Research Reveals Little Calcium in Bone Broth

by Kaayla T. Daniel PhD, The Naughty Nutritionist April 22, 2014

bone broth_mini

by Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, The Naughty Nutritionist

Is there as much calcium in a cup of bone broth as in a cup of milk? Many people in the Real Food community seem to think so.

The hard truth is that the calcium content of homemade bone broth doesn’t even come close. The good news is that broth still lives up to its bone-building reputation, just not for the reason most people have assumed.

It makes logical sense that bone broth would be an excellent source of calcium. After all, about fifty percent of bones consist of minerals, with the largest store by far being calcium phosphate, a combination of calcium and phosphorous arranged in a formation called hydroxyapatite. Bone also contains small amounts of magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulfur and other trace minerals.

Even so, only small amounts of these minerals end up in the broth, even when properly made with vinegar or wine to help pull them from the bones.

The most thorough study of this topic occurred in 1934 when McCance, Sheldon and Whittleson of King’s College Hospital in London reported in Archives of Disease in Childhood that the calcium content of several types of bone broth at just 5.2 to 28.6 mg per 100cc (12.30 to 67.7 mg per cup). The researchers compared this to 119 to 128 mg calcium per 100 cc (281 to 303 mg per cup) in cow’s milk. The researchers reported the highest levels of calcium in the broths prepared with vegetables.

Recent USDA figures for brand-name canned broths sold at supermarkets show calcium at just 14 mg per cup (1.4% of the RDA) for beef and 9 mg (0.9% of the RDA) per cup for chicken. By comparison, USDA reports 291.0 mg of calcium per cup for whole milk.

While it is easy to dismiss these figures as what’s to be expected from the poor quality of broth found in commercial products, low calcium levels were also reported by Saffron Road and Flavor Chef Broths, two excellent brands sold in health food stores. The Nutrition Facts labels reported on their labels are 0 percent and 4 percent of the RDA, respectively, per cup of the RDA for calcium.

Sally Fallon Morell, President of the Weston A. Price Foundation and I found this so unbelievable that we decided more testing was warranted before completing Nourishing Broth: An Old-Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World (Grand Central Life & Style, September 2014).

The reports that came in from Covance Laboratories in Madison, Wisconsin, were much the same. Broth prepared by Kim Schuette of Biodynamic Wellness of Solana Beach, California, showed low levels of calcium at 2.31 mg per cup (from a whole chicken plus two feet but not vegetables), while broth from Lance Roll of Flavor Chef showed 6.14 mg per cup (from broth made with bones and vegetables).

Don’t Drink Bone Broth for Calcium

The inescapable conclusion is not much calcium ends up in the broth, even when the bones are cooked long enough to have softened and begun to dissolve. As the King’s College research team found back in 1934 and we confirmed as part of the analysis for the book Nourishing Broth, the best way to increase the calcium content of bone broth is to include calcium-rich vegetables while making the broth. Adding milk or cream to the broth to make cream soups or chowders would most appreciably increase the calcium content.

How Does Bone Broth Support Bone Health Despite Low Calcium Content?

Upon hearing that bone broth supports bone health despite its low calcium content, most people conclude that its minerals must be exceptionally bio-available and thus easily digested, assimilated and utilized in the body. Given that “like feeds like” we might also assume the minerals are present in optimum ratios for bone building. In contrast, bone-building supplements are often formulated with high levels of hard-to-absorb forms of calcium and without full complements of bone-building trace minerals. Bone, after all, is not built on calcium alone. In fact bone is built on a scaffold of collagen, making collagen the most important bone building component in broth.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, constituting between 25 and 35 percent of the body’s total protein, and needed for building healthy bones, cartilage, skin, arteries, corneas, placentas and just about every other structure in the body. Collagen production in the body slows down age and ill health, causing skin, joints and bones to become drier, less pliant, thinner and weaker. Think sagging skin, creaky joints and the brittle bones of osteoporosis.

Human bones contain anywhere from 50 to 70 percent mineral and 20 to 40 percent collagen, with collagen fibrils providing the structure. Properly made bone broth is rich in collagen not only from the bones but also from attached skin and cartilage. Although collagen’s giant triple-helix proteins “denature” — which is to say break down — during cooking, we end up with plenty of the glycine, proline and other amino acids needed to manufacture our own collagen. Proline and glycine are the keys to tensile strength, resilience and water-holding capacity of healthy collagen. Although both are considered “non essential” amino acids, most people cannot manufacture enough and benefit greatly from broth and other proline and glycine rich foods. Accordingly, many top researchers believe these amino acids should be considered “conditionally essential.”

