Bone Soup Nutrition

Bone soup may sound like something from the kitchen of a scary old woman living in a candy-covered cottage, but it's nothing more than soup that's built around broth made from bones or trotters.

Bone soup owes its rich flavor and dense nutrition to being simmered low and slow. (Image: rez-art/iStock/GettyImages)

While there are many variations on the basic recipe, the most crucial difference between bone broth and regular broth or stock is the cooking time. While you can whip up a hearty pot of chicken soup from scratch in about an hour, bone broth cooks low and slow for between 24 and 48 hours. This extremely long cooking time is necessary to extract every single bit of nutrition from the bones.

Basic Bone Soup Nutrition

As with most catch-all dishes, bone soup can be made in an almost infinite variety of ways. Aside from the actual bones, the ingredients are not as important as the cooking method, because it's designed to extract the maximum amount of nutrition. Simmering the bones over low heat for a long time helps break down the muscle fibers and marrow and draw the calcium and other minerals out of them. It also encourages evaporation of the water you started with, making the broth richer and more dense.

According to the experts at the University of California at San Diego Health Center, the healthiest bone broth is one that's low in sodium and has had as much of its fat skimmed off as possible. This offers you the benefits of the protein, chondroitin, glucosamine, collagen and vitamins in the broth without having to worry about the ill effects of too much salt and saturated fat.

Pure bone broth is high in protein, but does not contain vitamins such as C and K, which are powerhouse antioxidants. Exposure to pollutants and environmental toxins, as well as the normal functioning of your metabolic processes, creates free radicals.

Free radicals work very much like rust on your cells. They degrade your cells' integrity and can even change your DNA. This contributes to your risk of heart attack, stroke and certain types of cancer. Free radicals are also responsible for the visible effects of aging, such as wrinkles and sagging skin.

Antioxidants such as vitamins C and K support your immune system and help fight free radicals. Many bone broth recipes call for apple cider vinegar, which helps add vitamins C and K, while also encouraging the bones to release their other nutritional treasures.

Bone broth made from chicken is lower in saturated fat and calories than that made with beef, while pork bone soup calories and saturated fat are a bit higher. You can also make bone broth from the outer shells of lobster, crab and shrimp — as the basis of a classic bisque — but the nutritional benefits are slightly different and not quite as potent.

The nutrition profile of bone broth varies significantly depending on the ingredients and maker. A 1 cup serving of chicken bone broth may contain 86 calories, 6 grams of protein, 3 grams of fat and 9 grams of carbohydrates. Chicken bone broth also contains some micronutrients but not in significant amounts, including 7 milligrams of calcium, 252 milligrams of potassium and 10 milligrams of magnesium.

As previously mentioned, you need to be careful about salt and sodium content in bone broth. One cup can contain as much as 600 milligrams of sodium, according to WGNO ABC.

Perks of Packing in the Protein

All proteins are made up of amino acids, which are easiest to understand if you think of them as building blocks. Amino acids are like Legos, in that they come in different shapes and sizes and can be combined in many different ways, according to how your body needs to use them. Another way to look at them is explained by the University of Utah's Genetic Science Learning Center, which describes proteins as being like jigsaw puzzle pieces that can interlock with each other and with other types of molecules as required.

Proteins are used to build and maintain muscle tissue, but they can also hook up with pathogens so that they can be destroyed by your immune system. Proteins can awaken genes, carry messages between cells and activate enzymes. They can also change shape to accomplish different tasks. One of the most valuable aspects of proteins is that they can be recycled. The proteins you take in as food are broken down into amino acids. These amino acids are then used to form new proteins.

To be considered complete, a protein food needs to contain all nine of the amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own, in more or less equal amounts. Not all foods are considered complete proteins.

Proteins that come from animal sources, such as bones, contain all of the amino acids needed to make them complete. Proteins from plant sources are generally lacking some of the essential amino acids. However, you can form your own complete proteins by pairing plant sources, such as rice and beans, and you don't need to eat them at the same time to get all the amino acids you need.

