Gelatin is a common ingredient in soups, broths, sauces, gummy candies, marshmallows, cosmetics, and medications.

This common thickening and gelling agent is an animal-based product that contains high levels of protein.

In this article, learn about the possible health benefits of gelatin and who may want to avoid it.

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Manufacturers produce gelatin by processing animal bones, cartilage, and skin. They may use the bodies of cows or fish, for example.

The process extracts the collagen, a fibrous protein that connects muscles, bones, and skin, and turns it into gelatin, a flavorless, colorless, jelly-like substance.

Is gelatin vegetarian or vegan?

Gelatin is not vegetarian or vegan. It comes from processed animal tissue.

However, vegetarian and vegan gelatin substitutes are widely available in some areas.

Is gelatin gluten free?

Gelatin is gluten free. However, some products that contain it, such as soups and desserts, may also contain gluten.

Is gelatin a protein?

Gelatin is a high protein product. For example, 100 grams (g) of dry gelatin powder contain more than 85 g of protein.

Protein consists of various amino acids, and gelatin contains several of these.

The types of amino acids in gelatin-based foods depend on the specific food, the source of the gelatin, and its processing. Typically, the most abundant amino acids in gelatin are glycine and proline.

The bones and organs of some animals contain the amino acids in gelatin, and by eating gelatin, a person can obtain these amino acids.

Learn about the role of amino acids in the body here.

Gelatin may provide a number of health benefits.

Healthy body tissues

In its purest, powdered form, gelatin has a high protein content.

Protein is a macronutrient, which means that the body needs significant amounts to function.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommend that adults consume 46–56 g of protein each day, depending on their age and sex. This means that, on average, protein should account for 10–35% of a person’s daily calorie intake.

Proteins are essential because they:

  • Build and maintain body tissues.
  • Support the proper function of various organs.
  • Act as enzymes and hormones.

A 2017 study suggests that a supplement combining vitamin C and gelatin may help repair body tissues in athletes and prevent tissue damage. However, the study looked at supplementation rather than dietary intake.

Exactly how much protein do we need? Find out here.

Skin care

Collagen helps maintain the elasticity of the skin. With age, the body loses collagen. The skin becomes less firm, and wrinkles and lines may develop.

Eating gelatin may help boost collagen levels and support skin elasticity. A 2016 study found that ingesting collagen helped the skin retain moisture and reduced wrinkles in participants.

However, experts are not sure that consuming gelatin would have the same effect.

What does collagen do, and can supplements help? Learn more here.

Digestion

Gelatin contains glutamic acid, which the body can form into glutamine. This substance may help promote a healthy mucosal lining in the stomach and aid digestion.

Learn some more ways to improve digestion.

Managing blood sugar

A 2014 study indicated that glycine, an amino acid in gelatin, may help people with type 2 diabetes manage the condition.

However, some gelatin-based foods, such as gummy candies, have high sugar contents and so are not suitable for people with type 2 diabetes.

Which foods can help lower blood sugar levels? Learn more here.

Bone strength

Gelatin contains lysine, which plays a role in muscle and bone health. It helps the body absorb calcium, which helps keep the bones strong and prevents bone loss.

Limited observational studies have found an association between amino acid intake and increased bone density. Additionally, research from 2017 found that when rats with a magnesium deficiency consumed gelatin, this had a positive effect on one aspect of bone density.

However, more research is necessary to confirm whether eating gelatin can improve bone health in humans.

Sleep quality

Gelatin contains high levels of the amino acid glycine. Some studies suggest that glycine may improve sleep quality and other neurological functions.

However, the researchers did not specifically recommend consuming gelatin to improve sleep.

Weight loss

Consuming gelatin-based products as part of a balanced diet may help promote weight loss due to gelatin’s high protein and low calorie contents. Protein helps people feel full, making them less likely to overeat.

However, some sources of gelatin, such as chewy candies and marshmallows, also have high sugar contents. People should opt for low sugar sources of gelatin, especially if weight loss is a goal.

How much should a person weigh? Find out here.

Hair

Gelatin consumption may help promote hair health, according to older research.

One older study found improvements in hair growth among people with androgenetic alopecia who took a gelatin-cystine supplement.

However, more recent research has not replicated these findings or confirmed any benefits of gelatin consumption for hair health.

Gelatin vs. collagen

Collagen is a protein that helps form bones, muscles, and skin, and it is crucial to overall health. Companies process animal-derived collagen to make gelatin.

Gelatin and collagen contain similar proteins, and laboratory tests suggest that consuming gelatin as part of a varied diet may provide comparable benefits to consuming collagen.

Gelatin vs. pectin

Pectin is a thickening and gelling agent. In cooking, it can serve the same purpose as gelatin. However, pectin is plant-based and suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Companies typically make pectin from the skins of fruits and vegetables. As a result, pectin is high in carbohydrates but low in protein, unlike gelatin. There is less than 1 g of protein per 100 g of dry pectin powder.

Gelatin vs. agar agar

Like pectin, agar agar is a plant-based thickening and setting agent. Companies typically make agar agar from seaweed extracts.

It has little nutritional content, but it can be a helpful gelatin substitute in vegetarian and vegan cooking.

Gelatin is present in many premade food items, and it can be easy to add to cooking at home. Sprinkling gelatin powder into a smoothie, for example, can add a protein boost.

Mousses and jello

Gelatin can add shape and texture to sweet or savory mousses and jello dishes.

To use gelatin powder, first “bloom” it in cold water, then add hot water to dissolve it. Different products have different instructions about quantities and timing, but generally, using more water gives the gelatin a softer consistency.

Here are some sample recipes:

Homemade stock

People can make gelatin-rich broth at home by cooking the leftover carcass or bones of poultry or beef.

For extra flavor, add a whole carrot and onion, as well as some herbs. Cover the bones and other ingredients with water, bring this to a boil, and allow it to simmer. Check from time to time to ensure that the mixture does not boil dry, and add extra water if necessary.

When the broth cools, the surface will have a gel-like substance. A person can use this at once to make a soup or stew or freeze it for later.

Using leftovers in this way can support the environment by reducing food waste.

Not all food that contains gelatin are healthy. People with certain health conditions or goals, in particular, should check the fat and sugar contents on packaging.

The quality of gelatin in food may depend on:

  • the health of the animal it comes from
  • the method of processing
  • the other ingredients in a dish or product

Some people have concerns that consuming gelatin may increase the risks associated with animal-borne diseases, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.

However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that gelatin from cows is safe, as long as the manufacturers process it according to safety guidelines.

Gelatin is a high protein ingredient that can enhance the flavor, texture, and nutritional value of certain foods, such as mousses, stews, and gelled desserts.

It may benefit health in various ways, but generally, confirming these benefits requires more research. Supplements may be another way of obtaining the nutritional benefits of gelatin.

Gelatin is an animal product and so is not suitable for people with vegetarian or vegan diets. Pectin and agar agar are both plant-based substitutes.