Almost everyone is familiar with broth, but most consider it to be just an ingredient in soups or stews that takes a backseat to the other foods and flavors contained therein. On the contrary, broth can actually be a star player in a nutrient-rich diet, and bone broth is a superfood in its own right.
A lot can be said for the healing power of a nutrient dense diet, and bone broth is at the heart of a leaky gut healing and disease-reversing diet. In this ultimate guide, we cover absolutely everything you need to know about bone broth.
As part of the guide, we’ve gathered real-life examples, knowledge, and suggestions from 25 experts in the fields of nutrition, wellness, and holistic living. We asked our experts these questions:
“How does bone broth benefit autoimmune disease? How do you personally use it, and/or how do you recommend its use to your patients, clients, or readers?”
These doctors, nutritionists, authors, and food bloggers have seen the firsthand benefits of bone broth in themselves and their patients, clients, and readers, and they want you to understand how its practical application can make a huge difference in your quest for wellness and digestive health.
This is a pretty epic post so use the table of contents below. We start with some common questions and then move to our experts’ thoughts:
Amy Myers, MD | Sara Gottfried, MD | David Borenstein, MD | Jolene Brighten, MD | Aimee McNew, MNT | Craig Fear, NTP| Jennifer Robins | Alaena Haber, MS, OTR | Sally Johnson, RDN, LD | Noelle Tarr, NTP | Jessica Flanigan | Jen Wittman | Sara Peternell, MNT | Kinsey Jackson, MS, CNS | Laura Bruner, CNC | Amy White, MS, NC | Diana Walley, MNT | Sheila Gannon | Kate at Healing Family Eats | Aglaée Jacob | Amanda Goodwin | Joey Anderson, NTP, CGP | Jo Romero | Chef Frank Giglio | Abel James
What Is Bone Broth?
Bone broth has become increasingly popular in recent years because of its wide range of uses and nutrient content. So, what exactly makes bone broth different from other broths or stocks? As the name suggests, bone broth is made from boiling bones in water until the nutrients are extracted.
Stocks are made by using water, the stock base, and an acidic agent to help extract nutrients, such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Other types of broths or stocks can be made from bases of vegetables, meats, or seafood, or any combination of the three. Bone broth stands apart from other stocks because it is specifically made from marrow-rich bones, knuckles, and joints, which contain an impressive supply of nutrients that can be extracted during the simmering process.
Many people may struggle to view bones as a prized broth base, since it has become less common to “use the whole animal” in a culture where products are purchased individually from markets and grocery stores. Instead of butchering an entire cow and receiving offal and bones to make use of, we instead purchase ground beef, steaks, and roasts separately. Fortunately, instead of viewing bones as leftovers to throw away after the meat has been eaten, people are beginning to recognize them as the food source that they are.
A typical chicken, beef, or vegetable soup stock is made by simmering ingredients to slowly extract nutrients. Bone broths, because they’re extracting nutrients from a substance much more dense than meat or vegetables, requires an extended amount of cooking so that the collagen, marrow, amino acids, vitamins and minerals can be fully immersed in the broth. Once the bone broth has simmered, usually for 24 hours or longer, the broth can be cooled and strained. Once bone broth has been made, it can be kept in the refrigerator for 4-6 days, or it can be frozen for up to 6 months.
Health Benefits of Bone Broth
Bone broth is a food that provides high amounts of multiple nutrients, and is often used in therapeutic or healing food plans – in other words, it’s a superfood.
Bone broth is rich in numerous nutrients that aren’t easily found elsewhere. For people who prefer to avoid supplements or powders, bone broth can be an excellent supplemental food.
- Protein: Bones are nearly 50 percent protein, and our Kettle and Fire shelf-stable beef bone broth contains 6 grams of protein per cup, which is comparable to the amount of protein in a large egg, a chicken wing, two slices of bacon, or a quarter cup of sunflower seeds.
