Why do we not eat bones?

There are a few key reasons why humans generally do not eat bones:

Bones are difficult for humans to chew and digest

Human teeth and jaws are not well-adapted for chewing through tough, hardened bones. Our teeth are made for chewing softer foods. Trying to chew through bones could damage tooth enamel or lead to cracked teeth.

Our digestive systems also have difficulty breaking down and extracting nutrients from bone. Bone is composed of calcium phosphate and collagen fibers arranged in a hard, structural matrix. The calcium makes bone resistant to digestive acids and enzymes. So if swallowed, chunks of bone tend to pass through the gastrointestinal tract relatively intact. This creates a choking hazard and offers little nutritional value.

Bones pose a physical and bacterial contamination risk

Raw bones can splinter and pose a physical hazard if consumed. They can potentially lacerate the esophagus, stomach or intestines. Cooked bones become brittle and are also prone to cracking or splintering during chewing or digestion.

Bones may also be contaminated with bacteria like salmonella and E. coli from the slaughtering or processing of the animal. Proper cooking can kill surface bacteria but may not penetrate fully into the marrow of bones. So bones can potentially transmit foodborne illnesses.

Bones contain relatively little caloric value or nutrients

The major components of bones – calcium phosphate and collagen – are not very bioavailable or calorie-dense for human digestion. The marrow inside bones does contain some nutrients like fat, protein, and iron. But the difficult access and low calorie yield do not justify the significant effort needed to extract marrow. Simply eating the attached muscle and connective tissue around bones is easier and more rewarding.

More efficient calcium sources are available

The calcium in bone needs to be liberated by stomach acid to become bioavailable. But this is a slow, inefficient process compared to other dietary sources of calcium like dairy, leafy greens, legumes, seafood, and fortified foods. These foods contain calcium that is readily absorbed during digestion.

Bones have low palatability

Bones generally do not have an appealing or appetizing taste, texture, aroma, or appearance. Their hard, dry, crunchy nature clashes with the preferred soft, moist textures of most food. The look and smell of raw bones also does not stimulate appetites. Bones are associated more with byproducts than primary ingredients.

When were bones eaten historically?

While not commonly eaten today, bones have been consumed by humans at various points throughout history. This occurred either out of necessity or for specific cultural practices:

Prehistoric hunter-gatherers

Evidence suggests that prehistoric hunter-gatherers would break open bones and eat the marrow for calories. Bone marrow is high in fat and protein which was scarce and valued. The bones were also processed into tools and utensils.

Early agricultural societies

During the shift to agriculture 10,000+ years ago, human diets incorporated more plants and grains. But bones continued being broken for marrow and boiled for grease, stock and primitive soups. Bones provided important calories and nutrients when food was scarce.

Arctic cultures

In Arctic regions like Greenland, Alaska and Siberia, native groups traditionally consumed bones as a vital source of food. Raw, frozen, boiled or fermented bones provided fat, protein and nutrients in environments with limited edible plants.

Paleo diet movement

Some modern proponents of the Paleo diet argue that eating bones provides health benefits from nutrients like collagen. Followers cook and blend marrow bones into smoothies or stews to emulate early human diets. However, nutritional science does not clearly support added bone consumption.

What animal bones are eaten?

The following are examples of animal bones commonly consumed by humans:


Small, soft fish bones are edible for their calcium content. This includes bones from sardines, anchovies and other small fish that are eaten whole.


Chicken wing drumettes and tip bones are often cooked or fried. Chicken feet are also eaten in some Asian cuisines.


Lamb chops and cutlets contain sections of rib or vertebral bones. These are normally left on for flavor.


Spareribs and back ribs are pork chops containing rib bones cooked in sauces or barbecued.


Short ribs, T-bone steaks and bone-in prime rib all contain edible bones. Marrow bones are also cooked to extract the marrow.

Animal Bones consumed
Fish Small soft bones from sardines, anchovies etc.
Chicken Wings, feet, cartilage
Lamb Ribs, vertebrae
Pork Ribs, vertebrae
Beef Ribs, T-bone, marrow

What nutrients are in bones?

Although indigestible, bones do contain various nutrients:


Provides structure and strength. Needed for bone health and nervous system function. Found abundantly in bone matrix.


Key structural mineral in bones and teeth. Also used for energy production, cell membranes, and DNA/RNA.


Abundant structural protein comprising 1/3 of all bone protein. Provides gelatin when cooked. Important for connective tissue.


Bone marrow contains protein needed for muscle synthesis and metabolic functions. Collagen is also a protein.


Necessary for oxygen transport and energy metabolism. A key component of hemoglobin and myoglobin.


Crucial for immune system function, DNA synthesis, and cell division. Bone marrow is rich in zinc.


Bone trace mineral needed for healthy bones and cartilage. Also assists metabolism and antioxidant function.


Marrow stores fatty acids used for energy. Bones from animals fed grass contain omega-3 fats.

