When you picture gelatin, you probably envision a bright and colorful, yet translucent dessert, topped with whipped cream and berries. And the gelatin dessert you’re picturing probably wiggles when placed on a giant platter onto the dining room table.
You are picturing the commercial version, found in many gelatin products like Jell-O, pudding, gummy bears, gummy candies, and even ice cream. As a food additive, store-bought gelatin is a tasteless, colorless, gluten-free, powdered ingredient which acts like a gelling agent in foods.
But where does gelatin, in its most natural state, come from? Why (and how) should you incorporate it into you diet?
What Is Gelatin?
Gelatin (also known as collagen hydrolysate or hydrolyzed collagen) is a protein found in ligaments, tendons, bones, and cartilage in both humans and animals. The chemical process of transforming collagen into gelatin is called hydrolyzation, where the molecular bonds between collagen strands and peptides are broken down. In the United States, gelatin is generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
If you’ve ever made bone broth at home, you probably made homemade gelatin without realizing it. When you simmer animal tissues and bones in liquid for an extended period of time (one to two days), collagen slowly releases from the bones and connective tissue. When the remaining broth is chilled, it turns into giant Jell-O jiggler in the fridge — or, gelatin!
Gelatin Is Made Up Almost Entirely of Protein
Athletes, new moms, those suffering from joint pain, and some healthcare professionals praise gelatin and collagen for its various health benefits. From healing leaky gut, fending off the common cold, and even preventing athletic injuries, gelatin seems to have a never-ending list of advantages.
But what makes gelatin so beneficial?
Gelatin is made up of 98–99 percent protein (1). It’s packed with amino acids — the building blocks of protein — which help build and repair muscles, promote longevity, and keep joints in solid working condition.
Gelatin and collagen have the same amino acid profile. Gelatin and collagen protein contain 19 amino acids total, over 50 percent of which come from glycine, proline and hydroxyproline, and glutamic acid. Here’s what’s so special each of those amino acids:
Proline and Hydroxyproline
Proline is a non-essential amino acid and an essential component of collagen. Commonly found in cartilage within the human body, proline helps repair muscles, tendons, and joints, and keeps them functioning properly. Proline also helps your body repair wounds. When you injure yourself, your body automatically increases its proline production to recover (2).
Proline and its derivative, hydroxyproline, are often credited for helping your skin look young and radiant. The body uses proline to increase skin’s elasticity and thickness, which can help prevent dryness and wrinkles (3).
Another non-essential amino acid, glycine has been shown to prevent a wide number of diseases. Patients diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, and several inflammatory diseases have shown reduced side effects after supplementing with glycine (4).
Glycine has proven especially useful for treating various metabolic conditions, including obesity and diabetes. Glycine can help break down fat, thereby contributing to weight loss. It also helps regulate blood sugar by converting glucose to energy, improving the blood glucose levels in individuals with Type 2 diabetes (5).
Glutamic acid is a non-essential amino acid found naturally in high-protein foods like meat, poultry, fish eggs, and dairy products (6). It’s been shown to benefit your brain, increasing your focus, memory, and even mood.
Glutamic acid is the most common neurotransmitter in the brain and spinal cord, helping simulate mental alertness and improved memory function. Individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are sometimes given supplements containing glutamic acid to increase their mental sharpness (7).
Health Benefits of Gelatin
Gelatin can benefit your health in a number of ways, from boosting your immune system (thereby preventing a number of diseases) to strengthening your bones, muscles, and tendons (and reducing your risk of injury).
Gelatin Helps Support Joint Function
If your knees creak in the morning or your hips pop when you stand up from your desk, you could be showing early signs of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. A common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease where your cartilage breaks down, causing stiffness and pain. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is a chronic inflammatory disorder affecting your joints, usually in your hands and feet.
In clinical studies, supplementing with hydrolyzed gelatin reduced pain in patients with osteoarthritis in their knees and hips (7). Gelatin can also be a great preventative measure against arthritis, before too much pain or inflammation sets in. In a 24-week study done on athletes, supplementing with gelatin reduced joint pain, increased mobility, and decreased inflammation that could hinder athletic performance (8).
Gelatin Builds Glowing Skin and Nails
The best-kept secret for healthy skin and nails might lie outside the salon. Collagen, the main component of gelatin, has been shown to increase the moisture in your skin, reduce wrinkles, and improve skin elasticity (9). In a randomized trial, applying a skin cream with collagen reduced skin wrinkles in 75 percent of participants, who were women aged 40 to 62 years (10).
Collagen might also help stop your nails from breaking. In one study, 25 participants took collagen peptides for 24 weeks. The clinical trial found that collagen promoted an increase of 12 percent nail growth rate and decreased the frequency of broken nails by almost half. In total, 80 percent of participants agreed that collagen helped improve the appearance of their nails (11).
Provides Mental Clarity
As mentioned earlier, gelatin contains glutamic acid, which can very beneficial to your brain and memory function. Beyond simply improving your memory and mental clarity, gelatin could help treat many serious diseases impacting your brain.
Here’s something to note about degenerative diseases and how they impact the brain: For the most part, your central nervous system has limited capacity to regenerate. Meaning, if it becomes damaged, there is little room to reverse that. That being said, gelatin might help reduce the negative effects of neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. It could also help you recover from a stroke or brain injury (12).
It May Help You Shed a Few Pounds
Gelatin might help reduce your appetite, thereby helping you lose weight. In one study, obese patients who were given 20 grams of gelatin noticed improved meal satiety after they ate. This study showed that the negative impacts of a calorie-deficit diet (like hunger and cravings) could be reduced with gelatin supplements (13).
How to Make Gelatin at Home
You can buy gelatin at the store or on Amazon, or prepare your own at home. If you purchase store-bought gelatin, be sure to buy a grass-fed brand, like Great Lakes.
Making gelatin at home is not so different than making your own bone broth. Here’s how you do it:
- 2 pounds leftover animal bones
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 8–10 cups filtered water or enough to cover ingredients
- Preheat oven to 400 F. Rinse the bones, pat dry with a paper towel, then line on a baking sheet.
- Roast the bones for 30 minutes.
- Add chicken bones to slow cooker and cover with enough water so that all ingredients are submerged.
- Turn on Crock-Pot to low heat and let cook for 24 hours.
- Strain the broth into a bowl through a colander, and strain once more through a cheesecloth to remove any remaining particles.
- Pour broth in a large bowl or container, then place in the fridge to cool. Once it’s cooled, it will solidify into a giant Jell-O jiggler.
- Scrape any fat off the top.
Your gelatin should keep in the fridge for up to one week, or six months in the freezer.
How to Get More Gelatin in Your Diet
The health benefits of consuming gelatin are endless, helping promote a healthy joints, muscles, bones, and even a healthy brain. It can help improve your digestion, boost your mental focus, aid in injury repair, and speed up your metabolism.
Like collagen, you can easily get more gelatin in your diet by making bone broth at home. However, if the process of making homemade gelatin is too time-intensive, you could always buy store-bought powder. For those who don’t eat animal products, there are several forms of fish-based collagen available on the market.
Simply add a tablespoon of collagen to your beverage of choice, using either hot water or cold water, or add to your post-workout shake or morning coffee to reap the benefits.