For shiny hair and strong nails, drink Knox orange-flavored gelatin! That was an ad campaign launched in 1957, targeting the female consumer. Whether there’s any truth in advertising is yet to be seen, but truth be told, these aren’t your grandmother’s jello shots. So stick a pin in that.
Aside from putting the bouncy jiggle in desserts, what is gelatin? At its fundamental core, gelatin is the cooked version of collagen. You know, that superglue our body uses to keep joints limber, ligaments and tendons springy, hair shiny, nails and bones strong, and our skin plump and dewy fresh. That’s great if not for the fact that by our mid-twenties, collagen production slows. After thirty, it drops as much as 2% a year and a walloping 30% after forty. Until 1980, there wasn’t much we could do about it. Then pharmaceutical-grade collagen found its way into the hands of dermatologists as an expensive, injectable filler to plump lips and erase fine lines. Hello, Juvederm. Goodbye, laugh lines!
But there were drawbacks. Cost aside, its effect only lasted a few months. When applied topically, it didn’t yield the same results, and some people were allergic to it. This prompted nutraceutical companies to create an ingestible version. Enter collagen hydrolysate. Nowadays, you can’t turn in a vitamin aisle without elbowing jars of fruity-chewy gummies, flavored powders, and gel caps of the stuff that’s flying off the shelves at the rate of $46.6 million, up 34% from 2017. Sales are projected to reach $293 million in 2020 and top $6.5 billion by 2025.
That’s a helluva lot of jello! Begging the question:
Is gelatin the same as collagen hydrolysate?
Their unique amino acid profile is virtually identical, though the exact composition varies depending on the source and preparation. But mostly, they’re categorized by degrees of bioavailability. Collagen in the raw is made up of triple helixes that are too large to be bioavailable on their own; they have to be broken down into smaller chains. Gelatin is derived from boiling certain animal parts and extracting the collagen from skin, bones, and hooves [think bone broth]. It’s then broken down to hydrolyzed collagen peptides. As peptides, they’re considered highly bioavailable, whereas gelatin, because it’s partially-hydrolyzed, is only medium bioavailable and may take longer to show results. Solubility is another factor. Collagen hydrolysate is cold-water-soluble, while gelatin is hot-water-soluble. Both prove effective, so it all boils down to how you take your collagen.
How many types of collagen are there?
In all, there are 28-types in the human body with 80-90% consisting of type I, which along with type III are commonly targeted in supplements for their anti-aging properties. While some nutraceutical companies include types IV, V, and X, these types haven’t demonstrated any viable benefit in clinical trials and require further research.
It is the most abundant in the human body, generating fibrous threads to weave the matrix of skin, ligaments, and tendons. As a supplement, it may aid in wound healing, reduce cellulite, help minimize wrinkles, and improve overall hair quality. Best sources: marine collagen/gelatin, egg whites, bovine collagen peptides, protein-rich foods like fish, beef, and bone broth.
The amino acids in type II target bone and cartilage. As a supplement, this type has the most efficient absorption after ingestion—usually within an hour, that could promote bone health and relieve symptoms of arthritis. Best sources: bone broth, protein-rich foods like chicken, and whey protein powder.
This type boost muscle mass while improving the structure of muscles, organs, and blood vessels. Best sources: bovine collagen peptides, protein-rich foods like beef, fish, and bone broth.
As more clinical trials unveil their findings, even skeptics are acknowledging the benefits of dietary collagen. While collagen/gelatin is not an adequate source of protein, its unique amino acid profile is yielding some impressive results. To date, here’s what some of the studies revealed:
-Skin and hair
This clinical study found that after 12-weeks, skin hydration, elasticity, and wrinkling improved. Another promising report concluded that vitamin-C enriched gelatin taken in conjunction with hyaluronic acid may facilitate collagen synthesis and tissue repair. As for its effect on hair, a case study conducted at San Jose State University reported that while collagen peptide didn’t increase linear growth, it did increase follicle diameter, which suggests a substantial strengthening of weak, brittle hair.
-Bone and joint repair
There are quite a few studies in the pipeline, one peer-reviewed paper noted, “A growing body of evidence provides a rationale for the use of collagen hydrolysate for patients with osteoarthritis.”
-Weight management and muscle growth
Those extra five, ten, fifteen pounds that we once willed-away in our youth seem impossible to shed and keep off now. But ongoing research shows that collagen/gelatin may offer the ticket to healthy weight management. In a recent study, participants were given various types of protein for breakfast: milk, soy whey, or gelatin. Researchers found that those who consumed the gelatin product had 40% more satiety and also ate 20% fewer calories at lunch than those who consumed the other proteins. When you feel full, you’re inclined to eat less, and it’s easier to silence those niggly cravings in between meals.
Muscle growth is a hobbyhorse I’ve been riding here lately, but as we age, the growth hormone [GH] slows, making it more difficult to preserve and build muscle. A 30-day study conducted in 2015 on elderly men in combination with resistance training, found that collagen supplementation improved body composition and increased muscle mass.
Supplements are meant to augment, not replace a balanced diet. You might have noticed that bone broth was mentioned in the source list of all three categories, because it’s still the most bioavailable form, although, the collagen content tends to be inconsistent because no two batches contain an exact proportion. But if you’re still considering collagen supplements, consult your medical professional as to which work best for you. Choose companies with marketing transparency. Look for certifications. Are their reviews third-party or industry-sponsored? Are their ingredients sourced responsibly from grass-fed beef, cage-free poultry, wild-caught seafood, and cruelty-free environments? FYI: Most companies that do, proudly post it on their labels and websites.
As for jello shots, I take mine straight up.
Espresso Jello Shots
Fun and easy to make. But don’t forget the vitamin-C/ascorbic acid, as it’s an essential component to collagen synthesis. Available online and in most grocery stores or vitamin shops. Ask for 500mg in the powdered form, this way, you can enrich the gelatin beforehand. One tablespoon/packet of gelatin [14grms] to 1/8-tsp of ascorbic acid [50mg] provides the requisite dose used in clinical trials. So maybe, just maybe, your grandmother’s orange-flavored gelatin drink wasn’t that far off the mark.
Mix up a batch of your own gelatin mix and store it in the pantry, then add a tablespoon of it to any hot beverage 1-2 times daily or use it to make jello shots. I prefer this type of delivery since the gelatin is already pre-dissolved, the cubes melt easily in a cup of coffee. Recipe yields 32-shots.
What you’ll need: measuring cup, 3-qt saucepan, whisk, and an 11×15 pyrex baking dish.
- 2-quarts or 8-cups brewed espresso coffee
- Sweetener [optional]
- Milk or cream [optional]
- 2-cups vitamin-C enriched gelatin or add 4-tsp of 500mg powdered ascorbic acid to it.
- Divide coffee in half and set aside.
- Bloom gelatin in 1-quart of coffee.
- In a saucepan, bring the second quart to a simmer, blend in cream/milk if desired along with sweetener.
- Add gelatin/coffee mixture to hot coffee, and whisk till dissolved.
- Pour into baking dish and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
- Transfer dish to counter. With serrated knife, divide into 32-squares and store cubes in an airtight container in the fridge.