Trend Alert: What's the Deal With Bone Broth?

Everybody's raving about "bone broth" as the new miracle health elixir. What's actually in bone broth and what can it do for you? Nutrition Diva investigates the science behind the fad.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
5-minute read
Episode #316

Move over, green smoothie. Bone broth is the hot new trend in health drinks, thanks to a recent spate of breathless articles in popular health and fitness blogs and magazines. There's even a trendy new restaurant in Manhattan's East Village, specializing in bone broths.

To be fair, Paleo dieters and Weston Price devotees have been extolling the virtues of bone broth for quite a while, but now everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon.

And why wouldn't you? Drinking bone broth is reputed to enhance energy, make your skin more youthful, heal a leaky gut, strengthen your bones and joints, enhance your sleep, and boost your immune system

So, what's in this miracle health elixir to explain all these amazing benefits?

In reality, it's mostly water, plus some protein, fat, a few minerals, and a couple of non-essential amino acids. In fact, bone broth is nothing more or less than what cooks refer to as "stock," a broth made by boiling animal bones (and other parts) in water. If you made soup out of the bones of your Thanksgiving turkey this year, you ate bone broth! Now don't you feel trendy?>

What's in Bone Broth?

When you boil bones in water, the nutrients in the bones and their marrow become dispersed in the water. Bones often have bits of meat, skin, and connective tissue attached to them, and the fat, proteins, and minerals in these tissues also dissolve into the water. Most of the benefits ascribed to bone broth are based on the purported effects of these nutrients. 

Many claim, for example, that bone broth strengthens your bones because it is so rich in minerals. But according to the National Nutrient Database, the amounts of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus in bone broth are pretty modest—far less, for example, than in a glass of milk. Although the amounts will vary from batch to batch, a typical cup of beef stock (or bone broth) has about as much calcium as a half cup of broccoli.

Does Bone Broth Strengthen Your Joints and Skin? 

Bone broth does contain relatively large amounts of collagen, a specialized protein that is found in skin and connective tissue. The idea is that collagen—which is also known as gelatinwill strengthen and rebuild the cartilage in our joints and plump up our sagging skin. However, the science to support this is fairly weak. Collagen is a large protein and it gets broken down into much smaller peptides by the digestive system before being absorbed. As far as your body is concerned, collagen is probably no better or worse for your joints or skin than any other type of protein. 

Nonetheless, if it's collagen you're after, you want to make your bone broth with raw bones and not roasted bones, as is sometimes suggested. Although roasting the bones before you boil them may improve the flavor of your broth, it also denatures much of the collagen, so you'll end up with far less of it in your stock. 

You can actually see this with the naked eye, by the way. Stock made from raw bones is much more viscous than stock made from roasted bones. I've made stock from raw bones that contained so much collagen that it actually resembled jelly when it cooled! Sadly, however, it did not make a noticeable difference in the plumpness of my skin or my runner's knee pain. Then again, I didn't expect it to...and that often makes all the difference!


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.