Gelatin brings to mind a flavored, colorful dessert. However, gelatin is also a common ingredient in soups, broths, sauces, gummy candies, marshmallows, cosmetics, and medications.
Its high protein content makes gelatin a popular choice for those who are recovering from an illness. Some people take gelatin or its components as a supplement.
Manufacturers produce gelatin by processing animal bones, cartilage, and skin. People can also make it from fish.
This process extracts the collagen — a fibrous protein that connects muscles, bones, and skin in animals — and turns it into gelatin, a flavorless, colorless substance with a jelly-like texture.
In this article, learn about the possible health benefits of gelatin.
Protein consists of various amino acids, and gelatin contains several of these.
The amino acids in gelatin based foods will depend on the item, the source of the gelatin, and the way the manufacturer processes it.
The bones and organs of some animals also contain the amino acids found gelatin. Most people do not eat those parts of the animal, but they can obtain them by eating gelatin.
The most common amino acids in gelatin include:
Valine is an essential amino acid that the human body cannot produce. This means it must come from the diet.
Some forms of gelatin also contain:
Some people take these as food supplements, but gelatin could be an alternative source.
Gelatin may provide a number of health benefits.
1. Healthy body tissues
A 240-gram (g) cup of a gelatin dessert provides 0.82 g of protein.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 recommend that adults consume 46–56 g of protein or 10–35% of their daily calorie intake each day, depending on their age and sex.
Protein is a macronutrient, which means the body needs significant amounts of it to function.
Proteins are essential for:
- building and maintaining body tissues
- the proper functioning of various organs
Proteins are made up of various amino acids. The human body makes some amino acids, but most people need to take in extra through their diet.
Meat is a source of protein, but it can be high in unhealthful fat. Gelatin is a protein source that does not contain fat.
How much protein do we need? Find out here.
2. Skin care
Collagen gives skin its healthy and youthful appearance. As people age, they lose collagen. Their skin becomes less firm, and wrinkles and lines develop.
Gelatin may be a natural way to boost collagen and improve the skin's appearance. A 2016 study found that consuming collagen improved facial moisture and reduced wrinkles in humans.
However, experts are not sure that consuming gelatin would have the same effect.
What does collagen do, and can supplements help? Learn more here.
Gelatin contains glutamic acid, a substance that may help promote a healthy mucosal lining in the stomach. This could help with digestion.
It may also help digestion by stimulating the production of gastric juices. Gelatin also binds to water, which might help food move through the digestive system.
Learn some more ways to improve digestion.
4. Easing joint pain
The collagen in gelatin may decrease joint pain associated with inflammation.
According to the National Library of Medicine, some clinical studies indicate gelatin may reduce pain and improve joint function in people with osteoarthritis. However, further research is needed.
Gelatine may help with joint pain, but there are other home remedies, too. Learn more here.
5. Managing blood sugar
People who took glycine as a treatment saw a fall in their A1C levels and inflammation, suggesting that glycine may help prevent complications, such as tissue damage.
However, some gelatin based products, such as gummy candies, have a high sugar content. These are not a suitable source of gelatin for people with type 2 diabetes.
Which foods can help lower blood sugar levels? Learn more here.
6. Bone strength
Gelatin contains lysine, which helps strengthen the bones. It also helps the body absorb calcium, which helps keep the bones strong and prevents bone loss.
A 2001 study found no significant difference in bone density between mice who consumed gelatin and those who consumed another protein source.
However, more research is necessary to confirm whether eating gelatin can improve bone health.
What is osteoporosis, and how can you prevent or treat it? Find out here.
7. Sleep quality
The glycine in gelatin may improve sleep quality in some people.
In a study published in 2006, people who took 3 grams (g) of glycine around bedtime reported sleeping better and feeling more lively and clear headed in the morning.
The following year, a more detailed study confirmed the findings and suggested that glycine could play a role as a sleep enhancer.
However, the studies did not recommend consuming gelatin to improve sleep.
What tips can help improve sleep quality? Find out here.
8. Weight loss
Some scientists have suggested that gelatin may help promote weight loss due to its high protein levels and low calorie content. Protein helps people feel full, making them less likely to overeat.
However, a 2011 study that compared the effects of consuming a gelatin-milk protein diet with another milk protein diet did not find that people lost more weight with the gelatin option.
In addition, some sources of gelatin, such as chewy candies and marshmallows, have a high sugar content. People should opt for healthful, low-sugar sources of gelatin where possible.
How much should a person weigh? Find out here.
Some people take gelatin capsules in the hope that the lysine it contains will improve hair growth.
In 2004, scientists observed a significant increase in hair shaft length after mice took a gelatin derivative for 10 days.
However, this does not guarantee that taking gelatin capsules will improve a person's hair growth.
Learn more about other sources of lysine and other foods that can boost hair growth.
In the 1950s, various studies suggested that consuming gelatin may help prevent brittle nails. However, no current evidence appears to support this use.
Get some tips here on how to strengthen your nails.
Gelatin is present in many premade food items, but it is also easy to add to dishes at home. Sprinkling gelatin powder in a smoothie, for example, can add a protein boost.
Gelatin is available in grocery stores and online.
Mousses and jello
Gelatin can add shape and texture to sweet and savory mousses and jello.
To use gelatin powder, it is first necessary to "bloom" it in cold water, then add hot water to dissolve it. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for timing and quantities. Using more water will give a softer consistency.
Here are some sample recipes:
- Healthy homemade jello
- Elderflower jelly
- Smoked or poached salmon mousse with dill sauce
- Avocado mousse with lime
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 and some herbs before cooking. Cover the bones with water, bring to the boil, and allow to simmer for 1–2 hours. Check from time to time to ensure it does not boil dry, and add extra water if necessary.
When the broth cools, the person will see a gel-substance on the surface. They can use this at once as the basis of a soup or stew, or freeze it for future use.
Using up leftovers in this way can also help the environment by reducing food waste.
Not all food that contains gelatin will be healthful. People should check for fat and sugar content, especially if they have certain health conditions.
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 voiced concerns that consuming gelatin may increase the risk of some animal-borne diseases, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
However, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), gelatin from cows is permissible, as long as manufacturers process it according to safety guidelines.
There is little information about the adverse effects of consuming gelatin. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) note that taking gelatin by mouth is likely safe. They add that it is probably safe to take up to 10 g as supplements for up to 6 months.
Gelatin is an animal based product. It is not suitable as part of a vegan or vegetarian diet. People who wish to add the same texture to their food without using animal products can use agar-agar, a seaweed based product. However, this will not contain the same levels of protein as gelatin.
Agar-agar powder and flakes are available for purchase online.
Gelatin is a high protein ingredient that can enhance the flavor, texture, and nutritional value of foods.
Consuming gelatin may benefit people's health in various ways, but more research is needed to confirm most of these.
Supplements are another way of obtaining the nutritional benefits of gelatin.
The FDA do not regulate supplements, so their quality is not guaranteed. Some may interact with medications or be unsuitable for certain individuals. People should talk to their doctor before using supplements, and only take the recommended dosage.
A range of gelatin and collagen supplements is available for purchase online.
Will gelatin in the diet really provide enough goodness to make a difference?
There are some studies that support the use of gelatin[DW2] , however it is not clearly understood how much good it does. Eating a balanced diet that includes recommended amounts of protein is the best way to ensure a person gets all the nutrients their body needs.Deborah Weatherspoon, Ph.D., R.N., CRNA Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.