo, primal, and/or ancestral eater, perhaps you’ve heard that person mention rave about the magical elixir that is bone broth. Devotees claim this brew — made by boiling bones for the amount of time it would take to drive from Yonkers to Vegas — helps with everything from joint pain to serious medical conditions, including autoimmune disorders and even cancer. But, is bone broth really the panacea it’s made out to be? Let’s dig in.
What is bone broth, anyway?
“Bone broth is made by boiling animal bones — poultry, beef, and fish are all good options — for a minimum of four hours, although some people will go as long as 48,” says Ariane Resnick, personal chef and certified nutritionist. This can be done either in a pot or a slow cooker, if you can’t man the stove for hours on end. The goal is to boil the bones long enough so that they begin to disintegrate and release their structural components — primarily calcium phosphate and collagen. Bone broth is not the same thing as regular broth, which is typically made by boiling meat, some bones, and vegetables and spices for roughly an hour or two, says Resnick. Although there is nutritional value in regular broth, there’s not enough bone or time involved to extract the same amount of concentrated nutrients that come in a bone broth.
Who dreamed up this concept?
“There is evidence of bones being broken into bits by fire pits throughout the world in prehistoric times,” says Cate Shanahan, MD, author of Food Rules: A Doctor’s Guide to Healthy Eating and Nutrition Director for the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, it appears that everything old is new again.
Why is it so good for you?
According to the experts, good bone broth is like drinking liquid bone. Why on earth would you want to do that? Many, including Resnick and Dr. Shanahan, say drinking bone broth delivers a range of benefits, from stronger bones and joints to shinier hair and even improved immune function.
Bone broth for joint pain
If you’re over the age of 25 and played any kind of sport growing up, glucosamine — the supplement that’s supposed to help with joint pain — might be on your radar. But, this is just one of the glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) in bone broth. You also get chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, and multiple other GAGs that have been shown to stimulate cells to create new collagen in your joints, tendons, and ligaments, potentially providing some relief for those aching knees.
Bone broth for allergies and autoimmune conditions
Both food allergies and autoimmune conditions have been linked to intestinal permeability, or when microscopic holes in the lining of your gastrointestinal tract allow undigested food particles to pass directly into your bloodstream. But, the gut is constructed almost entirely of cartilage and collagens, says Dr. Shanahan, so the cells that are stimulated by the components in bone broth can also help restore the intestinal barrier. For this reason, bone broth has become a cornerstone of what is known as the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet — a real-food diet that has been anecdotally shown to help treat a wide range of autoimmune conditions.
Bone broth for inflammation
According to Resnick, bone broth made from grass-fed beef bones also contains omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which have been linked to reducing inflammation in the body and could be helpful for people suffering with an inflammatory condition.
Where’s the proof?
In the past 50 years, almost no clinical research has been done on bone broth, but for Resnick and Dr. Shanahan, personal experience is certainly promising. Dr. Shanahan credits bone broth, along with other elements of her nutrition program, with helping the Lakers deal with chronic joint problems.
How much do I need to drink?
Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. Dr. Shanahan recommends working up to one cup three to four days per week, minimum, before you start seeing results. She also notes that it won’t work as effectively in the context of a high-sugar or pro-inflammatory diet; she specifically calls out highly processed ingredients such as vegetable oils, which are in almost all commercially prepared foods and are known to be inflammatory.
What about bone marrow?
Bone marrow is a rich source of monounsaturated fats and, like bone broth, also contains anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and CLA. But, according to Dr. Shanahan, the collagen and glycosaminoglycan molecules we’re after in bone broth come primarily from cartilage and joint tissue. Resnick recommends buying a combination of marrow bones (look for bones with a solid, white center) and regular bones.
How do you make it?
Although most broth-loving blogs say brewing this stuff is easier than Easy Mac, in reality it will take a bit of time and dedication. First, Resnick maintains that you absolutely must get good-quality bones, i.e. bones from animals that were raised in a pasture and allowed to graze on green grass. She likes beef bones the best for their omega-3 and CLA content. Dr. Shanahan says to look for bones that contain the shiny, white stuff (cartilage) at the ends and lots of connective tissue — skin is a bonus. These could be tricky to find, but Resnick recommends checking your local Whole Foods, farmers’ market, and, if all else fails, Google. You can also buy whole chickens — instead of the skinless, boneless breasts — and save the bones, says Dr. Shanahan.
You’ll need enough bones to fill up a pot or slow cooker about one third of the way. Then, add just enough water to cover them, plus a pinch of sea salt. Bring your broth to a boil, then turn it down to simmer and leave it for at least four hours — but 24 is ideal, explains Resnick.
Once you’re done brewing, strain your broth through a fine-mesh strainer and stick it in the fridge overnight. Depending on how long you boiled, the broth may turn to gel; that’s the collagen solidifying. But, don’t worry if it doesn’t. There will be a layer of fat on top, too, notes Resnick. This fat is not only great to cook with (it’s saturated and highly heat-stable); it’s also chock-full of nutrients. You can scrape it off and save it, or leave it with the broth. The broth can be refrigerated for a week, so Resnick recommends keeping some on hand and freezing the rest, which will last for up to six months. If you’re feeling really hardcore, you can warm the broth up and drink it straight. But, if you want to ease into it, Resnick and Dr. Shanahan recommend starting by using it as a cooking liquid with any recipe that calls for broth or stock.
Can’t I just buy it?
What would a food trend be without a trendy venue to serve it? New Yorkers can now get their bone broth to-go from a window between 12th and 13th streets. Or, if you’re not on the island, you can order it straight to your door from one of the many online broth shops. If you find it in your local health food store, just make sure to ask how long it's been boiled, says Resnick. Remember: Timing is everything. You want your broth to be brewed for at least four hours — really, the longer, the better.
But, how does it taste?
That depends. There are hundreds of recipes available that include extra salt, spices, and vegetables that make the broth taste more like a soup. If you brew with just bones and salt, it will have a bland, slightly meaty flavor. It’s no root beer float — but just think of all those nutrients!
So, are you rummaging through your cabinets to find the lid for your slow-cooker yet? We admit, the idea of a cure-all seems pretty impossible, especially living in an age where there’s a prescription for everything that ails us. But, if the past is any precedent, our ancestors seemed to be slightly better off in the health department (outside of being mauled by the occasional wild animal) so why not go primal and give it a shot?
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