If you’ve ever had Jell-O before, you’ve come into contact with gelatin whether you realize it or not. What might surprise you is that it’s a lot more than just a creative way to make your dessert jiggle — it’s also a source of important nutrients.
What is gelatin exactly? As a type of protein derived from 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 the reason for many of the benefits of gelatin, which you’ll read about below.
What Is Gelatin?
What is gelatin made out of? Are animals killed for gelatin?
Gelatin is a type of protein that’s made into a dried powder. It’s created from isolating and dehydrating parts of animals, including skin, bones and tissue.
This might not sound too appetizing, but you likely won’t even know you’re eating it when you have it because it’s virtually colorless and tasteless.
The reason it’s used in food preparation and as the basis of many jellies, desserts and candies is because it acts like a sticky adhesive, similar to a natural glue. The gelatinous quality of gelatin is actually one of the things that makes it beneficial when we consume it, because this is what allows gelatin to help form strong cartilage and connective tissue that gives parts of our bodies elasticity.
Thankfully, we can consume gelatin by eating a lot more than just processed desserts. You might have noticed an increase of popularity of bone broth lately.
Did you know that bone broth is actually a rich source of naturally occurring gelatin? For example, beef bone broth is a source of beef gelatin. That’s 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 like glycine that strengthen the gut lining and therefore lower inflammation. Glycine is used by doctors to help improve digestive, joint, cardiovascular, cognitive and skin health.
Do we actually need to supplement with gelatin?
For most people, the answer is yes. Traditional diets of our ancestors typically included higher amounts of gelatin, since a “nose-to-tail” eating approach of animals was popular.
Today, the average person runs low on gelatin (and other animal-derived compounds like collagen) since many edible animal parts are often discarded. It’s not chicken breast or filet mignon that supplies gelatin naturally — it’s the “gelatinous” parts of the animals that aren’t usually consumed nowadays, including the animal’s skin, bone marrow and tendons.
While we can make some of the amino acids on our own, we might require more as we age and if we have high levels of inflammation, compromised digestion or weak joints.
Another group likely running very low in gelatin is vegetarians. Considering vegetarians and vegans don’t eat most or all animal products, they have no exposure to it on a normal basis, instead opting for gelatin substitutes like agar agar.
A mostly vegetarian diet might be healthy if done carefully, but it raises your risk for being low in all essential amino acids the human body requires since it eliminates “complete proteins” like meat, fish, and sometimes eggs and dairy.
Here’s more about some of the main benefits of gelatin:
1. Improves Gut Health and Digestion
You can think of the gut lining as one of the body’s most important lines of defense, since it keeps particles from food, bacteria and yeast inside the digestive system where they belong and prevents leakage into the bloodstream, which triggers inflammation.
Gelatin can improve your ability to produce adequate gastric acid secretions that are needed for proper digestion and nutrient absorption. Glycine from gelatin is important for restoring a healthy mucosal lining in the stomach and facilitating the balance of digestive enzymes and stomach acid.
When you don’t make the proper amount of enzymes/stomach acid, you can experience common digestive problems like nutrient deficiencies, acid reflux, bloating, indigestion, as well as anemia. Older people often experience more digestive problems because vital digestive juices are lowered during the aging process and worsened by increased stress.
Finally, gelatin is capable of absorbing water and fluids, which helps prevent fluid retention and bloated stomach while improving constipation.
2. Protects Joints and Lowers Joint Pain
Collagen and gelatin have gained notoriety for easing symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is common in older people and considered the leading cause of frequent joint pains. As people age, they tend to develop more stiffness, aches and limited mobility that worsen over time since collagen continues to break down and erode.
Gelatin and collagen help stall chronic inflammatory responses, which reduces pain and stops progressive diseases that lead to impairments in joint function, such as degenerative joint disease.
Research shows that people with osteoarthritis, joint pain, osteoporosis, and exercise-related soreness or injuries can all benefit from supplementing with gelatin. In clinical trials, people taking gelatin (around two grams daily) tend to experience less inflammation, less pain in the joints or muscles, better recovery, and even improved athletic abilities compared to people taking a placebo.
3. Helps Improve Sleep Quality
Certain studies have shown that gelatin helps people who continuously experience trouble falling asleep, can’t sleep or who have general unsatisfactory sleep if they take three grams before bedtime.
Researchers investigated the effects of gelatin on subjective sleep quality and found that it improved daytime sleepiness, daytime cognitive functions, sleep quality and sleep efficacy (sleep time/in-bed time) — plus it shortened the time it took to fall asleep and improved slow-wave sleep without changes in the normal/healthy sleep architecture.
Glycine also seems to improve sleep in a different way than traditional sleep medications or hypnotic drugs, which normally means less drowsiness and side effects the following day are experienced.