- Collagen: Collagen, when simmered, produces gelatin. Gelatin is what makes bone broth have a jelly-like consistency when it is cooled and refrigerated – this characteristic of bone broth is actually part of what makes it a superfood. Collagen is probably most reputed to be a nutrient great for people who are suffering from arthritis or other joint or tendon issues. However, collagen also nourishes the skeletal system as well as skin and hair. It can help to promote youthful skin, increase skin’s elasticity, and strengthen hair and nails. Beyond that, collagen promotes a healthy stomach lining and balanced amounts of gastric acid, leading to improved digestion.
- Glycine: One of the nutrients that comes from gelatin is glycine, a nonessential amino acid that is not found in many other food sources. Glycine can help secrete stomach acid which in turn helps to reduce incidence of acid reflux and indigestion. It also plays a role in helping to break down fats during the digestive process, which is important for overall intestinal, pancreatic, and gallbladder health. Another benefit is that when fats are digesting as they should, cholesterol levels will also be supported.
- Glucosamine: A nutrient that has been frequently used to reduce joint pain, glucosamine is found in bones and thus, bone broth is a rich source of this popular aches-and-pains remedy.
- Glutamine: Another amino acid that comes from bone nutrients, glutamine helps to repair and maintain the walls of the intestines, specifically, the small intestine. As such, it is an important component of reversing leaky gut, or preventing it in the first place.
To recap, bone broth is more than the individual nutrients it contains, and this is why whole foods are more effective than taking single, standalone supplements. Because of its multifaceted nutrient approach, bone broth’s health benefits are broad, some of which include:
- Detoxification: The glycine found in bone broth supports the liver in one of its primary duties, which is to collect, compound, and orchestrate removal from the body. Glycine also helps the body to reduce oxidative stress by producing antioxidants. Since oxidative stress produces inflammation, it is essential that any process of elimination or detoxification include liver and antioxidant support.
- Digestion: The collagen found in bone broth helps to improve and maintain healthy digestion by ensuring that the stomach lining is healthy, glycine promotes proper stomach acid production, and glutamine helps to repair and prevent leaky gut syndrome, ensuring that the digested nutrients are getting where they need to go.
- Joints and cartilage: Glucosamine is one of the most popular supplements on the market for those who suffer from joint pain, as well as for athletes whose bodies experience a greater-than-normal wear and tear. Bone broth is a rich source of glucosamine, and collagen is also a potent nutrient for joint pain and arthritis.
- Bones and teeth: Human bones are comprised of the same sorts of nutrients that animal bones are. A common misconception about bones is that they are made once and then they just grow old with you. The fact is that bones are constantly being broken down and remade, and it’s the nutrients that we provide through dietary sources that can literally make or break bone strength. Collagen is essential for strong bones, and so drinking bone broth can help our own bones be as strong as possible.
- Skin and hair — In the same way that bones are comprised of proteins, so is skin and hair. Skin loses elasticity and hair becomes brittle when nutrient deficient, and one of the single best ways to restore luster to skin and hair is to consume collagen.
Who Uses Bone Broth?
Bone broth is an ancient superfood, but in modern times there seem to be a few key dietary mindsets that have embraced it for its nutritional goodness. Each of these diets or nutritional approaches focuses on digestive wellness and gut health, all from a slightly different approach. While specifics of each diet may differ, they all have in common that they value whole foods, and that includes the treasure trove of nutrients that bones possess.
- The Paleo Diet
- The Primal Diet or Ancestral Diet
- The Weston A. Price Approach
- The GAPS Diet
- The Ketogenic Diet
Beyond specific dietary plans, people may choose to consume bone broth to help address specific physical conditions or diseases.
- Leaky gut syndrome: Leaky gut happens when the tight junctions of the small intestine are damaged and begin allowing undigested food particles or other toxins or chemicals to pass through into the bloodstream. This can promote autoimmune reactions and other disorders, leading to a number of health issues and overall decline in wellness and quality of life.
- Celiac disease and autoimmunity: Celiac disease is a genetically triggered autoimmune condition where the presence of a protein, the infamous gluten, can signal the immune system to break down the walls of the small intestine, leading to leaky gut and improper absorption of nutrients. As mentioned above, bone broth helps to reverse leaky gut, which can be beneficial for anyone suffering from celiac disease or any other form of autoimmune disease.
- Fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding: Bone broth is a nutrient-dense food that is steeped in ancient traditions. There is never a time more requiring of impeccable nutrient intake than when someone is trying to conceive, is pregnant, or is breastfeeding an infant. Bone broth is beneficial for all three of these nutritionally demanding times because of its positive effects on gut health. The more nourished a woman’s gut is, and the better she is able to digest her food and absorb nutrients, the greater will her overall wellness be. This will naturally improve fertility, prenatal health of both mother and baby, and postpartum wellness. The healthier a mom’s gut is, the better chance she has at producing high quality breast milk, which in turn, passes on more nutrients to the infant.
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune form of hypothyroidism that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid. Bone broth does wonders for the aches and pains that come along with Hashimoto’s. This is due to the gelatin and collagen contained in bone broth that aids in restoration for joint and muscle restoration.
How to Use Bone Broth
While you can certainly drink bone broth by itself, some people struggle to enjoy it in that form. If you’re not keen on sipping your bone broth from a mug (although frankly, it’s a very soothing and enjoyable ritual after you’ve acquired the taste), you can also use bone broth in the following ways:
- To make soup or stew
- To make gravy or sauce
- To thin baby foods or purees
- To cook starchy foods in, such as potatoes, other root vegetables, rice, or quinoa
How 24 Food and Health Experts Use Bone Broth
As I always say, the gut is the gateway to health. In my new book The Thyroid Connection, I explain that the gelatin in bone broth protects and heals the mucosal lining of the digestive tract which aids in the absorption of nutrients.
Most patients with thyroid or autoimmune diseases are nutrient-deficient, so by drinking bone broth they will gradually reverse nutrient deficiencies. Bone broth is also a rich source of amino acids, including tyrosine, which is one of the two building blocks of thyroid hormone. Because of the gelatin content for healing the gut lining, and the nutrient profile, I recommend bone broth to all of my patients.
I prescribe bone broth to heal leaky gut, which is the underlying cause of every autoimmune disease. Leaky gut overstimulates the immune system, leading to systemic inflammation, and ultimately, autoimmune conditions. Bone broth can be used as part of a comprehensive protocol that includes removing trigger foods and environmental toxins, reversing inflammation, repairing, healing, and sealing your leaky gut, and maintaining healthy gut flora to help correct autoimmune diseases.
As a doctor practicing functional medicine, I don’t just treat symptoms. I think it’s better to go upstream and manage the control system by addressing the root cause. Specifically, bone broth benefits autoimmunity because it contains gelatin, which heals the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. For my tribe, making bone broth is the most convenient way to get gelatin into the food plan.
Consuming bone broth is one of the best ways to replenish collagen and minerals in your body so that your hair regains luster; your nails, joints, and teeth strengthen; and your gut seals over the leaky junctions between cells. Sip broth like tea. Enjoy a cup while you meditate in the morning, between meals, or in the evening as an alternative to a glass of wine.
I love bone broth for many different reasons. Bone broth is an excellent treatment for leaky gut, along with a gluten free diet. Bone broth also improves sleep and adrenal health, which directly influence thyroid health. More and more patients are asking me about bone broth, including those who have MS, Crohn’s disease, and all forms of autoimmunity. It’s a great tool for improving gut health.
Bone broth can be a therapeutic food for gut healing because of the many minerals, vitamins, and easily assimilated amino acids that are leached from the vegetables, herbs, and the bones of healthy, pastured animals. Leaky gut and systemic inflammation are closely associated with autoimmune conditions across the board. And it’s well known that protein deficiency suppresses the immune response and increases susceptibility to infection. So, there are a couple of reasons your natural or functional health practitioner might recommend a high quality bone broth.
High levels of dietary glycine may help with modulating the immune system and reducing inflammation, which helps you to heal from infection and/or disease. Amino acids in bone broth are very easily assimilated by the body, making them perfect for those who may be on a journey of healing their gut. Drinking bone broth counts toward your daily liquid consumption and helps you stay hydrated, which is essential for kidney health and helps keep digestion regular.
