WHAT IS GELATIN?
Gelatin is the cooked form of collagen, and collagen is one of the most important proteins in the human body. Actually, our bodies contain more collagen than any other protein. Connective tissues, skin, hair, joints, and bones – they are all made mostly from collagen. Pure collagen only comes from animals and it is very rare for people to eat it in its raw form. Honestly, who wants to eat pounds of raw chicken skin or chew on beef knuckles? Sure, some people do, I remember my brother sucking on chicken bones from grilled wings or drumsticks when we were little, but for me, the idea of eating even cooked animal cartilage was extremely off putting.
Back in the early paleolithic era (this was also generally true before the industrialization of food, and has remained true in some other cultures – the consumption of chicken feet in China for instance), our ancestors used to eat plenty of collagen rich food; before they started cooking their food, raw animal parts was all they were left with. Unlike us, they didn’t have the luxury of farmer’s markets or supermarkets and when they caught an animal, they ate the whole beast, largely because they did not know when their next feast was going to happen. There were no leftovers in those days, there were no freezers or food dehydrators (and you didn’t always have the luxury of staying put long enough for sun drying). You either ate the food or let it spoil and go to waste (or left the rest to predators like wolves, hyenas, or vultures). The first peoples ate organs, muscle meats, skin, and usually even the soft parts of the bone (aka marrow) – the most collagen rich part of the animal.
The idea of eating raw animal connective tissue doesn’t sound appetizing at all, but unfortunately that doesn’t make collagen any less important for the optimal health of a human body. Therefore gelatin was invented, simply by cooking collagen rich animal body parts, which allowed us to create a more palatable way of getting those nutrients. Did you ever roast a piece of meat and later found jello-like drippings once it was cooled? That is gelatin, a water soluble protein extracted from the connective tissue in the meat! If you ever threw that goodness away, next time you definitely shouldn’t, unless you don’t want healthy joints, strong bones, long shiny hair, and glowing skin; who wouldn’t want that?
GELATIN VS. COLLAGEN HYDROLYSATE
You don’t have to cook tons of bones, skin, and meat to get your daily dose of gelatin. Purchasing gelatin in a powder form is very convenient, inexpensive, and versatile. Powdered gelatin is available in two different forms – purified gelatin and collagen hydrolysate (also known as hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides). Purified gelatin is extracted from collagen rich animal parts by cooking, it is very mildly processed and dehydrated so it can be sold in the form of dry powder. Gelatin is soluble in warm water only and turns into a solid jello-like substance after cooling down. Once you reheat it, it turns into liquid again.
Collagen hydrolysate is a bit more processed than gelatin, is soluble in cold water, and will never turn solid. It is a perfect addition to smoothies or even to your morning tea or coffee. Both collagen and gelatin have a very neutral taste, but some people prefer collagen, mostly for the texture and the fact that it dissolves in cold water. So whether you choose to use gelatin or collagen is really up to your personal preference (or your plans on how to use it).
EAT WHAT AILS YOU
Our body’s ability to restore connective tissues slowly diminishes around the age of 25, and once we are really old, our bones and joints become very fragile. Broken hips are very common among elderly people, not because they fall more often, but because when they fall, their weak bones and joints tend to break more easily. You see children fall from the branches of a tree or wound their knees all the time, but one relatively benign slip-and-fall accident does a lot of damage to their grandparent’s bones. We can’t turn back time, but we can certainly help our bodies to obtain those important repair materials from food. Necessary amino acids from gelatin and collagen are very easy to get, and everyone eating a modern diet should consider supplementing with some kind of collagen product. Old healers used to say “eat what ails you,” and in this case, it applies perfectly – eating collagen from animal bones, joints, and skin will help you keep your own bones, joints, and skin healthy. Hair loss, wrinkles, and osteoporosis can be all caused by a lack of collagen in the body. No wrinkle cream will make your skin look as radiant as a daily dose of collagen.
High content of amino acids is the main benefit of collagen products; they contain two very important amino acids, glycine and proline, essential building blocks for all connective tissues in the body. Gelatin and collagen hydrolysate both have similar amino acid profiles, only those in hydrolyzed collagen are broken down into smaller chains as a result of the additional processing. From a chemical perspective they are a bit different (they dissolve in different water temperatures and only gelatin solidifies), but nutritionally they have the same benefits. They are pure protein – you are getting 6-7 grams of it in every tablespoon. It is important to note that gelatin or collagen supplements should not be considered a replacement for other protein sources like meat or eggs, because they do not include all of the important amino acids, especially the essential ones (those our body can’t manufacture itself). Don’t treat your gelatin purely as a protein supplement, but rather as a steady supply of repair materials for your body to use to heal itself from injury or degeneration
Collagen and gelatin are crucial for human health for one more reason, probably the most important one: they have gut healing benefits! They help by healing gut permeability (aka leaky gut), and they also restore the mucosal layer in the digestive tract. Hydrolyzed collagen seems to be tolerated better by people with digestive issues, at least until their gut heals to a certain degree. Adding a tablespoon of hydrolyzed collagen in your tea every day is easy, inexpensive, and highly beneficial. It is digested very easily and your body absorbs it within 30 minutes. If you want to heal your digestive system even more effectively, try supplementing with L-Glutamine. Even though this amino acid is not essential (our body actually can create it itself), people with digestive issues (particularly leaky gut, or autoimmune conditions that affect the intestinal tract like Celiac, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, etc) struggle to have enough of this healing compound, and every extra dose speed up the healing process. You can even take it one step further and drink tea made with marshmallow root or slippery elm – these herbs have demulcent properties, meaning that they help healing the gut lining by providing an extra layer of mucus. They can also be consumed as a powder mixed in water, and would be a suitable option for Vegans and Vegetarians.
