Bone broth, made from bones of chicken, beef, lamb or fish, has been traditionally used to make soups, stews, and souses in classic cuisines around the world. Bone broth has also been used throughout the ages as a traditional remedy to treat colds, flues and gastrointestinal disorders, among others, in various cultures. It was a way that allowed our ancestors to make use of every part of the animal, to consume parts like bones, marrow, and ligaments that can't be eaten directly but are highly nutritive. And while bone broth has fallen out of use in most households, it is still a kitchen staple in gourmet cuisine, due to its unique flavour and wide utility.
Bone broth healing benefits
Bone broth benefits come from its rich content in a variety of amino acids and minerals released from the bones and cartilage by simmering for many hours. Bones and cartilage are rich in collagen, which is also the most abundant protein in our bodies. Collagen gives structure to our bones, ligaments, cartilages, hair, skin, and nails, constituting up to 30% of the total protein in our bodies. When collagen is extracted from the bones during the cooking process, it is broken down producing gelatine, the main component of bone broth, and which has the same properties found in collagen. Thereby is not surprising that bone broth has healing properties, helping our bodies regenerate damaged tissues.
Gelatine has been used for centuries as a source of nourishment to combat a variety of ailments, from degenerative joint diseases to hearth conditions. It was highly prized for its medicinal benefits, being even used in infant formulas to aid the digestion of cow´s milk. Intense research was made about gelatine in the first half of the 20th century, being considered of high value to treat gastrointestinal disorders such as celiac disease. It showed interesting properties in protecting the gut mucosal integrity and in increasing the tolerability of certain foods in persons with food sensitivities.
Sadly, research on gelatine came to an end after the Second World War, when food companies discovered monosodium glutamate (invented by the Japanese) to enhance food flavours and with the creation of artificial flavours in the 1950s. Homemade broths were replaced by bouillon cubes and emulsifiers and the benefits of the gelatine and minerals present in bone broth were lost.
Recently rediscovered, however, bone broth is incredibly nutrient-dense, aiding our digestion and supporting healing, even showing benefits in a variety of conditions. As a child, you were probably given chicken soup by your mother or grandmother when you were sick with a cold or the flu. Investigators from Nebraska Medical Center actually found that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, thereby improving symptoms that result from colds. So it turns out that your grandmother was right!
Bone broth is rich in glycine
The main amino acid present in collagen (and thereby in bone broth) is glycine, constituting 1/3 of its total amino acid content. Glycine is a simple amino acid that is necessary to the manufacture of other amino acids in the body and for the synthesis of DNA. It is a key component of connective tissue, being incorporated into important structures and organs in the body, from the cartilage that forms joints to the muscles, hearts, arteries, etc. Glycine is thereby an important building block in our bodies that is essential for healing, speeding up wound healing, repairing damage of the gut barrier (leaky gut) and damage of other tissues caused by inflammation in those with autoimmune disease or other degenerative conditions.
Related: How food influences the immune system
Glycine also aids digestion by stimulating the production of stomach acid and aiding the synthesis of bile acid, necessary for fat digestion and thereby absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It also assists the liver with detoxification, regulates blood-sugar levels and is critical for the healthy function of the central nervous system. And it even helps regulate the immune system, making it less reactive and consequently reducing inflammation.
Despite being classified as a nonessential amino acid (because we can synthesize it in our bodies), it is believed that we do not produce enough glycine to assist our body's many tasks in the absence of dietary sources. This is particularly true during pregnancy, in children and in periods of intensive tissue healing. And diets dominated by muscle meat, as it is the case in a standard western diet, can be deficient in glycine since it is present mostly in bones and connective tissues. Consuming bone broth is the easiest way to incorporate more glycine into your diet and thereby take advantage of the healing properties of this small amino acid.
Another interesting amino acid present in collagen, and thereby in bone broth, is glutamine. Glutamine helps maintain the integrity and function of the intestinal wall, preventing further damage to the gut and helping it regenerate. It is thus important to heal leaky gut. Collagen also contains other amino acids such as proline and lysine that further assist in the regeneration of new tissues.
Furthermore, bone broth contains glycosaminoglycans such as hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate, known as promoters of joint health and improving degenerative joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Bone broth is rich in minerals
Bone broth is also rich in a variety of minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and sodium, among others, in a form that the body can easily absorb and which are essential for bone health. Fish broth, besides comprising all these minerals, contains also iodine. Because of its calcium content in a form that is easily absorbed, bone broth is used as a source of calcium in cultures that do not drink milk.
Not many generations ago, bone broth was an important supply of minerals, especially in the winter when fresh fruit and vegetables are less available. Nowadays, it is common for a person following a Western diet to have mineral deficiencies (and vitamins) in important minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. For example, it is estimated that 65% of Americans over the age of two have calcium deficiency and 73% have zinc deficiency. And vitamin and mineral deficiencies have been linked to increased risk of autoimmune disease. Perhaps it is time to start reintroducing bone broth in our lives.
