If you’ve ever eaten Jello, then you’ve already been exposed to gelatin, whether you realize it or not. What may surprise you is that gelatin is not only a fun way to make desserts, it’s also an important source of nutrition.
So, what exactly is gelatin? As a type of protein derived from the partial hydrolysis of collagen, gelatin is found in animal parts that provide us with important amino acids, the “building blocks” of proteins.
In fact, its unique amino acid profile is part of what makes gelatin so beneficial, as you’ll read about below.
What Is Gelatin?
Gelatin is a protein that can be made into a dry powder. It is isolated and dehydrated from animal skin, bones, and tissues. While this may not sound appetizing, in reality, you may not even notice when consuming it because gelatin is almost colorless and tasteless.
Gelatin is used in food preparation and is the basis for many jellies, desserts, and candies because of its gummy and sticky properties similar to natural glue. The gelatinous nature of gelatin is actually one of the reasons it is beneficial when we consume it, as it helps in the formation of our body’s elastic cartilage and connective tissue.
Fortunately, we can consume gelatin in ways other than processed desserts. You may have noticed that bone broth has become increasingly popular lately. Did you know that bone broth is actually a rich source of natural gelatin? For example, beef broth is one source of beef gelatin. This is one reason why bone broth is often used to help clear up food allergies or intolerances, digestive issues, leaky gut syndrome, autoimmune disorders, and more. Gelatin provides amino acids such as glycine that can strengthen the intestinal wall and reduce inflammation. Glycine is used by doctors to improve digestive, joint, cardiovascular, cognitive, and skin health.
Do we really need to supplement with gelatin?
For most people, the answer is yes. Our ancestors’ traditional diets often included more gelatin because the “whole animal” approach to eating was popular. Today, the average person lacks adequate levels of gelatin (and other animal-derived compounds, such as collagen) because many edible animal parts are often discarded. It’s not the chicken breast or fillet steak that naturally provides gelatin – it’s the “gelatinous” parts of the animal that are now typically not consumed, such as skin, bone marrow, and tendons.
While we can make some amino acids ourselves, we may need more as we age, have higher levels of inflammation, suffer from impaired digestion, or experience weakened joints. Another group of people who may be very deficient in gelatin are vegetarians. Considering that vegetarians and vegans do not eat most or all animal products, they do not normally have exposure to it and may choose gelatin substitutes like agar or carrageenan.
While most vegetarian diets can be healthy if done carefully, it does increase the risk of lacking all the essential amino acids that the body needs because it eliminates “complete proteins” like meat, fish, and sometimes eggs and dairy. The benefits include amino acids such as glycine, which can enhance the strength of the intestinal lining, thereby reducing inflammation. Glycine is used by doctors to improve digestive, joint, cardiovascular, cognitive, and skin health.
Here Are Some of The Main Benefits of Gelatin:
1. Improving gut health and digestion:
Similar to collagen, gelatin helps prevent gut damage, improve the intestinal lining, and prevent leaky gut syndrome. You can imagine the intestinal lining as one of the body’s most important lines of defense because it keeps food, bacteria, and yeast particles in the digestive system, preventing leakage into the bloodstream and inflammation. Gelatin can increase your ability to produce enough stomach acid, which is necessary for normal digestion and nutrient absorption.
Glycine from gelatin is important for restoring the mucous membrane barrier of the stomach and promoting the balance of digestive enzymes and stomach acid. When you can’t produce enough enzymes/stomach acid, you may experience common digestive problems such as nutrient deficiencies, acid reflux, bloating, indigestion, and anemia. Elderly people often experience more digestive problems because digestive juices decrease with age and are exacerbated by increased stress. Finally, gelatin can absorb water and fluids, helping to prevent edema and bloating while improving constipation.
2. Protecting joints and reducing joint pain:
Collagen and gelatin are well-known for alleviating symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is common in older people and is considered the primary cause of frequent joint pain. As people age, they tend to experience more stiffness, pain, and limited mobility as collagen continues to break down and erode. Gelatin and collagen help prevent chronic inflammation, thereby reducing pain and preventing progressive diseases that cause joint dysfunction, such as degenerative joint disease. Studies have shown that people with osteoarthritis, joint pain, osteoporosis, and exercise-related soreness or injuries can benefit from supplementing with gelatin. In clinical trials, people who took gelatin (about two grams per day) experienced less inflammation, joint or muscle pain, better recovery, and even improved exercise capacity compared to those who took a placebo.
3. Helping to improve sleep quality.
Some studies suggest that taking three grams of gelatin before bedtime can help people who have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or are generally dissatisfied with their sleep. Researchers investigated the effect of gelatin on subjective sleep quality and found that it improved daytime sleepiness, daytime cognitive function, sleep quality, and sleep efficiency (sleep time/in bed time), shortened sleep onset time, and improved slow-wave sleep without altering normal/healthy sleep architecture. Glycine also seems to improve sleep in different ways than traditional sleep or hypnotic drugs, which typically means less drowsiness and side effects the next day.
4. Improve mood and cognitive ability.
The amino acid glycine is considered an “inhibitory neurotransmitter”, which means that its function is similar to some anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications, but without unnecessary complications and side effects.
People use glycine and other forms of amino acid therapy to naturally improve mental clarity and calmness, as certain amino acids help to reduce “stress hormones” like adrenaline and increase “pleasure hormones” like GABA.
