Bone broth is prepared by boiling the bones and connective tissues of various animals in water with the addition of herbs, spices and sometimes small amounts of vegetables.
Broth, including bone broth, is typically used either as a base for soups and stews or as a palate cleanser or beverage. Many kinds of broths are used for flavour, but proponents of bone broth suggest that it provides multiple, wide-ranging, and ever-growing health benefits such as aiding digestive issues, boosting the immune system, and much more. Bone broth is often recommended as part of the gut and psychology syndrome (GAPS) diet for various ailments such as autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and as part of the paleolithic or paleo diet. We have a wide range of best beef bone broth at Bone Broth.
Is Bone Broth Good for You?
The purported health benefits are ascribed to the contents of the broth that are leached from the boiled bones, including collagen, bone marrow, amino acids, and minerals. These components are extracted through long, slow cooking and sometimes by adding acids such as vinegar or wine, which can help loosen and dissolve tougher bits.
There is no evidence of an advantage to consuming these amino acids and minerals from the bone broth as opposed to other foods.
Bone broth does contain collagen and bone marrow, but the claim that consuming these will directly benefit human bones and joints is unfounded. When humans consume collagen, it will be broken down to individual amino acids, minerals, etc. These amino acids and minerals may then act like any amino acid or mineral consumed. Still, there is no evidence of an advantage to consuming amino acids and minerals from the bone broth as opposed to other foods.
The health benefits of bone broth (or soup) have been long perceived, but only a decade ago was the remedial effect of bone broth scientifically evaluated. For instance, the generally believed the curing effect of chicken soup against symptomatic upper respiratory tract infection had been found to follow from an increase in nasal mucus velocity or its mild anti-inflammatory effect. More recently, bone broth has been increasingly recommended as part of the diets for gut and psychology syndrome (GAPS) patients, such as those with autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Others regard bone broths as an important dietary source of essential elements, such as calcium, which is particularly favoured by those who are intolerant to or cannot access milk products. For example, in some Asian cultures, the consumption of soup made from soaking chicken or other bones in vinegar has been traditionally prescribed for calcium or iron enrichment, especially during pregnancy and postpartum periods. Although dietitians and the media have widely promoted bone broth as a calcium supplement, no or only weak scientific evidence concerning calcium levels therein and preparation methods has been provided.
Animal bones are known to contain trace amounts of toxic metals in addition to minerals. Calcium supplements that are made from the bone meal (finely crushed bone) have a lead level in the range of a few to 10 μg/g, and some even contain cadmium (~2 μg/g). Accordingly, simmered broths of animal bones may be reasonably assumed to contain toxic metals and therefore to cause dietary exposure. However, the presence of toxic metals in bone broth has rarely been studied.
This study investigates the extraction of metals, both essential and toxic, from animal bones into broth, to address some of the public concerns about whether bone broths are good sources of nutrient elements and the risks that are associated with the consumption of toxic metals in bone broth/soup.
Research About Bone Broth
Despite its popularity and the numerous medicinal claims, there is very little scientific research regarding bone broth. I searched the scientific literature and could only find a few studies that were relevant. The earliest study available is from 1934 and published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood. Elsie Widdowson conducted the research (British dietitian) and Professor Robert McCance (Northern Irish pediatrician) who together made numerous early, vital contributions to the field of nutrition science. This research analysed the nutritional composition of either bone broth or bone and vegetable broth. It was found that bone broth was a poor source of many nutrients. Yet, the addition of vegetables increased the content of several important nutrients, including potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron.
There is a tradition of eating chicken soup, often made using bones, when sick with an infection. Similar to bone broth, there is little research regarding chicken soup and infection. However, a 1978 study found that chicken soup was better than cold or hot water at moving nasal mucus. A subsequent small study conducted by researchers from Nebraska Medical Center and published in a leading medical journal in 2000 (Chest) found that “chicken soup may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity.” The researchers observed that people eating chicken soup seemed to experience a mild reduction in inflammation that helped reduce symptoms of respiratory infection. However, the actual chicken soup used in this study contained a large proportion of vegetables (onion, sweet potato, parsnip, turnip, carrot, celery, parsley).