Besides from providing an array of vitamins and minerals good for overall health, bone broth aids the immune system, helps reduce inflammation, speeds up the body’s healing process, is one of the most effective remedies to repair the gut lining and is even known to aid in the overcoming of food intolerances and allergies. These characteristics make bone broth an essential element in a healing diet, thus having a central role in the autoimmune protocol. So you should include plenty of bone broth in your diet. You can drink it directly and use it to cook soups, stews and any other dishes where you would otherwise use stock and which will definitely also benefit from its rich flavour and body.
How to make bone broth
Bone broth is very easy to do. Although it can take a considerable amount of time simmering, there is very little work involved – it practically does itself. There are, however a few things to consider when making good bone broth.
Add some vegetables and vinegar - Basically, bone broth is made by simmering bones and other connective tissues in water with a splash of vinegar, used to help release the minerals from the bones. To get the most benefits out of your broth, you can also add some vegetables, as the combination of animal products and vegetables have synergic effects that benefit one another, thus making the broth richer in nutrients.
Choose grass-fed bones - You can use any type of bones, even if they have been previously cooked - beef, lamb, chicken, turkey and even fish all work well. You should, however, try to find bones from grass-fed / pasture-raised meat, as they have more nutrients. Bone broth made from bones of conventionally raised animals contain higher amounts of toxins and lower amounts of gelatine and thereby glycine. Therefore, to take the most benefits out of your bone broth you should source bones from grass-fed animals whenever possible. It will make a big difference both in the quality and taste of your broth. And if you are following the autoimmune protocol, you will definitely feel the difference when choosing grass-fed / pasture-raised bones over conventionally raised ones.
Use joint and marrow bones - For a good bone broth, you will need to use both bones from the joints and bones with exposed marrow. Bones from the joints are rich in connective tissue that will break down into gelatine during the cooking process, which will make the broth gel when cooled. Bones with exposed marrow will also release some of the rich nutrients from the marrow into your broth. The combination of both will thus result in a richer broth. If you want to have even more gelatine content you can add some extra chicken feet or necks. In the case of larger bones such as those from beef or lamb and to add extra flavour, you can roast the bones in the oven for half an hour before putting them in the pot.
Slow-cook it - The broth should be cooked in very low heat, in a simmer that barely moves the surface of the water. A low and slow cooking time is needed in order to fully extract the nutrients from the bones and connective tissues. Chicken bones can cook up to 24 hours and beef and lamb bones up to 48 hours. For fish 8 hours will be enough. I get the best results from beef bones by cooking for at least 24 hours, but if you have time, I definitely recommend cooking them for 48 hours. The longer you cook it, the richer the broth will be.
Remove the fat layer - Finally, when the broth is ready, you should remove the fat layer that solidifies at the top while it cools, as it can oxidize during the long cooking time required to make a rich broth. This is even more significant when using bones from chicken or other poultry, as they have a higher content of unsaturated fat (specifically polyunsaturated fat), which is more prone to oxidize during long cooking times. Thereby it is a good idea to remove the fat layer from your broth and discard it, avoiding potentially harmful oxidized fat. This way you can take the maximum benefits out of this beautiful drink with amazing healing properties!
Now to the recipe!
Bone broth recipe
serves: 8 - 10 cups | cook time: 12 to 48 hours
1-1,5 Kg bones (joint and marrow bones)
2,5 litres of filtered water
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (gluten-free)
1 big onion, quartered
2 garlic cloves
2 carrots, chopped
1 leek stalk (or celery stalk), chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp salt
1. Place the bones in a big pot, add in the water and the apple cider vinegar and let it stay for 30 minutes to help release the minerals from the bones;
2. Cover, bring to a boil and cook over medium-high heat for 20 min, skimming the surface of the water from any greyish foam that rises to the top;
3. Turn down the heat to keep a low simmer – the surface of the water should barely move. Cook for at least 12 hours and up to 48 hours (the longer it cooks the richer the broth will be), stirring once in a while;
4. Two to four hours before done add in the vegetables, the bay leaves, and the salt. Increase the heat to bring back up to a boil and then reduce it to maintain a simmer;
5. Take the pot away from the heat and let it cool down so that is easier to handle. Remove the bones and strain the content into a large bowl that can fit in the fridge. Cool the broth in the fridge overnight, or until the fat solidifies at the top;
6. Remove the fat layer (and discard it) to reveal your broth! Hopefully, it will look like jelly, revealing its gelatine content. Divide the broth into jars for storage either directly or by reheating it to a liquid. It can keep in the fridge for 1-2 weeks or in the freezer for several months.
Now, enjoy your warm cup of bone broth – yum!
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