To build good bone we need collagen above all. The basic building blocks of bone are collagen fibrils that form a latticework for deposition of calcium phosphate and other minerals. The collagen cross-links are more important for whole bone strength and fracture resistance than mineral levels and patterns. Indeed, some people have bones thick with calcium and other minerals that are weak and crack under tension like unreinforced concrete.

Diabetics, for example, may suffer from poor bones, not because of low mineral density but because their collagen is damaged by the advanced glycation end products (AGEs) created when blood sugar levels are chronically high. While this is most apparent in diabetics, anyone suffering from blood sugar problems such as hypoglycemia, insulin resistance and Metabolic Syndrome will have AGEs contributing to osteopenia and osteoporosis.

Most published collagen studies have focused on osteoarthritis, but Milan Adam, DSci, of the Institute of Rheumatism Research in Prague (1928-2008) studied 120 osteoporosis patients over a period of three years and published his research in Therapiewoche in 1991. He treated half with calcium and half with collagen hydrolysate. Loss of collagen and bone mass as seen in bone-breakdown products were significantly lower in the collagen hydrolysate group than in the calcium group. Best of all, collagen hydrolysate reduced the likelihood of bone fractures significantly. Collagen hydrolysate is a gelatin product that is readily soluble in water, making it easy to use as a food supplement and in food manufacture. It does not gel at normal temperatures and has little effect on the taste, smell or “mouth feel” of foods.

In 1996, Dr. Adam published a second study in Therapiewoche involving 108 post-menopausal women with osteoporosis and bone mineral density lower than 80 percent. He reported collagen hydrolysate enhanced and prolonged the beneficial effects of calcitonin and improved overall markers of bone metabolism. Calcitonin is a hormone secreted by the thyroid that has the effect of lowering blood calcium.

In October 2000 Roland Moskowitz, MD, of Case Western Reserve University, reported his success with collagen hydrolysate for both osteoarthritis and osteoporosis in Seminars on Arthritis and Rheumatism He too found calcitonin plus collagen hydrolysate inhibited bone collagen breakdown better than calcitonin alone, making it “of interest as a therapeutic agent of potential utility in the treatment of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Its high level of safety makes it attractive as an agent for long-term use in these chronic disorders.”

More research is clearly needed, but with osteoporosis a threat for 200 million people worldwide and forty-four million American men and women over the age of fifty, these findings on collagen are certainly promising.

What to Do Now?

For years, osteoporosis prevention relied on calcium alone. That has proven problematic for multiple reasons, including the fact that booming calcium supplement sales have resulted in marginal results at best. What’s more, recent news headlines in the New York Times and other major publications have warned against calcium supplements for reasons ranging from pain from kidney stones to death by heart attacks and stroke caused by calcification of the arteries and heart valves.

The problems of these studies — or the headlines summing them up — are legion, starting with the failure to differentiate between forms of calcium that are bioavailable to the body and the cheap, hard-to-absorb calcium carbonate form commonly found in mass-produced supplements. Most people do poorly eating limestone after all. The human body was also never designed for isolated minerals alone. Finally, supplement failure and/or unwanted side effects are far more likely to occur with participants experiencing digestive disturbances, acid/alkaline imbalances, and other vitamin, mineral, fatty acid and amino acid deficiencies.

More recently the focus for osteoporosis prevention has shifted to massive doses of Vitamin D plus calcium, perhaps with a complement of trace minerals. That’s clearly a better approach, but the fixation on Vitamin D fails to consider the need for a right balance with Vitamins A and K not only for bone building but for overall health. Although Vitamin K and collagen have started showing up in better quality supplements, Vitamin A remains underappreciated with most of the functional medicine crowd and is tends to be left out of the mix.

Experts will probably argue about the inconsistent and often contradictory literature on calcium and other supplements for bone health for years to come. There’s little arguing though about the importance of obtaining calcium from food. Quite simply, excessive intake is unlikely to be a problem, although the value of modern pasteurized, homogenized and fractionated dairy products has been called into question.

What’s the Takeaway?

If we look back at the diets of traditional people who retained strong, flexible bones throughout long and productive lives, it’s apparent the answer lies in “nose to tail” eating with variety of nourishing real foods.

