What Is Gelatin? Plus, 5 Benefits of Gelatin
By: Emma Rose
December 6, 2018
- Gelatin is so much more than Jell-O. Gelatin is a potent protein that promotes glowing skin, strengthens joints, hair and nails, improves gut health, and even aids sleep.
- Collagen and gelatin come from the same source, and have identical amino acid profiles.
- Gelatin gels in liquid, and adds the jiggle to jellies, sauces, gummies, pies and more.
- Gelatin is made from the skin, bones, and connective tissue of animals. There are no truly vegan or vegetarian gelatin sources.
- Get more gelatin by eating cooked meats with plenty of connective tissue, making bone broth, or supplementing with gelatin powder.
When you think of gelatin, you probably picture some sort of wobbly, wiggly dessert. Chances are, the gelatin of your childhood starred in Jell-O, marshmallows and candies full of rainbow colors.
Turns out, gelatin is handy for more than just jiggly desserts. Gelatin is a potent protein that promotes glowing skin; strengthens joints, hair, and nails; improves gut health; and even aids sleep. Found in animal parts, gelatin provides essential amino acids, aka the building blocks of proteins. Most diets today don’t include the skin, bone and connective tissue that serve as the main source of these amino acids, and could benefit from an extra boost of gelatin powder.
Read on to explore the benefits of gelatin, what it’s made of, how to make gelatin at home, plus the best gelatin recipes.
Related: How to Get More Collagen, and Why Your Skin Needs It to Stay Young
What is gelatin?
Gelatin is a made by cooking down the protein collagen found in the skin, hooves, connective tissues and bones of animals. The cooking process breaks down the bonds between proteins to make smaller, more bioavailable building blocks that your body can easily absorb.
Like collagen, gelatin is packed with beneficial amino acids, especially the anti-aging superstars glycine and proline, which are lacking in the standard Western diet. These amino acids make gelatin especially powerful for healing skin, gut and joint damage. Because collagen and gelatin come from the same source, they have identical amino acid profiles.
The same elastic properties that make collagen so beneficial to our skin and connective tissue also make it handy as a gelling agent in food manufacturing. Gelatin has a unique ability to cause liquids to gel, giving foods like jellies, gravy, and jam their unique texture. This opens up a whole new world of culinary possibilities, from rich sauces to fluffy pies.
Gelatin vs. hydrolyzed collagen
When you see the term “collagen” on a food label, it usually refers to either gelatin or hydrolyzed collagen, as eating true collagen would mean loading up on raw connective tissue or skin from meats… yuck. Gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen (also called collagen hydrolysate or collagen peptides) are nutritionally similar, and both made by cooking and breaking down collagen-rich foods, like bone, cartilage, and hooves. This process breaks down the amino acids in collagen, making it easier to digest and absorb in our intestinal tract.
Both gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen provide the same valuable amino acids and nutrition profiles, with slightly different chemical properties. The extra processing used to make hydrolyzed collagen breaks the amino acids into smaller pieces, which some people find easier to digest.
This also means that hydrolyzed collagen can dissolve in hot or cold water, while gelatin requires hot water. Unlike hydrolyzed collagen, which will dissolve unnoticed, gelatin causes liquid to gel, adding thickness to sauces, jellies or even ice cream.
Bulletproof Collagelatin is a blend of gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen, a win-win of easily digested hydrolyzed amino acids, and unique gelling properties.
Health benefits of gelatin
Pro tip: combine your gelatin-containing foods with foods or supplements rich in vitamin C. Amino acids and vitamin C work better together to make collagen in your body.
Glowing skin: Grass-fed gelatin provides the necessary proteins to improve your skin’s moisture and elasticity, boosting healing and preventing wrinkles. Your body especially needs the amino acids glycine, proline and hydroxyproline to build its own collagen, one of the vital elements of healthy skin. Because your body tends to produce less collagen as you age, readily providing these building blocks helps fight off wrinkles, sagging and sun damage.
Strong joints: Gelatin’s elastic properties go more than skin-deep, and also promote healing and resilience in your connective tissues. Studies show that hydrolyzed collagen supplementation, like gelatin, decreases joint pain and increases the density of your cartilage, making your joints more durable.