HOW TO GET MORE GELATIN INTO YOUR DIET?
As we mentioned earlier, adding a tablespoon of either gelatin or collagen is the easiest thing you can do to support your gut healing and connective tissues. I add a tablespoon of gelatin in my morning coffee along with a tablespoon of coconut oil and grass-fed ghee, and Susanne uses her collagen powder in tea or a smoothie every day to support her gut healing. We like Great Lakes brand, their gelatin comes in a red/orange packaging (this one will turn into solid gel once cold) and hydrolyzed collagen has green packaging (this one does not gel and will dissolve in cold water). Another very popular brand is Vital Proteins, where gelatin has a green lid and collagen (sold as collagen peptides) comes with a blue lid. These two brands only use collagen from grass-fed cows from sustainable farming, which is important because toxins from conventional farming methods can build up in the animal’s bones and tissues, which makes conventional gelatin effectively concentrated toxin powder. If you would like to supplement with another active ingredient extracted from connective tissue, consider hyaluronic acid like this one. Another wonderful option for healthy skin is using clean skincare, that provides an immediate dose of nourishing compounds when applied topically.
Some people consider gelatin and collagen powder supplements to be a processed food, and while it does require a certain level of processing to create them, the importance of collagen intake should stand as a priority for us. There actually is a real food option that requires no processing, just a little bit of patience and time – cooking bone broth!
All you need is a bunch of animal bones, some water, a pot, and a few hours of your time. It is that simple. Choose beef, pork, or poultry bones (ideally pasture raised, organic, etc) that have some cartilage on them or even whole cuts, like chicken wings, knuckle bones, marrow bones, leftover bones from roasted chicken, chicken feet… The more connective tissue is left on the bone, the better. Meaty bones also add flavor to your bone broth, but will increase the histamine levels, as will cooking leftover skin. It’s also worth noting that you can make broth with raw or cooked bones, but the flavour is quite different. Before you start cooking, add a splash of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to the pot, this will help release all the good stuff from the bones like minerals, vitamins, and collagen itself. The longer you cook the bones, the more good stuff will be released from them and the more benefits your broth will have. I cook my broth for up to 10 hours, though I have also seen recipes that suggest cooking as long as 48 hours. If you are concerned about histamine levels, you will want to cook the bones only for 6 to 8 hours on the stove or 2 hours in a pressure cooker, without the vinegar or lemon juice, and cool and store it as quickly as possible (Susanne’s rule is that it can stay in the fridge 12 – 24 hours, but for longer storage it needs to be in the freezer). Once you finish cooking, you can strain the broth with a wire mesh strainer and throw away the bones (though some people will cook a second batch of broth with the same bones plus a few fresh ones). You can then drink it warm from the cup like you would tea or coffee, use it to make a delicious soup or sauce, cook rice or vegetables in it, or freeze for later use. Whether you choose to use a pressure cooker (like I do), slowcooker or regular stock pot, making a mineral rich bone broth is the most natural way to get collagen into your body. You can also click here for Susanne’s favourite recipe. The Instant Pot (which can be used as a pressure cooker or slow cooker) is another very popular option; you can make a delicious broth with all the benefits even if you are short on time! If you find there is a lot of fat on the top of your broth when it is cooled, you can skim it off and set it aside to roast vegetables with or use for pan frying later, or just drink it with the broth. (remember fat doesn’t make you fat, sugar does).
If you or your kids love Jello or gummy bears (or other gelatinous candy), here is a tip on how to make healthy, delicious, and inexpensive gummies at home, without the excess sugar and artificial colorings these products usually contain! All you need is 8 tablespoons of gelatin powder (red packaging from Great Lakes or green packaging from Vital Proteins), 2 cups of either pureed fruit (fresh or frozen) or any fruit juice (do not use pineapple or kiwi, they contain a certain enzyme called protease that prevents the gelatin from solidifying), optional honey to sweeten (if you use very tart fruit), and some kind of molds. Silicone ice molds work great for this, or you can have fun with it and get some fancy ones like lego bricks or bears. I simply pour all the mixture in a tupperware or a glass pan, and once it is cold and solid, I cut it with a knife into small pieces or “worms”, which is the easiest option (but less fun to be honest). The basic recipe is very simple – warm the 2 cups of liquid (but don’t boil it), pour it in the blender (be careful to leave the seal of the lid open a bit so steam can escape!!! Or use an immersion stick blender), add gelatin powder (and optional sweetener), and blend for about 30-40 seconds. Transfer the mixture into your molds, allow to come to room temperature and put them in the fridge to cool and solidify for at least one hour. Have fun with it, experiment or get inspired by others – here are over 60 family friendly recipes using gelatin!
If for some reason eating animal products in any form doesn’t agree with your personal preference, but you still want to get all the benefits of collagen, there is an option for you. The sea vegetables known as Agar and Irish Moss provide a good amount of collagen when soaked, and can replace gelatin powder in desserts or savory dishes like gravy. Adding some of these sea plants to your vegetable soup will do the trick as well.
Getting enough collagen and gelatin into our diet is not difficult at all, and we all need strong connective tissues and a healthy digestive system. It doesn’t matter if you are fifteen or fifty years old, every person on this planet will benefit from collagen intake. You don’t have to do it all, but seriously consider adding at least one strategy described above to your daily routine. Find the way that works best for you; there is no one correct way, only the way that will suit your needs and preferences.