J-E-L-L-Oh? Surprising Benefits of Gelatin

I never really liked Jell-o much as a kid.  As a matter of fact, I despised it.  The translucent and jiggly nature of the stuff gave me the creeps.  And it was even creepier when it was served in the shape of a bundt pan, or with fresh fruit suspended in it. Extra creepy was the combination of the two (see below).  So instead, I always opted for it’s opaque, denser (and superior) cousin, pudding.

(I borrowed this photo from a Jell-o blog.  Which proves you could blog about anything.)

That was years ago, though.  I’ve grown up a bit since then, thank you very much, and I’ve changed a few of my opinions.  And, while I’m still not a big fan of Jello-o, I am an ardent believe in the stuff that gives Jell-o both it’s name and it’s signature jiggle.  You see, the irony is that one of my favorite food “supplements” (which I use for myself and my nutrition clients), is gelatin, the main ingredient in Jell-o.

Now, you may already know that gelatin is what gives Jell-o it’s distinct squishy texture; this texture is present in other kid favorites, from gummi bears to twizzlers.  Same squish, same reason: gelatin.  What you might not be aware of are the surprising health and fat loss benefits of gelatin.  Yes, fat loss I say!

Before we get into how gelatin can improve your health and your body composition, let’s first discuss what gelatin is, what it’s made from, why it’s so special, and other cool tid-bits about gelatin.

What is gelatin?

Basically, gelatin is the cooked form of collagen.  Collagen makes up about 50% of the protein found in an animal (including us) and is the stuff found in connective tissues like tendons, ligaments, and skin.  You know that thick pale yellow layer of fatty goo that forms on top of soups and stews when you refrigerate it?  Well, that my friend, is gelatin.

What is gelatin made from?

Gelatin can be made from various parts of the animal.  Depending on the manufacturer, gelatin can be made from the skin and bones of the animal.  These parts are dried and ground up into a powder, which is how you will find most store-bought gelatin.

Great Lakes Gelatin, the brand I recommend, uses grass-fed, hormone and anti-biotic-free cattle and pigs.  They use only the hides and the animals are put through rigorous testing and inspections to ensure they are safe for human consumption.  You can read a little more about Great Lakes Gelatin here: http://greatlakesgelatin.com/consumer/FAQs.php

Other ways to make gelatin is through the use of bone broths, stews and soups that use the bones of the animal. We’ll discuss bone broths and soups in a future post.

Why is gelatin so special?

One of the most important facts you should know about gelatin is that it is mainly comprised of the amino acids glycine and proline.  These amino acids have incredible health benefits and are the proteins that are responsible for giving collagen it’s fibrous texture.  Why is this important?  Well, since the media promotes eating skinless, boneless meat, we deprive ourselves of getting enough glycine and proline in our diet—which is unfortunate, because if people were a little more willing to knaw the fat and tendon off a bone, they might have a little less fat on their waists.

Here lies problem: when we neglect to eat the bones, skin, connective tissue and parts of the animal we would otherwise throw away, including the organs (gasp, organ meat!), we rely on getting most of our protein sources from muscle meat.  When we do this, we not only miss out on the benefits of glycine and proline (which I’ll talk about later) but we load up tryptophan, an amino acid found in muscle meat.

This becomes a problem because too much tryptophan in the diet can cause inflammation in the body, suppress the immune system, and increase the production of serotonin, which can impair thyroid function.  Gelatin on the other hand, contains zero tryptophan, another reason why it is so special.

A little side note about glycine…

Glycine, which makes up about 35% of the amino acid profile in gelatin, is not only an anti-inflammatory, but it can also help the body heal wounds, it can inhibit tumor growth, promote recovery from strokes and seizures as well as improve memory.  When combined with the other constituents found in gelatin, it helps create a powerful superfood to promote growth, healing and anti-aging in the body.

Other cool tid-bits about gelatin

Long before powdered gelatin was used as a weight loss or health supplement, traditional cultures were always aware of how beneficial the bones, skin, and other non-meat tissues were to health and healing.  Through the use of bone broths, fish head stew, and even head cheese (a favorite of Andrew Zimmern on Bizarre Foods), traditional cultures have treated sickness and disease, without the use of modern medicine, for centuries.  It’s no wonder why chicken soup is nicknamed “Jewish Penicillin.”

