I remember the first time someone told me the “secret” ingredient in Jell-O. I was pretty young. My older brother, in an attempt to gross me out, informed me that the jiggly green stuff on my plate was made from ground up bones and horse hooves. Needless to say, I was grossed out. And to be honest, being grossed out by the store-bought Jell-o “stuff” is okay… because it is pretty gross. Food dyes, processed sugars, and gelatin from sick animals. No thanks. But the truth is that real gelatin… the pure, unflavored stuff… when it comes from healthy grass-fed animals, is really healthy stuff. Like really.
A thought on animal consumption
Before I jump in to all the benefits of gelatin I want to first say a word to my vegetarian and vegan friends: Clearly this post is probably not for you. And hopefully we can still be friends despite our differences. Keep in mind that whenever I promote the eating of any sort of animal products that I do so with reverence and awareness of the sacrifice it represents.
I do not condone factory farming. I don’t believe animals should be abused or put in sickly conditions. I am horrified by mainstream practices when it comes to animal food. We can stand firmly together on that.
But I do believe that we humans are part of the circle of life, and that animals consume other animals. For my own health and the health of my children I do choose to eat animals. I’ve experimented without and the health consequences weren’t right for me. You don’t have to agree with me, but hopefully we can have mutual respect for our differences.
What is Gelatin?
Gelatin comes from the structural protein collagen found in many animals. This collagen is a fibrous protein that strengthens the body’s connective tissues and makes up almost one-third of the human body.
As you get older, your body makes less collagen, and individual fibers become increasingly cross-linked with each other. You might experience this as stiff joints from less flexible tendons, or wrinkles due to loss of skin elasticity. Gelatin can come from the collagen in cow or pig bones, hides, and connective tissues. (source)
Because gelatin is largely composed of the amino acids glycine and proline (something that most people don’t get enough of), adding gelatin to your diet can help your body in many ways:
Benefits of gelatin
These are just some of the benefits associated with gelatin.
- Gelatin improves hair quality, growth, and texture. (Want shiny, strong hair naturally? Take your gelatin!)
- Gelatin can help with the aging process. As we age our bodies make less collagen and gelatin provides more elasticity!
- Gelatin has been shown to improve nail strength and growth.
- Gelatin has been shown to help digestion and even heal digestive disorders.
- Gelatin can help with overall joint and bone health (and reduce arthritis pain).
- Gelatin is a cost-effective and nutritious way to get more protein in your diet. (I especially love slipping gelatin in homemade fruit snacks, smoothies, and yogurt pops to help my picky two year old get the protein she needs. Note: It is not a complete protein so it shouldn’t be your only source for protein.)
- Gelatin has also been shown to help you sleep better. (I can attest to this one myself, but here’s more proof if you want it).
- It’s also been associated with improved metabolism, reduced cellulite, and as a treatment for non-seasonal allergies.
Pretty cool, right?
Of course, for some the idea of eating “animal bones and connective tissue” still seems kind of gross. And really, I think that just goes to show how removed we are from the food we eat. Nobody (at least no meat eaters) seems to bat an eye when ordering a steak. But in our world that has made “meat” our main source of animal protein we forget that traditionally people would use as much of the animal as possible. Not only does that show more respect for the sacrifice of animal life, but there is SO MUCH nutrition to be gained from the non-fleshy parts of the animal. (Liver, anyone?)
When we eat animal proteins in the traditional ways (for example, eating fish head soup, as well as the muscles, or “head-cheese” as well as pork chops, and chicken-foot soup as well as drumsticks), we assimilate a large amount of glycine and gelatin. This whole-animal balance of amino acids supports all sorts of biological process, including a balanced growth of children’s tissues and organs. – Ray Peat
When we only consume muscle meats, on the other hand, the amino acid balance that enters the blood stream is the same that is produced by extreme stress. Consuming gelatin/glycine based foods actually has an “anti-stress” reaction for the body.
Check it out:
Glycine is recognized as an “inhibitory” neurotransmitter, and promotes natural sleep. Used as a supplement, it has helped to promote recovery from strokes and seizures, and to improve learning and memory. But in every type of cell, it apparently has the same kind of quieting, protective antistress action. The range of injuries produced by an excess of tryptophan and serotonin seems to be prevented or corrected by a generous supply of glycine. Fibrosis, free radical damage, inflammation, cell death from ATP depletion or calcium overload, mitochondrial damage, diabetes, etc., can be prevented or alleviated by glycine. -Ray Peat
And since gelatin is a RICH source of glycine it’s a great supplement to take with that steak or whatever other “meat only” meal you may be having.
What’s the best gelatin?
This is my favorite brand of gelatin. It comes from pastured-raised, grass-fed cows. I love to use this kind when making homemade fruit snacks or jell-o. This kind is perfect as a true supplement because it dissolves easily in cold liquids. I’ll add it to smoothies, OJ, or just water. I have both in my pantry. Always.
People often ask me if the gelatin in the baking aisle at Walmart is just as good… and I personally wouldn’t recommend it as a supplement. Animals store toxins, hormones, medications, and whatnot in the body. Plus I’d love to see less people support factory farming since it’s ruining the environment and devastating to the animals. If you can’t afford the quality stuff consider making lots of homemade broths and stocks. Another great way to get the benefits that gelatin provides in your diet.
I also really love this article from Butter Nutrition on 5 things to know about gelatin for the best health benefits.
Do you love gelatin? What’s your favorite recipe to use it in?