4. Lifts Your Mood and Improves Cognitive Abilities
The amino acid glycine is considered an “inhibitory neurotransmitter,” which means it acts similarly to some anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications, only without the unwanted complications and side effects.
People use glycine and other forms of amino acid therapy to naturally boost mental clarity and calmness because certain amino acids help lower “stress hormones” like norepinephrine and increase “happy hormones” like GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).
About half of the inhibitory synapses in the spinal cord use glycine, and research shows that when glycine is not properly metabolized it can result in an increased risk for developmental problems, lethargy, seizures and mental retardation.
5. Improves Skin Health
Worried about developing wrinkles, sun damage, stretch marks and other signs of aging? Here’s some good news: Consuming gelatin (and taking collagen directly) can help improve your appearance thanks to its positive effects on skin health and cellular rejuvenation.
Collagen is considered a primary building block for skin and is partially what gives us a youthful, healthy appearance.
Gelatin is important for the process of renewing skin cells and can also help block UV light damage, therefore protecting you from free radical damage, wrinkles and potentially even certain types of cancer.
One of the reasons we develop signs of aging is because of collagen depletion, which for most of us usually starts when we are in our 20s or early 30s and only continues to accelerate. As we continue to lose collagen, we can develop cellulite, loose skin and fine lines as a result of skin losing its firmness.
The older we get and the more we put our bodies through, the more we could use extra collagen to buffer the effects of environmental stress we all face. Consuming more gelatin is a smart natural skin care habit because it helps stimulate new and non-fragmented collagen, not only restoring skin’s durability, but also helping you maintain strong hair, nails and teeth.
6. Helps Maintain Heart Health
One of the most beneficial roles that gelatin plays in the body is neutralizing chemical compounds that we acquire from eating meat. Animal products — including meat from chicken, beef, turkey, etc., along with eggs — are high in a type of amino acid called methionine.
While methionine has some beneficial roles in the body, in excess it also raises your risk for heart problems and other ailments because it increases the amount of homocysteine in your blood. The more methionine we consume, the more we require other nutrients that help lower homocysteine’s negative effects.
High blood levels of homocysteine have been linked with increased inflammation levels and diseases like arteriosclerosis, other forms of cardiovascular disease, stroke, weakened bones and impairments in cognitive functions.
It’s not that you need to cut out all animal products in order to become healthier. Rather, you need to make sure you balance out the types of nutrients you get from your diet.
7. Maintains Strong Bones
The skeletal system requires a steady supply of nutrients to maintain its density and strength. Gelatin is rich in nutrients like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and sulfur, which help form bones and prevent fractures or loss of density. Those nutrients are also great for bone healing.
Researchers now believe that gelatin (collagen hydrolysate) can act like a safe, therapeutic agent for treating osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, even when used long term in chronic disorders.
8. Helps You Feel Full
Once isolated from collagen, gelatin is made up of about 98 percent to 99 percent protein by dry weight. It’s considered “unusually high in amino acids glycine and proline,” which are “non-essential” (or conditional) because the body makes some of them on its own.
The amino acid composition of gelatin is approximately:
- 21 percent glycine
- 12 percent proline
- 12 percent hydroxyproline
- 10 percent glutamic acid
- 9 percent alanine
- 8 percent arginine
- 6 percent aspartic acid
- 4 percent lysine
One of the most valuable amino acids we get from gelatin is glycine. Glycine, in addition to other amino acids like proline, is what comprises collagen, which is critical for giving connective tissue throughout the body its strength and durability.
Glycine is also important for our ability to naturally detoxify ourselves of heavy metal chemicals or toxic substances we come into contact with through our diet and environment.
Consuming plenty of glycine has been tied to better glutathione production, which is one the of the most important liver-cleansing detoxifiers we have, helping clean our blood and usher harmful substance out of the body.
In addition to supplying glycine, gelatin contains a high amount of proline, which has some of the following benefits:
- works with glycine to form collagen and connective tissues
- assists in the breakdown of other proteins in the body
- helps with the formation of new cells
- helps with proper muscle tissue maintenance
- protects the digestive system from permeability
- prevents decrease of muscle mass in endurance runners and athletes
How to Make
The best way to consume gelatin is to eat animals “nose to tail,” meaning you don’t discard the bones and connective tissue but rather make them into broth or soup. You can do this by simply brewing some bone broth at home using this beef bone broth recipe.
Here are basic directions for getting gelatin from bone broth made at home:
- Use about 3–4 pounds of pastured animal bones with 4–5 quarts filtered water and 1 tablespoon sea salt. You can also add herbs, veggies and vinegar if you’d like.
- Put all the ingredients in a slow cooker overnight or for up to 48 hours.