Traditional peoples did not rely on pills, powders and potions. While it’s fortunate that modern science supports bone building with food-based collagen hydrolysate and gelatin products (sources) — and these can be useful adjuncts to a real foods diet — the better–and tastier–solution is still daily bowls of nourishing broth.

About the Author

dr kaayla danielKaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN, is is known as The Naughty Nutritionist™ because of her ability to outrageously and humorously debunk nutritional myths.

She is coauthor with Sally Fallon Morell of the upcoming book Nourishing Broth: An Old-Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World (Grand Central Life and Style, September 2014). Her book The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food (2005), has been endorsed by leading health experts, including Drs. Russell Blaylock, David Brownstein, Larry Dossey, Nicholas Gonzalez, Joseph Mercola, Kilmer McCully, Doris J. Rapp, JJ Virgin, and Jonathan Wright.

As a nutritionist, Dr. Daniel works with privately with clients all over the United States, offering whole solutions for healthy aging, cognitive enhancement, digestive disorders, reproductive health issues, infertility and recovery from soy and vegetarian diets.

Subscribe to Dr. Kaayla’s Naughty Edge newsletter at her website www.drkaayladaniel.com and join her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DrKaaylaDaniel

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Comments (59)

  1. Pingback: The #1 Reason We All Need to Eat More Gelatin - Nourishing Joy

  2. Pingback: Bone Health and the Dark Side of Supplements - Primal Docs

  3. Pingback: Bone Broth a traditional nourishing food | René Archner Workshops, Food & More

  4. One more question. Which gelatin should I get? Great Lakes Gelatin (Red) or Collagen Hydrolysate(green)? I read, “Collagen hydrolysate is more quickly assimilated into the body than regular gelatin, and greatly improves hydration to the connective tissues. It also higher amounts of the amino acids glycine, lysine, and proline, which are particularly beneficial to cell growth and reproduction.” at http://butterbeliever.com/choosing-gelatin-powder/
    Green one is a little more expensive than the regular, red one. Is it worth it?
    I appreciate your help!

    Reply
  5. I bought Great Lakes Unflavored Gelatin that you recommended, because making broth is too much work for me (with small children at home) right now. How much should I take a day? Thank you!

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Kristine Rudolph » Explore More : May 2nd

  7. Great information! I’ve been making bone broth for about a year and the last time I made it, I threw in a chopped up organic beet that was drying out a bit. It was the most beautiful colored broth and it tasted so delicious! I also added turmeric, celery, onions, garlic and carrots. Thank you for all the great info!

    Reply
  8. Kristi Masih via Facebook April 29, 2014 at 1:25 am

    Brittnay, use a pressure cooker! The results are great and it’s so much faster. Also, HHE would say to skip the raw kale –it should be cooked. I’m sure she has a post on it that you can find.

    Reply
  9. Anyone have a link on how to properly make bone broth? I know that sounds silly but from what I’m reading it is a little more complex than just boiling a whole chicken. How long should we boil it? And what are good veggies to add that are high in calcium? Isn’t kale high in calcium? I eat that every day in my salads and smoothies!

    Reply
  10. Clementine Cuppen via Facebook April 28, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Sometimes being poor is an asset, I have found. I/we have never had much money and feeding my babies meat was (and still is even though they are adults now) difficult. So I bought cheap chickens from the chicken farm, put the whole thing in a pot with water to cover, added some veges/onions/seasonings and let it simmer until the chicken was tender. I made soup, sauces and other dishes with the broth and added the chicken-in pieces- to whatever the dish of the day was. I am 64yrs.old and have no wrinkles. My bones are strong. My children also have good skin and bones. I blame it on the chicken stock made from fresh whole chickens, and other meat bones. It is also many more times delicious than anything store bought and not a whole lot of work.

    Reply
  11. Pamela J. Betz-Baron via Facebook April 28, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    I boil the bones, then put in some apple cider vinegar, let it sit for an hour, then simmer the broth for 24 hrs. Very often, the chicken bones can easily be chewed up after that.

    Reply
  12. Carma L Coleman via Facebook April 28, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Side Question: What dishes do you use? I love the one pictured here. I’m looking for a lead-free company who makes good dishes (not the ones that chip).

    Reply
  13. Pingback: Beautiful Bone Broth: An Ancient Food Tradition in All Cultures | Outdoor Nutrition®

  14. My wife makes lovely bone broth and she makes it in a large pot when she does because she wants to make hours of cooking go far. It is hard not to agree with your conclusions. I have a few friends who are addicted to supplemental drags and they can swear by them. But I am not a believer of them especially the ones you can buy over the counter. They always have some sort of side affects on me.
    TC\’s last post: Would No Fault Accidents Increase Car Insurance Rates?

