Gelatin is the cooked form of collagen, found in animal bones, skin and connective tissue. Gelatin contains lots of amino acids, which is why it has so many health benefits.
Our bodies naturally produce collagen, but as we age, we produce less – research shows our natural collagen production begins to decline by 1% from age 20!
When we eat a meat-free diet and even just standard muscle meats without utilising the joints, bones, skin and offal we miss out on a huge amount of collagen in the diet that our skin, gut, muscles, etc need for optimal function. Consuming pure gelatin powder, from a good source, is a great way to supplement in a whole-food way, to boost collagen intake easily and regularly.
It’s said adults need around 4tbsp gelatin in their day and if we’re not consuming bone broth, slow cooked meats on the bone, chewing the cartilage around the bones, and eating offal then we’re definitely not getting even close to that dose.
So why do we need gelatin in our diet?
– collagen is the structural protein that helps maintain skin elasticity and keep your skin looking smooth, plump, and supple
– improves hair and nail strength
– repairs the gut lining and helps with digestion (it’s actually needed WITH meat consumption to help with digestion)
– strengthens and protects joints and bones
– boosts immunity
– reduces inflammation
– helps balance hormones
– provides essential protein without the bulking-up effect
– can reduce cellulite
– strengthens teeth
– aids in the body’s natural detox process
– improves sleep
– helps us feel full quicker, for longer, when eating
That’s a long list!
Gelatin truly is a superfood and it’s a staple in our kitchen.
Gelatin for healthy joints
Gelatin contains natural collagen which helps strengthen and secure the tissues in our joints. Plenty of research has studied the impact of gelatin as a treatment for bone and joint problems like osteoarthritis, having a positive effect on joint mobility issues and pain. The best source of this is bone broth as the nutrients in animal bones and joints (such as beef) are the SAME as in human bones and joints! More to come on this later but gelatin powder as a substitute is fantastic.
In summary, the benefits of gelatin for joints and bones are:
- Stimulating joint cartilage cell growth.
- Increasing mobility and range of movement
- Reducing inflammation joint pain
- Strengthening and improving the condition of skin, hair & nails
- Maintaining joint integrity
- Restoring joint mobility
I can say this is all 100% true as I’ve had a really bad lower back since 1999 but really weak bones since birth. With a degenerated intervertebral disc between L4 and L5 which gave me years of daily debilitating chronic pain, to have become almost totally pain-free after two weeks of drinking bone broth daily and using bone broth and gelatin ever since, I’m an example of how poor eating and nutrient deficiency causes major health problems and then how it can be turned around with good eating and lifestyle changes.
The two main types of gelatin
1. Gelling gelatin powder: dissolves in hot water, makes jelly-type foods, contains collagen and other goodness.
2. Hydrolysed collagen powder – processed to extract the gelatin but leave the collagen and amino acids. Doesn’t gel but easily dissolves in most liquids (cold, room temp and warm).
How to source good quality gelatin and collagens
Basically.. avoid commercial packets of jelly crystals and jelly products and opt for packets of pure grass-fed beef gelatin and collagen powders.
The different types of gelatin explained” there used to be only 3 varieties of good gelatin you could you could buy, and they were only from America, now there are loads of kinds, including lots of Aussie brands, but it can be a bit confusing! Jelly crystal and jelly products in the shops are full of absolute CR*P inflammatory ingredients and gelatin from really dodgy sources.
Yes the gelatin might be made using trotters and other animal off-cuts, but that’s not what’s wrong with them (offal is where gelatin comes from, it’s a good thing to use all of an animal, no waste!). The problem is how the animals were raised. It’s best for us, the animal and the environment to source gelatin products raised GRASS-FED and when possible, ORGANICLY.
Plenty of Aussie companies are now sourcing good quality ingredients to make gelatin (gelling) powder and hydrolysed (collagen) powders. And many even include other ‘healthy’ ingredients like green powders, aloe vera and more. But in my opinion simple is always best. PURE powders along with eating simple wholefoods (meat, veg, eggs, fat etc) are going to provide the most health benefits and save you from over-spending. Health food stores (physical/online) sell various pure beef gelatin powders now, as do few supermarkets. Read labels and look for grass-fed or organic powders.
Some hydrolysed collagen powders even target different parts of the body specifically. We love these! A local company we use makes these and explained to us how they process the collagen, it’s super simple and not an example of ‘bad’ processed foods at all. Stock the pantry with the gelling gelatin powders to make yummy jelly-type foods, and a full spectrum collagen powder to dissolve into liquids or a variety of different collagens depending on your health needs.
How we use gelatin + collagen powders every day at home
The #1 way to consume gelatin is in bone broth and we prefer home-made with just beef and chicken (organic) bones, no veg or flavourings, for maximum nutrient-density. Ideally gelatin/collagen should be consumed with every meat meal (we consume meat 2-3 times a day) but it’s not always possible to have bone broth, so we make sure we use gelatin and collagen powders.
Simply stirring collagen powders into drinks (water, coffee, tea, hot chocs, juice, etc) is the easiest way to get that goodness in with little effort. Starting with 1 tbsp per day and building up to 4 tbsp.
We also like to make sweet jelly foods with gelling powder; jiggly jelly, firm gummy lollies, creamy panna cotta, marshmallows, fluffy mousse + more.
Gelling gelatin can also be used for some savoury dishes (as I found out after yrs of experimenting!) such as flourless gravy/reductions, nut-free cheeses (soft and firm), and egg dishes.
We also mix gelling gelatin into some liquids to ‘bloom’ (soften) then add hot water and blitz with a milk frother or stick blender. This is great as a milk replacement in hot chocs, coffee etc to thicken up and make frothy (and way healthier!).
At first gelatin just seems to be a sweet jelly-food ingredient but when you think outside the box and get a little creative you realise it’s incredibly versatile. And that’s exactly what I did as a paleo recipe creator and cooking coach, and someone who for a long period of time needed to eat limited types of foods (due to health reasons), including gelatin, and had to get creative with how to make my meals enjoyable.
Are the vegetarian versions of gelatin ok?
The plant alternatives (agar agar etc) may have originally come in a natural 100% pure form but by the time they’re turned into a product to help foods gel/set, they’re so incredibly processed, no longer really ‘natural’ and come with negative side-effects (mostly to gut health).
Whereas gelatin from animal sources doesn’t. I did a fair bit of research into this a while ago, as I was always asked about at cooking workshops and on SM, and I came to the conclusion that the plant versions are actually unhealthy and not something I can promote using and consuming.
Dr Chris Kresser has an article about why even vegetarians should be consuming gelatin, so basically, animal-sourced gelatin is really important for our health, and the plant-based alternatives can be harmful. That’s my take on it, please do your own research though!
I hope this information and our perspectives and experiences help you on your journey to better health! Please comment if you have any questions.
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