- Strain off the top with a wire mesh strainer. The gelatin will rise to the top.
- Refrigerate until firm or overnight.
- Chip or scrape off any fat and save for cooking. This gelatin will keep in the fridge for a week (or a year in the freezer).
How to Use (Recipes)
While eating parts of animals that contain collagen and consuming bone broth are both ideal ways to obtain gelatin and collagen, this isn’t always easy or possible. As an alternative, you can use powdered gelatin.
Using gelatin in recipes helps add volume and smooth texture without adding many calories. It also increases the protein content, giving the recipe more nutritional benefits.
Additionally, it’s a natural thickener, stabilizer and texturizer.
- If you prefer not to make homemade gelatin, gelatin products such as dried gelatin powder can be found in health food stores or online.
- Hydrolyzed gelatin powder can be mixed into any type of liquid, including hot soups, broths and stews.
- Some people even use it in cold water like smoothies or juices.
- When looking to buy it in grocery stores or online, you’ll likely come across gelatin in the form of sheets, granules or powder. You can use instant types in recipes (which usually need to be soaked in water to absorb the fluid and become a gel).
- Many gelatin powders need to be soaked in cold water first, then dissolved in warm or hot water. This helps the gelatin swell up or “bloom” and then blend into liquid without forming clumps. Once it’s dissolved in hot liquid, you can chill the mixture to help it form a jello-like texture.
What does gelatin taste like?
Most people find that gelatin products tend to mostly lack any flavor. Most unflavored gelatin powders/granules do not have any taste or odor and instead take on the taste of whatever you mix it with, such as other ingredients in desserts or smoothies.
How much should you use or consume each day?
A general recommendation is for adults to consume about one or possibly two servings of gelatin supplements per day. Each serving is typically about one scoop of powder, providing about nine grams of protein, which can be combined with eight to 16 ounces of liquid. (Usually hot liquid that is 170 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter is needed to fully dissolve the powder.)
Here are some recipe ideas that call for gelatin:
- Healthy Homemade Jello (You can use stevia or monk fruit to cut down on the regular sugar content.)
- Homemade Gummies (Opt for 100% juice with no added sugar.)
- Instant Pot Bone Broth with Gelatin
- Paleo Chocolate Pudding with Gelatin
- Keto-Friendly Strawberry Mousse
You can also add some to soups or stews or use some in baked goods and treats, like pudding, mousse, custard, cream cheese, oatmeal or even pie crusts
Where else is gelatin found? Besides chicken or grass-fed beef gelatin, there are some other surprising products gelatin is hiding in.
Vegans and vegetarians should take note that gelatin can be found in certain brands of:
- Some wheat cereals, like Mini-Wheats
- Candies and gummies
- Frozen bagged vegetables
- Cream cheese
- Sour cream
- Cough drops
Risks and Side Effects
Is it safe to eat gelatin? Why might gelatin be bad for you, according to some skeptics?
Gelatin is usually very well-tolerated, even by those with digestive concerns. It’s best to start with a low amount each day, such as one serving or one-half serving, and gradually increase your intake to make sure you can tolerate it well.
Keep in mind that the overall health of an animal impacts the quality of the collagen and gelatin it stores inside its body. It’s important to consume quality animal products, including meat, skin, eggs and collagen, because properly raised animals store more minerals in their bodies, have more beneficial fatty acid profiles (more omega-3s and less omega-6s) and are less contaminated.
We recommend purchasing gelatin and collagen products from animals that have been grass-fed or pasture-raised, since these animals are healthier overall and are not raised using artificial hormones or antibiotics.
Going one step further, look for organic gelatin whenever possible to ensure the animals did not eat a diet that consisted of GMO grains or crops sprayed with chemicals. You also want to be careful about where you get your gelatin products from, especially beef gelatin, because you don’t want to be exposed to spongiform encephalopathy, aka mad cow disease.
- What is gelatin? As a type of protein derived from collagen, it’s found in animal parts that provide us with important amino acids, the “building blocks” of proteins.
- It is made up of about 98 percent to 99 percent protein by dry weight. It’s considered unusually high in amino acids glycine and proline.
- Most people don’t consume enough gelatin nowadays because it’s most prevalent in animal parts we no longer consume: skin, marrow, tendons.
- Bone broth — often used to clear up food allergies or intolerances, digestive issues, leaky gut syndrome, autoimmune disorders, and more — is a rich source of naturally occurring gelatin.
- Benefits of gelatin include helping treat conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract, such as inflammatory bowel. Gelatin can also help protect joints and lower joint pain, improve sleep quality, lift mood and improve cognitive abilities, support skin elasticity, maintain heart function, maintain skeletal strength, and help you feel full.