    Reply
  15. Great article with actual facts and logic being used, always nice to see! lol I wonder how much calcium would come out from add egg shells? I haven’t made a bone broth in probably a year I should get around to that soon.

    Reply
  16. Do you think this is connected with the recent studies that bone broth is low in lead? Chris Kresser wrote about this a few months ago. I suppose it is a good thing if there isn’t much calcium, as we’re not getting the lead along with it from the bones.

    Reply
  17. I simmer chicken drum sticks and thigh bones for 24 hours in a slow cooker and drink the broth and eat the very chewable bones. While the broth may not have much calcium, shouldn’t there be a lot of calcium in the bones I eat?

    Reply
  18. I called the company you recommend for gelatin and asked about how they raise their animals and it didn’t sound good. They could NOT tell me they were raised outdoors in the sun and on grass. Just thought you might want to know. Maybe there’s a better brand out there.

    Reply
  19. Jean | DelightfulRepast.com April 24, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    I never thought of bone broth as a source of calcium, but this post contained so much other useful information as well. So far so good in the bone density department, but I still like to pay attention to all ideas for preserving bone mass.

    Reply
  20. I drink lots of broth and don’t drink milk (although I do eat yogurt) and my dentist has told me that if I keep up whatever I’m doing, I will have all my teeth till the day I die.

    I love eating broccoli, homemade sauerkraut and salmon. All rich in calcium!

    Reply
  21. I’ll second some of the other questions – what do you do if you can’t handle dairy? I’ve been trying my daughter on ghee and she is breaking out/getting rashy in a few spots so I’m going to have to take it out. I’ve had her on broth/stock since she was 6 months but she’s almost 18 mo now with dairy still not an option. What veggies do I add to the stock and is there something else I should be adding to her diet (she gets constipated w/ cooked spinach)? I have a lot of health issues too so I’ve never added anything to my broth to keep food sensitivities from being a problem.

    Reply
  22. Great unbiased article! It just goes to show that focusing on one nutrient/mineral is not what our body needs for health.
    Synchronicity rules!
    Especially when we can clearly see how traditional cooking/food sources kept our systems functioning for survival.
    I love the gelatin/collagan of bone broths; that make soup stick to your teeth!
    The best bone broth I obtained is from beef oxtail – I make a killer borscht with them!
    Always a good read, thanks.
    :)

    Reply
  23. Becky Nicklas via Facebook April 23, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Bone broth is the only thing I’ll use to make my soups/stews/etc. I have not used a canned or boxed broth in about 3 years now. I think actual bone broth smells awful while it’s cooking…but I absolutely love the taste. And if I feel a cold/flu coming on, I try to just drink mostly broth, as my body fights off the crud.

    Reply
  24. Still questioning the promotion of collagen hydrolysate because of the extreme unnatural process that is gone through to produce it. Seems out of sinc with the traditional ways.

    Reply
    • We are promoting homemade bone broth. Because we don’t have research studies on broth and osteoporosis, the collagen hydrolysate studies are the best evidence we have for broth supporting bone building. In terms of broth itself, we also have several testimonies in our book “Nourishing Broth” from people whose bone density tests improved greatly after increasing their broth consumption to about 3 cups a day. Collagen hydrolysate is obviously not a traditional product but many people report benefits from taking it, and I do recommend it or gelatin (which does have a longer history behind it) for people who have not yet developed the broth-making habit.

      Reply
      • I started consuming Great Lakes gelatin.I also was drinking bone broth I made at home. I went in for a bone density test and my bones increased in density all over. The technician wanted to know what I was doing.I hadn’t been exercising because of a slight injury. I know it was one or both of these things.
        If you get the gelatin powder in the green can, you can use it in your coffee, cereal, soup, cottage cheese, etc. without it turning into gelatin. The orange can powder turns in to gelatin like jello, The red can is good for baking.

        Reply
        • Pamela Schoenfeld April 26, 2014 at 11:50 am

          Hi Karen,

          Would you mind sharing your age and your pre-gelatin and post-gelatin DEXA scores? Which of the great lakes products are you mainly using – all 3?
          About how much bone broth do you drink per day? Chicken or beef or other?

