By Alysa Bajenaru, RD
When you hear the word gelatin, what comes to mind first? Jell-O? Yep, me too. The silky sweet treat was a staple of my childhood and always a hit at holiday parties. Although you don’t see as much Jell-O these days, quality-sourced gelatin is quickly rising in popularity thanks to its many potential health benefits.
What Is Gelatin?
Gelatin is a powder made from the collagenous joints, tendons, and connective tissues of animals, typically cows, pigs and sometimes fish. Flavorless and colorless, gelatin dissolves in warm liquids and gels as it cools.
Gelatin is made almost entirely of protein and has a unique amino acid profile, giving its many health benefits. The most abundant amino acids in gelatin are glycine, proline, valine, hydroxyproline and glutamic acid.
While our bodies make some amino acids, we need to get the rest through our diet. And since we don’t typically eat collagenous joints, tendons and connective tissue, supplementing with gelatin can be one good way to get those essential amino acids into our diet.
What Are Some of the Health Benefits of Gelatin?
- Improved sleep: Gelatin is the richest food source of the amino acid glycine which has been shown to improve sleep quality when taken right before bed.
- Better skin: Gelatin has been shown to increase moisture levels and collagen density in the skin.
- Thicker hair: Multiple studies have shown increased hair numbers and individual hair thickness with gelatin supplements.
- Improved bone and joint health: Although there is insufficient evidence for treating osteoarthritis with gelatin, recent studies have shown a significant reduction in joint pain compared to a placebo.
- Injury prevention: Adding gelatin to an intermittent exercise program improves collagen synthesis and could play a role in injury prevention and tissue repair.
- Improved brain health: The high amounts of glycine in gelatin may improve memory and attention.
- Improved gut health: The glutamic acid in gelatin may help repair and protect the gut wall from damage, helping to prevent “leaky gut,” a condition where potentially harmful substances can pass through the gut into the bloodstream.
How Do I Add Gelatin to My Diet?
One way to consume gelatin is by making your own bone broth. Once you have some on hand, use in any recipe that calls for stock, use it to make a stew, or simply drink it.
You can also buy gelatin powder and use it as a thickening agent in recipes, mix it in hot drinks, or add it to smoothies. Try adding gelatin powder to water and drinking right before bed to help you sleep. Gelatin powder can even be used to make an egg substitute for baking: simply mix 1 tablespoon gelatin with 3 tablespoons water.
Gelatin can also be taken as a supplement. Because our diets often lack natural forms of gelatin, supplementation may be a good idea. And hey, if you want the benefits of gelatin, and still want to enjoy that sweet treat from your childhood? Make your own Jell-O: it’s easy! Here’s how:
Healthy Cherry Gelatin
- In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil over high heat.
- Whisk in the gelatin until well mixed.
- Place the sliced cherries in the bottom of a glass bowl. In a separate bowl, add the cherry juice and whisk in 2 tablespoons of the gelatin-water mixture.
- Pour over the sliced cherries and cover.
- Refrigerate for 2-3 hours until set.