Ok, now that you have a better idea of what gelatin is and why it’s so special, let’s talk a little about what it can do for you.

What are some of the health benefits of gelatin?

1. Gelatin can help reduce inflammation in the body.  

Thanks to the high contents of glycine, gelatin can help the body reduce inflammation by reducing serotonin and estrogen in the body, 2 hormones that when in excess can cause inflammation in our tissues.  This makes gelatin an excellent addition to a protein shake after a hard workout.

2. Gelatin can help you look younger and sexier.

Since inflammation is one of the contributors to aging within the body, it’s obvious how the anti-inflammatory benefits of gelatin can help curb the aging process.  On top of that, gelatin can help your body repair quicker, and can strengthen and sexify your hair, nails, and skin.

I attribute my sexiness to gelatin powder and bacon fat. 

3. Gelatin can help you sleep.

Research has shown that ingesting glycine before bed can actually help improve sleep quality and reduce daytime sleepiness as well as improve memory.  This is partially due to the role glycine plays in the neurotransmitters within the brain.  Before bed, try drinking 1-2 tbs. of gelatin in a shake or smoothie.

4. Gelatin can help ease achy and stiff joints.

According to a Ball State University study, gelatin was shown to have a positive healing effect on the joints of athletes.  The gelatin not only reduces inflammation which can trigger pain receptors and cause stiffness in the joints, but it can also help repair small tears in the cartilage.  Anyone, whether you’re an athlete or not, can benefit from this.  Joints that can move with ease makes moving through life a heck of a lot easier.

5. Improved insulin sensitivity and lower blood triglyceride levels.

If you’ve ever worried about high cholesterol, or if it runs in your family, adding gelatin into your diet may be worth considering since it helps inhibit the breakdown of fatty acids that can end up in the blood stream.  It’s effects on improving blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity makes gelatin a noteworthy candidate for treating diabetes as well as a tool to help with weight loss.

6. Gelatin can help heal your gut.

Not only can gelatin help repair the mucousal lining of your digestive tract, it can also help you break down fats and proteins which will make it easier for your body to absorb.  When your body can effectively break down and absorb the food you’re eating, you reduce the amount of inflammation in the gut and get more out of every bite.

7. Gelatin can help minimize the effects of excess estrogen.

Too much estrogen in the body (which can be caused by all sorts of reasons including hormonal imbalances, over exposure to phytoestrogens like those found in soy, and xenoestrogens found in plastics) can cause inflammation, infertility and promote accelerated aging. The wonderful, and seemingly endless benefits of gelatin have anti-estrogenic effects which can help offset the effects of excess estrogen in the body.

At this point, you might be wondering, “This is great Sirena, but how the hell does this help me lose weight?”

Good question.  And I’m ready to answer that for you.

You see, when you’re less inflamed, when your gut is happy, when you’re sleeping, when you’re able to effectively manage your blood sugar levels, and when your hormones are working in harmony, what do you think you’re body does better?

That’s right.  You’re body does a better job of burning fat and thus, regulating your weight.  Bottom line.

I’m not saying that gelatin is the next magic pill and that loading up on gelatin shakes and homemade marshmallows (that’s right, you can make homemade marshmallows) is going to instantaneously give you flat abs, but its another piece in a much bigger picture.

After seeing the changes my body went through since adding gelatin in my diet, I began to recommend gelatin powder for all of my nutrition coaching clients.  And in doing so, have produced some amazing results that include weight loss, better digestion, better sleep and stronger hair and nails.

Now that you have a better understanding of gelatin and what it can do for you, you’re probably curious as to what to do with it.  Don’t worry, I got you covered.  In the next day or two I’ll post some recipes for you to show you how to use the stuff and where you can buy it.

In the meantime, leave your favorite Jell-o flavor below, and bonus points to anyone who can guess my favorite pudding flavor.

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