Nutrient Key Functions
Calcium Bone strength, nerve transmission
Phosphorus Bone mineralization, energy production
Collagen Connective tissue structure
Protein Muscle synthesis, cell function
Iron Oxygen transport, metabolism
Zinc Immune function, DNA/RNA
Manganese Bone health, metabolism
Fat Energy storage, essential fatty acids

Potential benefits of eating bones

While not commonly practiced, consuming bones may offer some potential benefits:

Provides calcium for bone health

Chewing and ingesting small softened bones could provide a boost of highly bioavailable calcium. This may help maintain bone mineral density.

Additional protein

The collagen and marrow found in bones offer additional protein content. This assists with building and repairing muscle tissue.

Supports connective tissues

Ingesting collagen from bone broths and stocks may support overall connective tissue health in muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Contains other nutrients

Bone marrow provides beneficial fats, iron, manganese, zinc and other trace nutrients. Bones from pastured animals also contain omega-3s.

Makes use of whole animal

Consuming bones reduces waste and makes full use of animals slaughtered for food. Broths and stocks made from bones help use parts that may otherwise be discarded.

However, most of these nutrients can be easily obtained from other more appetizing and digestible sources. The potential benefits do not outweigh the risks and difficulties of regularly consuming whole bones.

Safety concerns with eating bones

There are some important safety issues to consider with the consumption of bones:

Choking and internal damage

Swallowing small, sharp bone fragments can pose a choking hazard or internally puncture the esophagus, stomach or intestines. Always chew bones thoroughly into small pieces to reduce this risk.


Raw bones may contain harmful bacteria and pathogens. Ensure bones are fully cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to kill any contaminants.

High mineral content

The concentrated calcium and phosphorus in bones can inhibit absorption of other essential minerals if overly consumed. Balance bone intake with other foods.


The indigestible nature of bone may lead to bloating, cramps or constipation if large quantities are eaten. Drink plenty of fluids to help pass bone fragments through the intestines.


Some individuals may have egg, fish or shellfish allergies to certain bones. Check for allergies prior to consuming unfamiliar bone products.

Whenever experimenting with eating bones, proceed slowly and carefully while monitoring for issues. Fully cooking bones and chewing thoroughly reduces many risks. But regular, heavy consumption of bones for nutrients is unnecessary for most people.

Methods for cooking and eating bones

There are a variety of methods for preparing and consuming bone-in dishes:


Bones can be roasted in the oven to impart more flavor. Common for beef marrow bones. Roast at 350°F for 45 minutes.


Browning bones then simmering on low heat for hours tenderizes meats and dissolves connective tissues into broth. Used for short ribs or oxtails.


Similar to braising but with more liquid. Makes bone-in meats like shanks or neck bones tender.


Quick, high-heat broiling caramelizes and crisps the exterior of bone-in steaks or chops like ribeyes and T-bones.


Works well for firm, dense bones. Provides nice charring and flavor to bone-in cuts like chops and legs.

Simmering bones
Gently boiling bones into stocks and broths extracts nutrients, collagen and gelatin while softening bones. Cartilage dissolves after several hours.

Deep frying

Submerging bones in hot oil crisps up the exterior. Used for small bones like chicken wings or nuggets.

Properly cooked bone-in meats and stocks make it easy to consume softened, safe bones and access their nutrients. Bones can add flavor, texture and nutrients – but also require caution. Carefully monitor your tolerance.

Types of bones to avoid eating

While certain bones provide opportunities for consumption, others should always be avoided:

Weight-bearing leg bones

Leg bones from cattle, deer, pigs and other large animals are dense and difficult to chew or digest. They pose a significant choking hazard due to their size.

Skull and vertebral bones

Facial bones and spinal vertebrae contain complex sinuses that can trap food particles and bacteria leading to infection. They also have high bone volume.

Ribs of cats and dogs

The long, splintering ribs of companion animals should not be consumed or given as treats due to physical and choking risks.

Bones from wild carnivores

Scavenging the bones of predators like bears, cougars, coyotes or wolves is extremely dangerous due to bacteria and parasites.

Any unidentified bones

Consuming random bones found in the wild or of unknown origin risks exposing yourself to serious pathogens and disease.

Bones from raw diets

Bones included in raw feeding of pets can also be choked on or fracture teeth. Always supervise animals when providing raw bones.

In summary, never consume bones from wild carnivores or unidentified sources. And avoid any large, dense bones regardless of the species. Focus only on known small, softer bones from healthy herbivores or fish under sanitary conditions.


While bones provide a source of certain nutrients, their risks and challenges typically outweigh any potential benefits for most people. Bones are difficult to chew and digest, provide little caloric value, and may pose physical and bacterial contamination hazards if consumed. However, populations with limited food access have traditionally consumed bones more regularly for sustenance. Bones can also add flavor and nutrients when included in stocks, broths and cooked dishes. If carefully preparing and eating bones, focus only on smaller types that have been thoroughly cooked. Rigid, large bones should always be avoided altogether. Bones are generally regarded more as waste byproducts than food ingredients for modern diets. But with proper precautions and in moderation, softer, cooked bones can provide minerals, collagen, marrow and more complete use of animal sources – even if the practice is not very common or necessary for the average person.

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