Is Gelatin The Next Big Superfood?

Gelatin certainly doesn’t conjure up the most delicious food imagery—jiggly neon mounds with chunks of mystery fruit…Yuck. But it might be time to rethink the oddball ingredient, thanks to a growing movement among everyone from athletes to arthritics, all who are downing the stuff and claiming big benefits like less joint pain, speedier injury recovery, better sleep, improved digestion, glowing skin, and more. But can ground-up cow bits really boost your health that significantly? Here, we get the lowdown from Laura Schoenfeld, RD, a holistic nutritionist.

First, what exactly is gelatin? Is it really, like, hooves and stuff?
Gelatin most often comes from cows, pigs, and occasionally fish, and is primarily made up of collagenous joints, tendons, and connective tissues, which are dried and ground into a powder. There are two main types of gelatin sold: Regular gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen gelatin. Regular contains whole proteins and turns into a gel when added to liquids; while hydrolyzed gelatin is broken down into individual amino acids, so it doesn’t gel. The health benefits for each are the same, so what you pick is simply a matter of preference: Regular gelatin is what you would use to make Jell-O style desserts or gummies, while the hydrolyzed variety can be added to liquids like smoothies and coffee without messing with the texture. Gelatin capsules are available, too. They have the same ingredients and benefits, but tend to be more expensive.

What about vegan gelatin? Is that a thing?
By nature, gelatin is an animal product, so vegan “gelatin”—often made from ingredients like carrageenan, sugar, and various gums (e.g. locust bean gum)—don’t offer similar health benefits, and may even aggravate the gut if consumed in large quantities.  For a more environmentally-friendly and ethical gelatin than one you’d find at your average grocery store, opt for a brand that’s made from components of grass-fed or pastured cows like Great Lakes.

How much gelatin should people take if they want to try it?

oxtail

For a powder, 1 to 2 Tbsp per day should be enough; and for a capsule supplement, follow manufacturer instructions. You can also drink bone broth (which is high in gelatin) or eat gelatin-rich cuts of meat (anything that is on the bone or has connective tissue attached) such as shank, oxtail, and even pig’s feet.What are the proven perks? From what I’ve heard, this stuff sounds magical.
Gelatin is high in several amino acids, including glycine, which can be hard to find in other foods. On one hand, these amino acids are not considered essential, meaning your body can make them from other amino acids. However, they can be conditionally essential, meaning your body has higher needs for them than what it can provide. This is especially true for people who are very active, older adults, pregnant women, people with joint or bone injuries, or people who eat a lot of meat. Here are some things consuming gelatin may help with:

  • Protect against excess meat consumption: Some evidence suggests that consuming adequate glycine, present in gelatin, helps counteract the negative effects of an amino acid in meat called methionine. The problem with methionine: too much raises homocysteine levels in the body, which can neutralize B vitamins and up your risk for heart disease and certain cancers.
  • Boost gut health: The amino acids in gelatin feed the lining of the gut, which helps heal inflammatory damage you may incur from a poor diet, medication use, food sensitivities, or a leaky gut.
  • Ease achy joints: The body can use gelatin’s amino acids to rebuild collagen, cartilage, and connective tissues in joints. Research shows that athletes who take gelatin experience less pain in their joints.
  • Boost skin and nail health: Since gelatin’s amino acids rebuild collagen throughout the body, this can also mean big benefits to skin and nails: The protein is the primary structural elements that helps keep skin smooth and nails strong.

Can’t I just eat more Jell-O?

jell-o

Yeah, pretty much. But you might want to avoid the boxed mixes, as they’re often loaded with artificial colors and flavors, and sugar. I really enjoy making homemade herbal tea gelatin cubes using regular gelatin. Combine 3 cups hot brewed tea, ¼ cup raw honey, and 3 Tbsp gelatin powder in a bowl; pour into silicone ice tray or mold; and allow to set overnight.

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