In January 2016, TIME magazine ran an article titled: “Science Can’t Explain Why Everyone is Drinking Bone Broth.” This article included excerpts from interviews with respected scientists. William Percy, an associate professor at the University of South Dakota’s Sanford School of Medicine, states, “Since we don’t absorb collagen whole, the idea that is eating collagen somehow promotes bone growth is just wishful thinking. The idea that because bone broth or stock contains collagen, it somehow translates to collagen in the human body is nonsensical. Collagen is a pretty poor source of amino acids.” Further, Dr. Kantha Shelke, food scientist and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, and a principal with the food science and research firm Corvus Blue LLC says, “Eating a diet rich in leafy green vegetables is ideal. Plants offer richer sources in collagen building blocks and, in addition, provide nutrients not found in sufficient quantities in meats or broth.”
Four factors (cooking time, acidity, bone type and animal species) that may influence the extraction of metals from animal bones into broth are considered herein. Accordingly, three sets of control experiments were carried out following the procedure that is described below. Each test (simmering broth) lasted for 12 h, with broth samples were taken at 0.5, 2, 4, 8 and 12 h. Moreover, three animal bone broth-based foods were obtained from local stores to examine the metal levels in the broth and to evaluate associated health risks or benefits. The broths were analysed for essential (Ca, Mg, Fe, Zn, Cu and Cr) and toxic (Pb, Cd and Al) metals. Check out our Melbourne best beef bone broth here.
The animal bones in this evaluation were the rear leg (femur) and rib bones of domestic pigs (both white and black) and bovine leg (femur) bones, all of which were purchased from a local meat market. The white and black pigs were raised in Taiwan and typically fed on forage and food waste, respectively, while the bovine bone was imported from Australia, which was the most common source of local supplies.
The leg bones were cut longitudinally to expose bone marrow and increase the area of the contact surfaces. Bones were firstly rinsed in boiling water for two minutes, as is common practice in making bone broths in Taiwan, and then as much fat and meat residue as possible was removed. The treated bone was then weighed (295–345 g, mean of 303 g) and deionised water (1:4, by weight) was used to prepare the broth. The deionised water was first brought to the boil in a glass beaker before the bone was added. Once the water was boiling vigorously, it was reduced to a simmer (95–100°C), and a watch glass was used to cover the top of the beaker to maintain reflux until sampling.
At each sampling time, 0.5, 2, 4, 8 and 12 h, 130 g of the liquid sample was taken, and the beaker (including bone and broth) was weighed to estimate the loss of water. Then, deionised water (boiled) was added to recover the original weight, and simmering was continued until the subsequent sampling. After the pH level was measured and the fat removed, each broth sample was stored in an acid-washed glass vial at –25°C for further treatment.
Effect of acidity
A pair of leg bones from a single white pig carcass was tested to avoid inter-individual variability. In the experimental group (broth acidified), acidified water that was made by mixing 20 ml of table vinegar with 1 l of deionised (DI) water was utilised to simmer the broths. After each sampling, this acidic water was also used to make up the water that was lost due to cooking. This treatment yielded pH levels of 5–6 throughout. In contrast, in the control group, non-acidified DI water was used to prepare the broths, which had mean pH levels of 8–8.5 throughout the simmering period. The test was run in triplicate.
Effect of bone type
To test the potential effects of the bone type on the extraction of metals, bones (both leg and rib) were obtained from a single white pig carcass to control for inter-individual variation. For each test, the leg sample comprised one partial femur bone (longitudinally cut) while the rib sample comprised three bone pieces in order to have the comparable test weights. Acidified DI water was used in the preparation and to make up the water that was lost during cooking to increase the amounts of metal extraction to improve analytical sensitivity. The test was run in triplicate.