Bone broth nourishes the body at the cellular level. It’s rich in nutrients like glycine and glucosamine that fortify the lining of the stomach, improve production of digestive juices, and repair the barrier function of the small intestine, helping to reverse and prevent leaky gut. Bone broth was the superfood of our grandparents’ generation, which they learned from the generation before them, and so on. Our modern world has lost touch with old-fashioned nutritional wisdom because we are too focused on quick, convenient, and sweet-tasting foods.
Bone broth may be an acquired taste, but it’s the taste of pure nourishment. Unlike refined carbohydrates, which may satisfy sugar cravings temporarily but leave us craving more, bone broth answers the call of our cells to be energized, nourished, and healed. I have personally used bone broth to reverse my leaky gut, to support my body during pregnancy and postpartum, and to boost my immune system when fighting viral infections. It’s a food that is versatile and relevant for every stage of life and wellness.
Because 70% of our immune system is located in our gut, many autoimmune issues are rooted in a compromised gut wall whereby various pro-inflammatory foods (gluten, casein, etc) can damage the gut lining, thereby setting up immune reactions. Bone broth is rich in amino acids such as proline and glycine as well as many minerals which help restore that gut lining and quell inflammation.
Furthermore, bone broth can be used in countless soup and stew recipes which are highly nourishing and easily digestible. It fits beautifully with many nutritional protocols that require strict avoidance of foods like simple sugars, grains and processed foods.
As many of us are familiar, bone broth (and collagen supplementation), can help facilitate the healing of a leaky gut. In a leaky gut, food particles and other substances can sneak outside the digestive tract, encouraging potential autoimmune activity to erupt.
As a Hashimoto’s patient, I take collagen peptides daily and put them straight into my morning coffee. I also try to make bone broth ahead of time and freeze it so when there is illness in the house I can have gut-healing goodness ready to go.
Autoimmunity and gut health are mutually inclusive health concerns. Bone broth is a time-tested home remedy for both acute and chronic gut distress. Considering one of the main keys to a balanced immune system is gut health, bone broth is the perfect ‘supplement’ for anyone looking to manage the symptoms and inflammation caused by Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune diseases. I recommend including it in your diet at least 5 meals a week. My favorite way to do this is through homemade soups, especially a bowl of my anti-inflammatory, omega-3 rich Triple Seafood Chowder!
Bone broth, an ancient elixir, has passed the test of time and proves true to tale that soup-is-medicine. We know today that slow simmered and cooked for up to a day or longer, broth made from bones from any animal is full of collagen and gelatin, supportive nutrients, minerals and amino acids including glycine that are central to digestive health, proper immune functioning, and wound healing.
For those with thyroid disease or any active autoimmunity, consuming bone broth can help heal leaky tight junctions of the small intestine and assist anti-inflammatory processes to relieve symptoms. As a part of your regular diet, sip bone broth from a cup or use it in soups, stews, or any other recipe that calls for liquid.
Bone broth has a long and rich history of medicinal and culinary uses. In addition to being a staple in many professional kitchens, homemade bone broth (or stock) made from animal bones was used by many cultures around the world to support digestive health, immune function, and of course—to create traditional stews and soups. Traditional practices like eating organ meats and making bone broth allowed our ancestors to make use of all of the parts of the animals they hunted, which provided deeper nutrition, and showed respect for the animal giving its life to sustain others.
Bones are made up of minerals and amino acids, including calcium, magnesium, collagen, chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine. Simmering bones in water for an extended period of time slowly breaks down the bone to release all of the glorious nutrients it contains. The end result? A liquid “gold” that’s incredibly nutrient-dense, and packed full of culinary potential. Many of the nutrients found in homemade bone broth are super for reducing joint pain and inflammation, boosting the immune system, and supporting digestive and detoxification function.
Bone broth can help heal the intestinal mucosa which is usually implicated in autoimmune disease. It also tends to have trace minerals. I recommend 1/2 cup per day during a gut healing protocol/phase, and I personally use it when I am sick or if my gut is feeling tender from being ill or under the weather.
