Gelatin and collagen are two proteins that are commonly associated with health benefits such as healing leaky gut, promoting skin health, improving digestion, and reducing joint pain. Oftentimes, you may see gelatin and collagen used interchangeably. But while they come from the same sources — bones, skin, and tissue — they’re not the same thing. Read on to learn about gelatin vs collagen.
Gelatin vs Collagen: Similar, But Different
As mentioned, collagen is found in bones and connective tissue. Since it’s too tough to eat tendons or ligaments, these parts must be cooked down using a process called partial hydrolysis to make the collagen digestible. The hydrolyzing and drying of the bones and tissue is what forms gelatin powder. In other words, gelatin is the cooked form of collagen.
Making bone broth is one of the most delicious ways to get more collagen and gelatin into your diet. By simmering animal bones and animal tissue in water with other aromatics for 20 to 24 hours, the collagen and gelatin get released from the bones and make their way into your tasty soup.
When it comes to collagen supplements, you may have heard of hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides. This form of collagen is simply hydrolyzed gelatin that has been more aggressively processed to form smaller proteins, which can be easily absorbed in the digestive tract.
Simply put, the differences between collagen and gelatin come down to how they’re processed. The processing method is what gives collagen and gelatin different textures, unique health benefits, and allows them to be therapeutic in different ways.
So, should you use collagen peptides or gelatin? Let’s take a quick look at the similar health benefits of collagen and gelatin, followed by their differences, so you can decide which one is best for you.
Collagen vs Gelatin: What They Have in Common
First, let’s break down the makeup of each. Since collagen and gelatin are derived from the same sources, the have identical amino acid profiles. Most of the essential amino acids found in gelatin and collagen are highly anti-inflammatory (unlike some other animal proteins), which makes them beneficial for supporting overall health and well-being.
Gelatin and collagen contain the amino acids proline and glucosamine, as well as proteins called glycosaminoglycans. All of these nutrients support joint health by promoting the growth of new cartilage and cushioning the joints (1, 2). Having more of these nutrients has been found to help reduce the pain associated with arthritis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
The amino acid glycine is also found in gelatin and collagen. As a powerful natural anti-inflammatory, glycine also helps to improve joint function, but has the added benefit of supporting healthy nervous system function, improving sleep quality, building collagen, and strengthening the intestinal lining (3, 4). As you can see, glycine is one of the reasons why collagen and gelatin provide health benefits to the entire human body.
Lastly, one of the most important nutrients for healthy, younger-looking skin is collagen.
As the most abundant protein found in your skin, collagen helps preserve skin elasticity to keep it smooth, supple, and youthful. Since our bodies begin to produce less collagen once we hit age 25, consuming gelatin and collagen through your diet is especially helpful to improve your skin health from the inside out (5). Collagen has taken the skincare industry by storm thanks to these potential benefits, however the jury is still out on whether or not supplemental collagen is as effective as consuming it in whole foods since your skin doesn’t absorb collagen topically. As a protein, collagen is also a primary building block for healthy teeth, bones, hair, and nails (6).
Key Health Benefits of Gelatin
When collagen is boiled, partially hydrolyzed, and dried to form gelatin, it turns into a brittle, dry powder. But when mixed with hot liquids, it dissolves into a gel-like substance (hence the name gelatin). If you’ve eaten Jell-O before, you’ve had gelatin.
The gelatinous texture of gelatin is why it’s useful to add gelatin to your recipes as a thickening agent (such as homemade gravy, vitamin gummy candies, and soup). The gel-like texture also determines how it’s digested and absorbed by your body, which can influence certain aspects of your health — from balancing blood sugar levels to intestinal repair.
Picture gelatin as a thick, goopy gel when it’s being digested and absorbed in your intestinal tract. It moves sluggishly and is slower to digest, which is why it’s said to help soothe and coat the gut lining.
Since gelatin is 30 percent glycine, it’s one of the richest sources of glycine on the planet. Glycine has been shown to improve gut health by repairing the intestinal wall, and sealing the gut lining — which is essential for healing leaky gut syndrome and the autoimmune conditions that stem from leaky gut, such as rheumatoid arthritis and allergies (7, 8).
The benefits of gelatin for healing the GI tract also make it one of the top foods to eat on the GAPS diet, which is a gut health protocol designed to help repair the gut lining and heal digestive symptoms, leaky gut syndrome, and autoimmune diseases.
Blood Sugar Balance
One study showed that when gelatin was consumed with sugar, it reduced the glucose response by nearly 50 percent (9). This suggests that gelatin is an effective protein for reducing blood sugar spikes and crashes when consumed with high carb meals. Therefore, gelatin may also be helpful for managing and improving Type 2 diabetes and other blood sugar imbalances (10).
It’s possible that the slow digestion and absorption rate of gelatin is one factor that allows it to reduce insulin spikes, but the study specifically mentions the high glycine content in gelatin for reducing the glucose response. Since collagen peptides also contain glycine, it’s possible they may have a similar effect.
Gelatin may improve bowel regularity, and relieve bloating and constipation. Its gel-like texture absorbs water and helps keep fluid in the intestinal tract, which is needed to promote healthy and regular bowel movements.
Gelatin has also been shown to increase gastric acid (stomach acid) production, which improves digestion and nutrient absorption.
Side Effects of Gelatin
Some may experience digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, and heartburn when first adding gelatin to their diets, or from eating too much. This is because the larger molecules of gelatin are “heavier” and can be harder to digest.
To avoid these symptoms, it’s best to start with a small serving size of gelatin (such as 1 teaspoon) and gradually increase to 1 or 1 1/2 tablespoons.
Key Health Benefit of Collagen Peptides (Hydrolyzed Collagen)
Easy to Absorb
As we covered, powdered collagen supplements are gelatin that’s been processed more aggressively using hydrolysis, which forms smaller molecules called short chain peptides.
These short chain peptides are easier for your body to digest and absorb, which means the amino acids in hydrolyzed collagen may be more bioavailable and cause fewer digestive symptoms. Not only that, it’s possible that because collagen peptides are easier to absorb, you may notice the health benefits of collagen sooner when taking peptides, compared to gelatin powder.
Summary of Gelatin vs Collagen Health Benefits
As you can see, gelatin and collagen both provide many of the same incredible health benefits, so there really is no wrong choice. Whether you choose gelatin vs collagen comes down to how you want to use it (i.e., do you want to mix collagen in your smoothies, or add texture to your recipes?), and which form of collagen your body responds best to.
Because collagen products are made from animal products, which can sometimes be contaminated by improper farming and ranching practices, it’s important to select a high-quality product. Supplements are not evaluated by the FDA, so search for collagen powders made from organic and pasture-raised animals that have been vetted for safety and quality by a neutral third party like the National Sanitation Foundation.
Our favorite way to make sure we get enough of both? Delicious bone broth of course! Try making your own slow cooker beef bone broth, or purchase your favorite kind to drink straight from a mug or use in your recipes.
However you choose to consume collagen and gelatin, you now have a better understanding of what each one is, how they’re processed, and the benefits they provide.