About half of the inhibitory synapses in the spinal cord use glycine, and studies suggest that when glycine cannot be properly metabolized, it may increase the risk of developmental problems, fatigue, epilepsy, and intellectual disability.
5. Improve Skin Health
Worried about wrinkles, sun damage, stretch marks, and other signs of aging? The good news is that consuming gelatin (and directly ingesting collagen) can improve your appearance by positively impacting skin health and cell renewal.
Collagen is considered a major component of skin, giving us a youthful, healthy appearance.
Gelatin is important for the process of renewing skin cells and can also help prevent UV light damage, protecting you from free radical damage, wrinkles, and even certain types of cancer.
One of the reasons we experience signs of aging is due to the loss of collagen, which for most people, typically begins in their 20s or 30s and only continues to accelerate. As we continue to lose collagen, we may experience cellulite, loose skin, and fine lines due to a loss of skin elasticity.
The older we get, the more stress our bodies are under, and the more we need extra collagen to buffer the effects of all the environmental stressors we face. Consuming more gelatin is a wise natural skincare habit as it helps stimulate new, non-fragmented collagen, not only restoring skin durability but also helping to maintain strong hair, nails, and teeth.
6. Help Maintain Heart Health
One of the most beneficial roles that gelatin plays in the body is neutralizing the chemical compounds we get from consuming meat. Animal products – including meats like chicken, beef, turkey, and eggs – are rich in an amino acid called methionine.
While methionine has some beneficial roles in the body, excessive intake can increase the risk of heart problems and other diseases by increasing homocysteine levels in the blood. The more methionine we consume, the more we need other nutrients to help counteract the negative effects of homocysteine.
High levels of homocysteine in the blood have been associated with increased inflammation and diseases such as atherosclerosis, other forms of cardiovascular disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and cognitive impairment.
This isn’t to say you need to cut out all animal products to become healthier. Instead, you need to ensure a balance of the types of nutrients you get from your diet.
7. Maintaining Strong Bones
The skeletal system requires stable nutritional supplementation to maintain its density and strength. Gelatin is rich in nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, and sulfur, which help form the skeletal system and prevent fractures or loss of density. These nutrients are also beneficial for bone healing.
Researchers now believe that gelatin (hydrolyzed collagen) can be a safe and therapeutic drug for treating osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, even when used long-term in chronic diseases.
8.Helping You Feel Full
Like a source of protein, some studies have found that taking gelatin supplements (up to about 20 grams) can help increase satiety and control hunger hormones.
Although it has not yet been proven to be a useful weight loss tool, it seems to be able to increase satiety hormones like leptin and decrease appetite hormones like ghrelin levels in obese adults.
Once separated from collagen, gelatin is about 98% to 99% protein by dry weight. It is considered “very high” in the “conditionally essential” (or nonessential) amino acids glycine and proline, which the body can produce some of on its own.
The amino acid composition of gelatin is approximately:
- 21% glycine
- 12% proline
- 12% hydroxyproline
- 10% glutamic acid
- 9% alanine
- 8% arginine
- 6% aspartic acid
- 4% lysine
One of the most valuable amino acids we obtain from gelatin is glycine. Glycine, along with other amino acids such as proline, makes up collagen, which is crucial for providing strength and durability to the body’s connective tissue.
Glycine is also very important for our natural detoxification process to remove heavy metal chemicals or toxic substances that we may encounter through our diet and environment. Adequate intake of glycine is associated with increased production of glutathione, one of the most important liver detoxifiers that we possess. Glutathione helps to cleanse our blood and eliminate harmful substances from our bodies.
In addition to providing glycine, gelatin is high in proline, which offers several benefits:
- Forms collagen and connective tissue with glycine
- Assists in breaking down other proteins in the body
- Helps in the formation of new cells
- Helps to maintain proper muscle tissue
- Protects the digestive system from permeability
- Prevents the decline of muscle mass in endurance runners and athletes.
What Does Gelatin Taste Like?
Most people find that gelatin products typically lack any taste. Most unflavored gelatin powder/granules have no flavor or odor, but instead take on the flavor of whatever ingredients you mix them with, such as other ingredients in desserts or smoothies.
How much gelatin should you use or consume daily? It’s generally recommended that adults consume one to two servings of gelatin supplements per day. Each serving is typically one tablespoon of powder, providing about 9 grams of protein, which can be mixed with 8 to 16 ounces of liquid. (Usually hot liquid at 170 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is needed to fully dissolve the powder.)
Here Are Some Recipes That Require Gelatin:
Healthy homemade jelly (you can use stevia or monk fruit to reduce regular sugar content.)
Homemade jelly candies (choose 100% juice without added sugar.)
Instant pot bone broth with gelatin
Old-fashioned chocolate pudding with gelatin
Low-carb strawberry mousse
You can also add it to soups or stews, or use it in baked goods and desserts such as puddings, mousses, custards, cream cheese, oatmeal, and even pie crusts.
- What is gelatin? As a protein extracted from collagen, it exists in animal parts that provide important amino acids, which are the “building blocks” of protein.
- Approximately 98% to 99% of its dry weight is protein. Its naturally high content of amino acids includes glycine and proline.
- Since people no longer consume animal parts such as skin, bone marrow, and tendons, most people now consume very little gelatin.
- The benefits of gelatin include helping to treat gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease. Gelatin can also help protect joints and reduce joint pain, improve sleep quality, enhance mood and cognitive abilities, support skin elasticity, maintain heart function, maintain bone strength, and help you feel full.