Effect of animal species/strain
To test between- and within-species variation in the extraction of metals, leg bones of white pigs (a hybrid of Landrace/Yorkshire/Duroc, ~6 months old), black pigs (a hybrid of Taoyuan/Duroc, ~8 months old) and bovines (Angus, ~24 months old) were obtained and tested, as described above. These were readily available from the meat market, but the genders of the test animals were unknown. Acidified DI water was used in preparing the broth and to make up for the lost water from the broths. The test was run in triplicate.
Is it really good for the planet?
The way we typically farm animals for meat is destroying the planet. Mass-produced meat means animals are fed nutrient-lacking food and are restricted from their natural environment. They’re often fed lots of antibiotics and traces of heavy metals are regularly detected in meats on our supermarket shelves. I do not support this method of farming and want to spread awareness that is not a sustainable practice, nor healthy for human consumption! If you make bone broth from these animals, you will be leaching all these toxins into the broth, rather than the valuable nutrients and amino acids you should be receiving. Also, if the animal is grain-fed and not grass-fed, it contains less Omega 3 fatty acids (the good one!) and more Omega 6, which is highly inflammatory when ingested. Looking for beef bone broth ? Look no further! Bone Broth has you covered.
What’s the solution?
Unfortunately, I do not have a perfect solution to the meat consumption problem! But if you do wish to eat meat for health purposes, then bone broth is a better way to eat less and gain more healing benefits. So ask your local butchers and farmers for grass-fed and free-range beef. In particular, I feel that consuming animal bones that would otherwise be fed to dogs or thrown out is a way of reducing food waste and helping your gut. But please, don’t just buy any old bones from the supermarket and make broth just because someone said it’s good for your gut. And don’t bother with pre-made mass-produced broth from the supermarket, since many of the health benefits in home-made broth are missing from these products. Remember to be aware of where your food has been living and growing before it ends up on your plate and in your gut. The same goes for vegetables, but that is a whole other blog post!
Is Bone Broth Harmful?
We can see there is a lack of research regarding bone broth, and the available research is not groundbreaking. However, bone broth may have some potentially dangerous contents. Bones are known to store heavy metals, particularly lead. When bone broth is prepared, lead may be released. In 2013, UK scientists conducted a small study looking at the lead content of bone broth made from chicken bones. The broth contained over ten times more lead than the water alone. Interestingly, the chicken bones in this study were derived from organic animals, and the skin and cartilage contributed the highest amount of lead. Similar to the 1934 study, a 2017 study published in the journal Food and Nutrition Research reported that bone broth was a poor source of calcium and magnesium. In contrast to the 2013 study, this more recent study also reported that the lead and cadmium content of bone broth was low. However, the nutritional content and the health effect of bone broth would logically be majorly influenced by both the core ingredients as well as the preparation. Therefore, broad claims about all bone broth are likely to be misleading. Bone Broth has a wide range of best beef bone broth in Melbourne
In short, the best we can say from the limited research available is that traditional bone broth appears to be a poor source of nutrients and may contain harmful components. A more healthful alternative appears to be made with the addition of vegetables and the subtraction of the bone…in other words: vegetable soup!
Beyond these suggestions, downsides you might hear include the taste and convenience. Oftentimes, when people tell me they just can’t stomach bone broth, I’m sceptical of what they’ve tried in the past. Recipe makes a big difference (as with any food). Let’s just say I’ve been able to change quite a few people’s minds with the good stuff. That said, others never quite get over the aversion. It’s just to their thing.
Likewise, it is a time commitment to make your own. It’s not hard. I dare say a basic bone broth is one of the simplest things you can cook. You just need time, which I know isn’t always practical. Carrying it around isn’t always easiest, either. But the benefits of collagen are frankly too good for your health to pass up.