Poor gut health is intricately connected to low thyroid function and additionally, can trigger autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s disease and others. One of the most powerful ways to repair the gut is by having a daily dose of delicious bone broth.
What makes bone broth so therapeutic are substances like glutamine, collagen, glycine and proline which restore the gut in a variety of ways. It’s really important to note that an inflamed and leaky gut contributes to just about every disease out there. Without healing the gut, you cannot truly heal the thyroid or reverse autoimmune conditions. This is why, bone broth from grass-fed beef is a staple in my diet and that of my clients.
Bone broth, home-prepared from the large bones of a pasture raised animal, is one of the most nourishing foods I can think of. I encourage my clients to make this easy recipe, and drink it regularly. For the majority of my clients who have autoimmune disease, especially Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, bone broth is an essential food for healing the digestive system, and hitting the reset button on the immune system. Bone broth is a rich source of minerals, and amino acids like glutamine.
These nutrients are necessary as a foundation for one’s health. Often our food plans lack the necessary minerals to keep our endocrine system, immune system, and digestive system running beautifully. Glutamine is the essential amino acid for repairing the epithelial tissue of the small bowel. You don’t have to just drink the broth, I encourage you to try mixing it into soups and stews, cooking rice with it, cooking your vegetables in it, and using it in baking as well.
As a clinical nutritionist, I’ve witnessed hundreds of folks reverse autoimmunity by healing their gut lining, and a major ingredient in this equation is (you guessed it!) gut-restorative bone broth. It’s no wonder that a leaky gut precedes most (if not all) autoimmune disorders, considering the gut wall is only one cell layer thick and up to 80% of our immune system is located in and around it! Autoimmune disease is characterized by an overactive immune system and it’s not hard to imagine how the immune system goes haywire when foreign particles from our intestines sneak past the gut wall into our bloodstream. The body expends a lot of energy replacing the intestinal lining every few days and the amino acids, fats and trace minerals found in bone broth are essential components of this process.
Bone broth is an incredibly healing traditional food that, until recently, had seemingly been forgotten in the average diet. With its revival in fridges in stores and homes comes incredible healing for those suffering from autoimmune and/or thyroid diseases, as well as preventative and reparative benefits for those without. Bone broth provides the minerals, including calcium, magnesium, glucosamine and a host of others, for the body and digestive system to heal. The glycine in bone broth reduces inflammation and regulates acid in the gut. The amino acids in bone broth are easily utilized by the body making healing and nutrient absorption easier. The nourishing fats aid in repairing the cells of the body, providing essential vitamins that are just not found in a standard American diet.
I recommend that my clients and readers use bone broth in a myriad of recipes in order to get it into their diets on a daily basis (or as often as possible) – from chilis, soups, and stews to slow cooked meats and even the liquid when cooking rice. And because I always like to practice what I preach I do the same at home for my family. There are lots of gimmicky “superfoods” on the market, but there are few foods as super as bone broth.
The bulk of the human immune system lives in the gut. When the gut isn’t healthy, the immune system isn’t healthy. An unhealthy immune system increases the risk of developing illness, including chronic illness such as autoimmunity.
The amino acids found in collagen, a key component of bone broth, have been shown to repair and support the lining of the gut, facilitate digestive function and promote overall digestive health. I always encourage my clients to include bone broth in their diet daily and have had the pleasure of seeing health and vitality return as a result. Enjoying bone broth made with organic, toxin-free ingredients is an easy and delicious way to keep the gut healthy and the immune system strong.
Digestive health needs to be the first line of therapy in addressing autoimmune conditions. The gut is the seat of the immune system therefore a damaged gut can be a trigger for autoimmunity. Bone broth is an essential component of digestive repair. It contains valuable nutrients to heal the lining of the digestive tract and to boost immunity.
We know there is a link between autoimmune conditions, and a leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability. Bone broth not only provides nutrients such as minerals and amino acids, that are often depleted with a leaky gut, but it also helps to repair a leaky gut. As intestinal permeability is reduced, inflammation decreases, autoimmune conditions not only improve but can also go into remission. Additional benefits from repairing a leaky gut include: improved mental clarity, increased energy, reduced joint aches or pains, and decreased inflammation. Bone broth can be used as a stock for soups or stews, when cooking grains, or consumed in a mug as a nourishing drink.
