This is a guest post by Laura Schoenfeld, a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s degree in Public Health, and staff nutritionist and content manager for ChrisKresser.com. You can learn more about Laura by checking out her blog or visiting her on Facebook.
There are so many amazing benefits that can come from eating gelatin, including improvements in digestive, skin, and mental health. Plus, gelatin can be used to make a yummy, all-natural dessert that’s actually good for us.
So why aren’t we eating more of it?
Traditional diets are typically much higher in gelatin than our modern diets, because these cultures wisely practiced nose-to-tail eating and consumed parts of the animal that are high in gelatin, such as skin, tendons, and other gelatinous cuts of meat.
We’ve lost the practice of whole-animal eating, and vegetarians typically don’t eat many (or any!) animal products. This means that we’re eating a lot less gelatin than our ancestors, if any at all. The following five reasons will explain why nearly everyone – even vegetarians – should be eating gelatin on a regular basis!
Whether you eat meat or not, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting some gelatin in your diet. Here’s why!
1. Gelatin balances out your meat intake.
Muscle meats and eggs are high in methionine, an amino acid that raises homocysteine levels in the blood and increases our need for homocysteine-neutralizing nutrients like vitamins B6, B12, folate, and choline.
We don’t want high homocysteine in our blood because homocysteine is a significant risk factor for serious diseases like heart disease, stroke, mental illness, and fractures. (This might even explain why researchers sometimes find a correlation between high meat intake and various diseases.)
Those eating lots of animal protein need adequate glycine to balance out the methionine from meat, and you’ll get that from gelatin. For more information, check out Denise Minger’s awesome presentation, where she discusses this very issue.
2. Gelatin heals your gut.
Gelatin can also improve gut integrity and digestive strength by enhancing gastric acid secretion and restoring a healthy mucosal lining in the stomach; low stomach acid and an impaired gut barrier are two common digestive problems in our modern society. Gelatin also absorbs water and helps keep fluid in the digestive tract, promoting good intestinal transit and healthy bowel movements.
Gelatin-rich soups and broths are also one of the key components of the GAPS diet, which has been designed to heal the gut and promote healthy digestion. And healthy intestinal cells prevent leaky gut, which is often at the root of many food intolerances, allergies, inflammatory conditions, and autoimmune diseases.
3. Gelatin makes your skin healthy and beautiful.
Gelatin is a known promoter of skin health. Gelatin provides glycine and proline, two amino acids that are used in the production of collagen. Collagen is one of the primary structural elements of skin, so providing the building blocks for this important protein can ensure that your body is able to create enough of it.
A diet rich in gelatin may also protect against the aging effects of sunlight, preventing wrinkles in the future. So if you eat gelatin, you’ll feel less guilty about getting regular, unprotected sun exposure to boost your vitamin D, because your skin will be more resilient to damage! (Yay!)
4. Gelatin protects your joints.
Body builders have been using gelatin for decades to help improve joint health and reduce inflammation. And research shows that athletes who took a hydrolyzed collagen supplement experienced less pain in their joints, which could help improve performance for athletes and competitive fitness buffs. If you exercise a lot, eating gelatin can help keep your joints healthy and pain-free.
Also, if you have inflammatory joint or bone diseases like arthritis or osteoporosis, getting adequate gelatin can potentially help you manage inflammation and pain in your joints, and build stronger bones.
5. Gelatin helps you sleep.
Glycine from gelatin has been found to help with sleep. One study found that 3 grams of glycine given to subjects before bedtime produced measurable improvements in sleep quality. Many of my clients swear by gelatin as an effective sleep aid without bothersome side effects, in contrast to medications and even natural sleep aids like melatonin, which can sometimes cause grogginess.
Glycine is also an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which can decrease anxiety and promote mental calmness. This is because glycine antagonizes norepinephrine, a stress hormone which causes feelings of anxiety and panic. Gelatin can thus help keep you calm and sleeping through the night.
How to Eat More Gelatin
The traditional way to get gelatin is from skin, gelatinous meats, and bone broths. Those who eat a Paleo or ancestral diet can easily include these foods, but vegetarians and vegans will find these health benefits difficult to get from a largely plant-based diet. Gelatin is only found in animal foods that come from the body of the animal itself.
For vegetarians (and even omnivores!) I recommend getting a high-quality gelatin powder to add to food or to create yummy, healthy gelatinous desserts. Gelatin is somewhat more environmentally-friendly than lean meat because it uses parts of the animal that might not be used otherwise. And it’s much easier to digest than normal muscle meat, making it a good gateway food for vegetarians branching out into a more ancestral diet. (And in case you think vegetarians aren’t ever using any parts of the animal, think again.)
Hydrolyzed means the protein is broken into individual amino acids, making them easier to absorb. Use this type to improve skin and joint health or get better sleep. Hydrolyzed gelatin can be mixed into any type of liquid, including cold liquids, so it can be added to cold smoothies or juices easily. It also is great as a real food protein powder.
Whole protein gelatin is better for improving gut health. It helps carry fluid through the intestines, and can even coat the lining of the digestive tract as a soothing and protective layer. This is the type used to make gummies or jello snacks, and must be mixed into warm liquids.
Fish gelatin is available for those who prefer not to consume land animals.
One population who may need to be careful about consuming gelatin or gelatin powders are those with histamine intolerance; some people report a histamine reaction to these foods and thus gelatin may not be appropriate for those with severe intolerances.
Have I convinced you to eat more gelatin? Are you a vegetarian that uses gelatin? Share your story in the comments below!
Note: Chris Kresser has not reviewed this post and is not responsible or liable for any errors in content. This is general nutrition information only and should not be used in the place of medical advice for the prevention or treatment of any diagnosed condition.