Gut health: The proteins in gelatin help repair intestinal wall damage from leaky gut, and rebuild the protective mucous linings of your intestines. Grass-fed gelatin also helps your gut bacteria create butyric acid, which can boost digestion and reduce brain inflammation.
Supports detoxification: No, it’s not some Jell-O-juice-cleanse. Gelatin and collagen are low in the amino acid methionine, and high in glycine. Glycine helps balance the inflammatory effects of methionine, which can accumulate with high meat consumption and cause cardiovascular disease if in excess. Glycine and glutamic acid, both abundant in gelatin, are also major building blocks of glutathione, a major detoxifying agent that helps protect your liver, process toxins, and flush heavy metals.
Better sleep: Another superpower of glycine, one of the amino acids found in abundance in gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen, is its ability to help promote restful sleep. Glycine helps your body battle stress hormones and reduce anxiety, and helped study participants reach deep sleep faster and feel sharper and more alert the next day. Even better, extra glycine doesn’t cause daytime sleepiness.
How to add more gelatin to your diet
There are two ways to incorporate gelatin in your diet: by purchasing straight powdered gelatin to use in baking and food prep, or by upping your intake of foods that include animal cartilage, bones or skin.
Your ancestors reaped all the benefits of gelatin and collagen by using every part of the animals they consumed, including the cartilage, skin and bones. With less and less whole-animal eating in the Western diet, most people have lost this source of gelatin.
Fortunately it’s easy to soak up extra gelatin and reduce your waste by incorporating more bone broth into your diet, and eating up those often-overlooked cuts of grizzly meat that include cartilage or skin.
While gelatin from whole food preparations like bone broth pack an extra punch of valuable minerals and nutrients, powdered gelatin is also a beneficial source of animo acids. That said, not all gelatin powder on the market is created equal.
Gelatin powder: What to look for when buying
Because gelatin is made from cattle, chickens, fish or pigs, select your gelatin the same way you would chose your meats. While a box of Knox or Jell-O from will still make a squishy dessert, the perks stop there. Opt instead for grass-fed, organic gelatins to reap the healing protein benefits and avoid exposure to residues from pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. (Read more about the sneaky way Roundup hides in gelatin, collagen and bone broth)
Upgraded Collagelatin is the most Bulletproof form of gelatin – a blend of hydrolyzed collagen and gelatin. Use it as a 1:1 replacement for gelatin in any recipe for the same spring and texture, in a hydrolyzed form that is easier to digest and absorb.
Unfortunately for vegans and vegetarians, gelatin is only derived from animal sources. Many vegan recipes use agar agar, made from red seaweed, as a gelatin alternative, which is only partly true: While agar agar works similarly as a gelling agent, it doesn’t have the protein and nutritional properties found in gelatin.
Best gelatin recipes
What are the best ways to add gelatin to your diet? Both whole food preparations and gelatin supplements will give you the proline, glycine and other amino acids you need to look and feel like a healthier, stronger and more radiant you.
Check out our full round-up of gelatin recipes here, or try one of these favorites below! If you are cooking with Bulletproof Collagelatin, use it as a 1:1 replacement for straight gelatin, and squeeze even more nutrition out of the same fun recipes. Have a favorite gelatin creation of your own? Share in the comments below; we’d love to hear!
A hearty broth made with the leftover bones and cartilage bits from your organic, grass-fed meats is one easy way to make your own gelatin. Bone broth packs all the benefits of gelatin and collagen, plus a cornucopia of healthy fats, trace minerals, and vital nutrients. Try this recipe at home, or find an organic, grass-fed bone broth in your local health food store.
Pro tip: If your bone broth congeals slightly when you pop it in the fridge, you know you’ve got plenty of the good stuff.
When you crave Jell-O, skip the boxed version and try this easy sugar-free recipe: With simple ingredients like xylitol and lemon juice, it comes together quickly and creates the same jiggly results.
Get the anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric while getting a boost of gut-healing protein from pastured gelatin. A small scoop of grass-fed ghee adds a buttery golden touch and quality fats, making this recipe a good caffeine-free option for starting (or ending) your day.
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