          Have you added or changed your diet or supplementation program in any other way?

          Sorry to be such a bother but I do see many women who have osteoporosis or osteopenia diagnosis and they want to know what they can do besides the drugs – so few studies out there that really support alternative approaches.

          Reply
  25. Sarah Pickledkitchen via Facebook April 23, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Right on Hannah! I will try it. Thanks for the SCOBY btw. I’ve been brewing batches and batches. Love it!

    Reply
  26. “Collagen production in the body slows down age and ill health, causing skin, joints and bones to become drier, less pliant, thinner and weaker. Think sagging skin, creaky joints and the brittle bones of osteoporosis.”

    Sorry but am I misreading the above statement quoted from the article? Sounds like collagen causes these problems(?). Otherwise great article! Looking forward to the book. :)

    Reply
    • I think the problem is that a word has been left out: “Collagen production in the body slows down WITH age and ill health…”.

      Reply
      • Thanks, I did accidentally leave the word “with” out. Yes, the sentence should have read “Collagen production slows down with age and ill health, causing skin, joints and bones to become drier, less pliant, thinner and weaker. Think sagging skin, creaky joints and the brittle bones of osteoporosis.” -

        Reply
  27. I have some bone broth simmering as I am reading this. My frustration is that I cannot take much dairy. Even though we have always consumed raw, organic, grass-fed dairy. I keep trying it out and every time I get pretty severe aching in my joints. Once I stop the dairy it takes a few weeks for my joints to stop aching. I have tried this cycle about 3 times. So I do use the Salus Cal/Mag liquid. Sighhhh!!!!

    I am looking forward to your book as well. Thanks for this well written, informative article.

    Reply
  28. Feanne Hontiveros Mauricio via Facebook April 23, 2014 at 10:46 am

    What are good calcium-rich veggies? :) If they are oxalic acid containing veggies like spinach though, does that mean we steam them first and then add to the broth?

    Reply
    • Most of us make bone broth with the traditional mix of carrots, onions and celery known as “mirepoix.” It improves the flavor and the nutritional content. As we mentioned, the bone broths tested with these vegetables showed slightly higher calcium content. USDA figures suggest calcium content per cup of these vegetables raw at 48 mg for celery, 43 mg for carrots and 32 mg for onion. That, of course, suggests how much the calcium would increase for the entire batch, of course, not per the cup of the broth you would drink.
      I would not recommend making broth with broccoli, kale or spinach as the flavor gets rather nasty. However, we can use broth as the basis for various soup recipes that might include these vegetables. I particularly enjoy kale as part of lentil and other bean soups that I make using ham hocks.

      Reply
  29. I learned something new today (and I stand corrected)! :) Can you recommend good calcium-rich veggies to include in bone broth? I was thinking moringa and spinach but these have oxalic acid right, so they should be lightly steamed first and then added to the broth?
    Feanne\’s last post: Lotus Pod Organic Farm Tours

    Reply
  30. Eric Samuelson via Facebook April 23, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Simmered meat liquids are broth. Simmered bone liquids are STOCK. Fussy chef here. Love your page!

    Reply
    • True, but let’s not split tibias. Lots of trad foodies like to make a blend of meat broth and bone stock. Shall we call it brock? Stoth? Either way, it’s darn good stuff.
      :)

      Reply
    • Purists insist on differences between stock and broth, but no one seems to agree on what those differences are. It varies from country to country and cookbook author to cookbook author. We’re hoping you’ll cook plenty whatever you choose to call it!

      Reply
  31. Stephanie Sumitra via Facebook April 23, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Magnesium is needed for strong bones and most people are deficient in magnesium not calcium

    Reply
    • Everyone’s different. Some people get too much calcium, some too little, some cannot absorb their calcium well. It’s certainly true, as you say, that more people are deficient in magnesium than calcium but some people are now overdosing that as well. We need many minerals in right balance.

      Reply
  32. Tracy Beteta via Facebook April 23, 2014 at 9:24 am

    This was a good article for those who are new to drinking bone broth. However, I never thought that there was that much calcium in the broth. I always thought it was about the other nutrients and the collagen in the broth that helped to ‘nourish’ my body.

    Reply
  33. Fascinating! I look forward to reading your new book, Nourishing Broth, when it’s released later this year. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go thaw some packs of chicken feet and bones to make a collagen-rich broth…

    Reply
  34. Pingback: Research Reveals Little Calcium in Bone Broth » Nourishing News

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