Food as Medicine: Therapeutic Use of Broths

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What is broth? Stock? Bone broth?

  • Broth is a light, thin liquid made from boiling meat or vegetables in water for a short period of time (45 minutes to 2 hours). It might be flavored with salt, herbs, and spices.
  • Stock is a darker, thicker liquid made from boiling bones in water for a longer period of time (3 to 4 hours or more). It is usually used as an ingredient in recipes.
  • Bone broth is a newer idea. It is a stock that is boiled for an even longer period of time (12 hours or more). The goal is to release nutrients from the bone, including minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, and proteins like collagen and gelatin.

Be aware: concerns and misinformation about using broth made from bones

  • Not enough data: Research studies have not proven that bone broth improves gut health, digestion, detoxification, bone and joint health, skin quality, immune function, or inflammatory response.
  • Safety concern: Increased sources of pollution over time have raised the levels of environmental pollutants like heavy metals in the air, water, and soil. They are taken up by plants and can become concentrated in the fat and bones of animals who eat them. Studies have shown that even organic chicken can be a source of lead in bone broth. Pollutants cannot be avoided completely. But it is a good idea to eat a variety of nutritious foods to limit exposure from a particular food.
  • False claim: Bone broth is promoted as a good source of collagen, amino acids, and minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium. The facts do not support this claim.
    • Collagen is broken down during digestion and is not directly absorbed into the body.
    • Nutrient analysis of commercially prepared bone broths has shown that they are not a significant source of calcium. They should not be considered an alternative to cow’s milk.
  • Better options: Vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, legumes, nuts, and seeds are good sources of these nutrients, as well as other nutrients not present in bone broth. These foods also have anti-inflammatory properties.

Uses for broths and stocks

  • Can be a comforting way to increase hydration by providing fluid and electrolytes. Staying hydrated helps to keep mucous thin. This makes it easier to cough or clear nasal congestion with nose blowing or suction.
  • Some children with slow motility or sensitive GI tract tolerate liquids better than solid foods. For these children, adding nutritious foods to broth or stock can be a way to increase nutrient intake without worsening symptoms.


  • Make your own broth or stock. Buy prepared broth or stock that is low sodium (under 140 mg/serving).
  • Too much plain broth or stock can limit your child’s appetite for other foods. They could have trouble meeting energy, protein, vitamin, and mineral needs.
  • Try offering broth or stock in small amounts after food at meals. You may also offer at least 30 to 60 minutes before mealtime.

Example vegetable broth recipe

Ingredients: (Makes 20 cups)

  • 3 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 6 medium carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery (can include leaves), chopped
  • 1 bunch Italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • cold water to cover vegetables (fill pot to 1” from the top)


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot, over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, stirring often. Add the garlic, vegetables, and parsley, and continue to stir frequently until they are soft and you can smell the garlic cooking.
  2. Toss in the oregano, thyme, and bay leaves. Add cold water to cover the vegetables (fill the pot up to 1 to 2 inches from the top).
  3. Turn heat to high until the water boils. Then, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
  4. Strain through a wire mesh colander.
  5. Use the stock immediately or store in the refrigerator or freezer. You can use the vegetables in a separate recipe.

Make it your own: ways to add flavor and nutrition to your broth or stock

  • Healthy fats:
    • Drizzle with olive, flaxseed, or walnut oil after cooking.
    • Sprinkle chopped nuts or seeds (pumpkin, sunflower) as a garnish for texture.
    • Garnish with chunks or slices of avocado.
  • Increase anti-inflammatory properties with added herbs and spices:
    • Add a mix of spices to cook with the broth or stock. Try adding turmeric, cumin, ginger, cloves, black pepper, and cinnamon.
    • Stir in a green herb pesto after cooking. Grind a fresh herb such as parsley, basil, dill, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano with olive oil, add optional lemon, garlic, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds.
  • Boost fiber with blended beans and veggies:
    • Mash cooked beans, such as cannellini, black, and kidney beans or lentils and stir into broth or stock to dissolve.
    • Mash one or more roasted root vegetables like potato, sweet potato, or beets and stir into broth to dissolve.
    • Simmer your choice of garlic, onion, carrot, celery, leafy greens, mushrooms, and root vegetables in the broth until soft enough to puree and dissolve.
  • Stir in probiotic-rich fermented foods after cooking is done:
    • White miso in vegetable and chicken broths or stocks.
    • Red miso in beef broth or stock.
    • Splash of sauerkraut juice or apple cider vinegar.

Additional resources

April 2022