Bone broth is the perfect natural supplement for thyroid disease and autoimmunity as a whole because it contains many easily absorbable nutrients that nourish and support the immune system, rather than fighting it. It also contains collagen which reduces inflammation of the intestine and therefore allows the gut lining to heal.
I always have a fresh batch on hand and make sure to drink at least a couple of warm cupfuls during the day, particularly with meals, to aid digestion. Occasionally I will stir in a tablespoon of MCT oil for a brain boost. I love to include it in soups and stews for extra goodness and post several of these recipes on the blog so my readers can include this wonder drink in their own diet.
I first started using bone broth in 2010 when I was at my sickest dealing with chronic and daily digestive issues on top of fatigue, regular headaches, skin issues and insomnia. I was a bit intimidated at first and definitely stepped out of my comfort zone to gather quality bones (being a former vegetarian) but the process was a lot easier than I thought.
Most importantly, I found myself really enjoying my daily 2-3 cups of homemade bone broth and quickly started feeling so much better as a result. Today, I don’t use bone broth as often but still try to include it as part of my weekly superfoods. I like drinking it first thing in the morning (as so does my 2-yo).
Genetics. Intestinal Permeability. Exposure to trigger(s). Autoimmunity (Hashimoto’s, Crohn’s, MS, Lupus, etc.). All of these need to be in place for an autoimmune disease to occur. Therefore, if you have an autoimmune disease, you need to address your digestion and remove the trigger(s) to avoid other autoimmune diseases!
My coaching program includes a recommendation to use mineral filled bone broth to mend the intestinal lining. Bone broth may also help your hair, skin, nails, cellulite and strengthen the immune system to prevent colds and the flu. Bone broth may not be suitable for everyone, as food sensitivities are an issue with some individuals.
I recommend bone broth to most of my clients as foundational for any healing protocol. Besides the well documented gut healing benefits, I find it can be profoundly useful as an anti-anxiety aid and to help de-stress. Anyone dealing with autoimmune issues needs to find ways to keep stress and anxiety in check. I love that something as simple, traditional and delicious as bone broth should be part of everyone’s healing tool kit.
One of the things I did once I started a Paleo-based diet was to add bone broth into my diet. If I make a rich, meaty beef broth I add lots of aromatics and herbs like thyme, onions, garlic and ginger for a nourishing and tasty drink and cook it slowly in the slow cooker for a couple of days. I like to skim most of the fat off once it’s cooled to make it easier to reheat and drink. Otherwise, I tend to use chicken broth blended up into vegetable soups. Feels nourishing, healthy and tastes great, too.
I have been cooking with stocks and broths since I was in my teens but really began using it for its medicinal properties around 2009. It was then that I began transitioning out of a raw vegan diet and looking to heal my gut and teeth from years of a depleting diet. Today I use broths and stocks for soups, stews, and sauces. They are an integral part of my cuisine which imparts both flavor and medicine. I like to add seaweeds and medicinal mushrooms to the liquids for added minerals and flavor.
Slow-simmered bone broth is a nutrient-dense powerhouse. And when The Wild Diet won weigh-in after weigh-in on ABC TV, bone broth was our secret weapon. Kurt lost 16 pounds the first week he tried broth! As he sipped it, he said, “I like it! This is just like the way my grandma used to make us soup!”
If you read The Wild Diet, you know that I enjoy intermittent fasting. Drinking bone broth during the fasting period is fantastic because it’s low calorie, easy on the stomach, and packed with nose-to-tail nutrients. We have a batch bones simmering on our counter almost 24/7.
Bone broth can even be a surprisingly satisfying savory substitute for coffee in the morning.
But if you want to take your broth to the next level of flavor, you can also as a base for soups. Our recipe for French Onion Soup is a great way to get your feet wet. Enjoy!
Aimee McNew is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, infertility, and autoimmunity. Her first book, The Everything Guide to Hashimoto’s, releases Oct 2016.