In addition to being used by every part of your body, protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates. This means a balanced diet filled with good sources of protein, such as bone broth, will help you avoid the blood sugar spike and insulin response caused by sugary, starchy carbohydrates and also keep you feeling full for longer after a meal. This can keep you full from breakfast until lunch as well as helping you keep from overeating in the late afternoon or before bed.

Many cultures use the trotters, or feet, of cows, goats, lambs, sheep or pigs to make bone broth. One such staple of East Indian cooking, according to The Indian Express, is _kharode ka shorba_, which is a rich broth made by simmering bones or trotters in water and vinegar.

While using lamb or goat trotters to make bone broth may seem counterintuitive because of the fat involved, the resulting kharode soup nutrition is sound, thanks to the high level of protein in it — and the garlicky, spicy flavor makes it seem like an indulgence.

Connecting the Dots About Collagen

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the main benefit of bone broth is the collagen it contains. But, as with so many health and nutrition issues, there is a lot of misunderstanding about exactly what those benefits are.

Collagen, as explained by the medical experts at Northwell Health, is the fibrous protein that basically holds your body together. It's present in your muscle fibers, keeps your skin supple and helps ensure a healthy gut. It can be almost as strong as bone or as delicate as the skin on your face, depending on its density.

Contrary to popular belief, when you drink bone broth, its high levels of collagen are not absorbed into your body as collagen. As with anything you ingest, the collagen in bone broth is broken down into its component amino acids, which are used in whatever way your body needs them. Some may be reformed into collagen, but they're just as likely to be used to build muscle tissue, turned into useful enzymes or used to carry messages from cell to cell.

This does not mean you should dismiss bone broth as an excellent source of collagen. The nutritional value of soup made with bones, such as goat trotters, is still off the charts for protein, collagen, chondroitin and glucosamine as well as vitamins and minerals.

Simple Bone Soup Starter Recipe

Any kind of bones can be turned into broth, stock or bone broth. The key is the cooking time — so don't obsess too much over exact amounts or get too caught up in precise seasoning. Cook to smell and to taste and don't be afraid to experiment.

  • Line the bottom of a large pot with a thin film of olive oil. This will keep the contents from sticking as well as adding a touch of flavor. Other oils, such as canola or coconut oil, will also work. Because the heat stays low, you don't have to worry too much about the smoke point.

  • Add roughly chopped onion, celery and garlic, if you like. These will be strained out, so don't bother peeling or trimming them. You can also add carrots for sweetness, and parsnips or turnips for a savory, earthy flavor.

  • Season the vegetables for your desired result. For example, use coriander, thyme, oregano and chili powder for a Latin-inspired dish and garlic, ginger and lemongrass for an Asian one. You can also leave the vegetables and spices out entirely for a purer flavor.

  • Brown the bones by roasting them if you're using beef, pork or goat, as this helps bring out the flavor and also helps break down the collagen fibers. Place them in the pot, and then cover the bones and vegetables with water. You can add wine, brandy or sherry for a deeper flavor. Apple cider vinegar adds a tangy flavor without the alcohol. Aim for about 1 quart of water for every 1 pound of bones.

  • Bring the liquid to a boil over medium heat. Turn the heat down to low and simmer the bones for either 24 or 48 hours, depending on what kind of bones you're using. According to Certified Holistic Nutritionist Cassie Johnston of Wholefully, poultry bones take 24 hours, while beef and pork bones or pig and goat trotters require 48 hours to make sure that you've cooked all of the nutrients into the broth.

  • Skim off any foam that might appear as the bones simmer. This is caused by impurities in the bones. It won't harm you at all to leave it in, but skimming it results in a clearer and more appetizing appearance to your finished bone soup.

  • Let the broth cool to room temperature and skim off any fat that solidifies on the surface.

  • Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer or a colander lined with cheesecloth, place it in jars with lids and put it in the refrigerator. You may notice that the bone broth has developed a thicker consistency, like half-set gelatin. This is due to the collagen —

    and it means that you've done a good job.

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