Gelatin is basically the cooked form of collagen (the stuff women pay big bucks to have injected into their faces to keep skin plump). Traditional diets were gelatin rich. Muscle meat was not generally eaten on its own like it is today; a whole joint was stewed – the muscle, bone, skin, connective tissue etc. altogether, with the full spectrum of minerals and amino acids in one meal. These days we throw away all the good bits. Incorporating bone broths is one way to replace the missing nutrients, but gelatin is a handy addition that completes the amino acids we need to down-regulate inflammation. Amino acids make up proteins and the particular ratios of certain amino acids make the protein in question either pro-inflammatory or non-inflammatory to the body when eaten. Gelatin contains only minimal cystein, methionine and histadine, and no tryptophan: these amino acids are inflammatory, inhibit thyroid function, depresses immunity, decrease the body’s ability to withstand stress and are associated with many problems of degeneration and aging.
Some of the main benefits of gelatin:
The main amino acid in gelatin is glycine, which is low in muscle and organ meats. It is anti-inflammatory, hydrophilic (hydrating), pro-thyroid, heals damaged intestinal lining (a.k.a. “leaky gut” and allergies) and improves hydrochloric acid insufficiency (weak stomach acid).
This anti-inflammatory amino acid balance helps also to regulate fat metabolism, maintain lean muscle mass, preserve bone strength and joint mobility and regulate cellular health. Also gelatin is high in proline: a non-essential amino acid that is an important precursor to the formation of collagen, important in wound healing and tumour inhibition, and also beneficial to people with ulcers. (Dr. Chris Kresser) Both proline & glycine are very Liver-protective (aids in Phase 2 Liver detoxification), increasing albumin and halting oxidative damage. Used as a major source of dietary protein, it’s an easy way to restrict the amino acids associated with premature ageing – and also note that Cellulite is actually just a collagen deficiency? (Dr. Catherine Shanahan) Restriction of cystein and glycine (through a diet that doesn’t emphasize things like broth, stew and additional gelatin) produces a greater extension of lifespan than achieved in most studies of total caloric restriction. Hormonally, glycine opposes estrogen and favours progesterone sparing, which is a very good thing for stressed out people with hormone imbalances. Gelatin balances the inflammatory protein makeup of muscle meat. Gelatin is a nice change from ‘beefy’-tasting broth: neutral in flavour you can add it to anything: sweet or savory. Being a pure and complete protein, gelatin is the only “protein powder” I would ever recommend. All others are highly inflammatory (whether they be whey, rice or soy based).
“People have asked me why I recommend gelatin since I recommend eating only whole foods. That is right, but we rarely eat whole foods, including whole animal foods. We throw away the bones and skin and are told not to eat the skin because it has fat in it. However this is precisely here where the gelatin is found. Gelatin contains thyroid-protective amino acids which can help balance the anti-thyroid (thyroid-suppressing) amino acids prevalent in muscle meats (beef, lamb, poultry and fish), mainly cysteine and tryptophan. In addition, the anti-thyroid amino acids are released in large quantities during stress and hypothyroidism itself increases the catabolism (tearing down) of protein even though general metabolism is slowed down.” - Dr Ray Peat: Gelatin, stress and Longevity.
When eating meats, go for more gelatinous dishes like osso buco, lamb shank stew and oxtail soups rather than just ‘refined’ muscle meat all the time (steak or chicken breast). When you do have muscle meats, balance them by sipping a home made bone broth, and or making a jelly out of high quality gelatin with it (think roast lamb and mint jelly) or for dessert. Incorporate gelatin into custards (with organic egg yolks), mousses, panna cottas, soups, home made marshmallow or simply mixed with fresh fruit juices to make jelly or chewy jubes. Make sure to dissolve gelatin until completely clear before using in food or it may cause gas / bloating. If your metabolism and/or gut lining is extremely damage, use home-made bone broth first: 1-3 cups per day minimum. Start with 1 tbsp gelatin daily. If eating a large serve of meat, a good rule of thumb is to have 5-10 grams of gelatin at roughly the same time so that the amino acids enter the blood stream in balance.
Important things to note:
When I refer to gelatin in a powdered form, it must be of the best quality: bovine (from free-range cows) and not the cheap porcine products Great Lakes is made in USA, Grass-Fed, and has the strictest quality control amongst all its competitors.
For an adult, gelatin can be a major form of protein in the diet, since the essentiality of (need for) cystein and tryptophan decreases when growth slows. Note however that it should not be relied on for protein requirements during pregnancy or adolescence as it doesn’t contain sufficient amino acids for these growth periods.
Recommended daily amounts of gelatin (whether it be good bone broth or powdered gelatin) is person-specific. This I can only recommend on a case by case basis.