Everything You Need to Know About Bone Marrow Nutrition (Plus, a Bone Marrow Broth Recipe)
At one point, home chefs and restaurateurs alike tossed animal bones away. A steak dinner was happily enjoyed, but the bones? Those were left on the plate, always ending up in the trash.
Now, bones (specifically, marrow bones) are not only spared, but served as a hot ticket item at popular restaurants across the United States. Bone marrow is nutritious as well as delicious, and customers go out of their way to request it (1).
But you don’t need to wine and dine extravagantly to enjoy bone marrow and all the health benefits it contains. Below, you’ll learn more about bone marrow, the nutrients it contains, and how to incorporate it into your diet.
What Is Bone Marrow?
Bone marrow is the fatty tissue found in the center of bones. Considered a delicacy in traditional cuisine across the globe, bone marrow recently started appearing on restaurant menus throughout the United States (1).
Slightly buttery in taste, chefs love bone marrow for its flavor as well as its price tag. Marrow bones cost several dollars a pound, while meat cuts run upwards of $15 a pound.
Bone Marrow Is Found in All Animals — Including Humans
Bone marrow can be sourced from any animal, and is found in greatest quantities from leg bones (the femur in particular). When the animal is alive, bone marrow contains stem cells.
When you hear of an individual having a bone marrow transplant, the individual is in need of new, healthy stem cells (2). Stem cells, in turn, produce white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets (3)(4). These three cells help carry oxygen through the body, fight infections, and help with blood clotting, respectively (2).
The Culinary History of Bone Marrow
People consumed bone marrow long before it found its place in modern American cuisine, particularly in Europe and Asia. There is some evidence that early hominids collected animal bones specifically for the marrow. Native Americans and indigenous people of Canada consumed marrow for its nutrients and ability to aid digestion (5).
Chefs and cultural groups prepare bone marrow in a number of ways. It can be roasted and spread on toast (like butter) or consumed in soups and stews. Italians consume marrow in the traditional dish ossobuco, Vietnamese prepare it in pho, and Mexicans use it as a filling in tacos and tostados (5). With the rising interest in ancestral health, many people seek out bone marrow for its nutrient density — flavor being an added benefit.
Health Benefits of Bone Marrow
From a macronutrient standpoint, bone marrow is made up of 97 percent fat, with a little protein and no carbohydrates (5). From the 1970s through 1990s, bone marrow was criticized for its high fat content. Today, there is limited, but growing research discussing bone marrow’s specific health benefits, thanks to the Weston A. Price Foundation and a surging interest in primal health.
Like bone broth, people consume marrow for the healthy fats, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals it contains. The benefits of both broth and bone marrow are not all that different, helping boost the immune system, reduce inflammation associated with joint pain, and aid in weight loss.
That being said, there are significant health benefits specific to bone marrow alone.
Bone Marrow May Help Restore White Blood Cells
On little more than a hunch, Dr. Astrid Brohult, a Swedish oncologist, gave leukemia patients bone marrow soup to help their own bone marrow resume normal function (6). While results were inconsistent, some patients experienced incredible improvement. Their white blood cell count returned, along with a boost in energy.
A full decade later, Brohult’s husband, a biochemist, believed he discovered the ingredient responsible for white blood cell production. Bone marrow contains a group of compounds called alkyglycerols (AKGs), immune-boosting lipids also found in human breast milk (6).
Marrow Can Help Heal the Digestive Tract
Dr. Auer, a functional medicine practitioner, prescribes bone broth made with marrow bones to heal the digestive tract. He’s found those who have a gluten intolerance, Celiac disease, leaky gut, or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) experience reduced symptoms when supplementing with bone marrow (7). The bone marrow helps reduce inflammation, seal the stomach lining, reduce discomfort, and improve overall gut health.
Marrow Could Decrease the Risk of Various Diseases
A University of Michigan study shows the fat tissue in bone marrow contains significant amounts of the hormone adiponectin, which supports insulin sensitivity, breaks down fat, and may help decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity-associated cancer. Obese individuals have been shown to have the lowest levels of adiponectin. It’s believed that the leaner an individual becomes, the more adiponectin they have (2).
In Some Cases, Marrow Has More Vitamins and Minerals Than Meat
Bone marrow is an incredibly nutrient-dense food, sometimes containing more vitamins and minerals than meat. In one study, bone marrow was found to have quadruple the amount of vitamin E in bone marrow than the actual meat. It was found to have twice the amount of B1 and twice the amount of vitamin A (1). Finally, the highest concentrations of calcium were found in bone marrow compared to other parts of the animal, including meat, tallow, and liver (1).
Where to Find Bone Marrow
Marrow bones can easily be purchased from a local farmer, farmers market, and various health stores, including Whole Foods. While any animal bone contains bone marrow, beef bone marrow offers the best bang for your buck due to the size of the bones.
If you plan to consume bone marrow through soups or stews, you can purchase whole bones. However, if you plan to eat the marrow straight from the bone, you will save considerable time and energy by asking your butcher to split the bones in half. This offers easy to access to the marrow within the bone (otherwise, you’ll have to pluck it out with a pair of small tongs).
The price of bone marrow will vary depending upon the quality you buy. Grass-fed bones from healthy animals are better for your overall health, but come at a premium price point compared to grain-fed marrow bones.
How to Eat Bone Marrow
Many people enjoy roasting the bones in the oven and serving the fatty marrow with some sort of marmalade. Others spread the marrow across crackers or toast.
Not sure if you can handle eating marrow straight from the bone? Kettle & Fire bone broth is made using all-organic ingredients and beef bone marrow from grass-fed cattle. You could also enjoy any of Kettle & Fire’s packaged soups containing beef bone broth, like the grass-fed beef chili.
One of the easiest ways to consume more bone marrow in your diet is simply drinking bone broth. Below, you’ll learn how to make bone broth using marrow bones. If you’ve ever made chicken broth, you’ll find the process for making beef broth is remarkably similar.
Slow Cooker Beef Bone Broth Recipe
This is our tried and true beef bone broth recipe that you can make at home!
- 4 pounds mixed beef bones marrow bones, oxtail, knuckles, short rib, etc.
- 2 medium onions
- 2 medium carrots
- 3 stalks celery
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Heat oven to 400°F.
Spread the mixed bones on a baking tray in a single layer and place it into the oven. Roast the bones for 30 minutes. Flip bones and roast another 30 minutes.
While the bones are roasting, chop the carrots, onions and celery. (You are discarding these later so a rough chop works great!)
Place roasted bones, chopped vegetables, bay leaf and apple cider vinegar into a 6-quart crockpot. Cover completely with cold filtered water. (All the ingredients should be submerged by about 1 inch of water.)
Cook on low for 24 hours. Add water as needed to keep all the ingredients covered in water, and periodically skim the foam off the top of the pot.
After 24 hours, the broth should be a dark brown color. Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer and discard the bones, vegetables and bay leaf.
Before storing, pour into separate containers and cool to room temperature. Once cooled, chill in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours. Skim off the accumulated fat at the top of the container, if there’s any. Store in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Gluten Free | Paleo | Whole30 Approved
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