Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Healing Power of Gelatin?

Gelatin has always seemed like one of the most nutritionally-neutral foods in the world to me. I've never really thought about it being healthy or unhealthy in itself, instead just making sure to check whether or not it's sugar-free. (It also never really hit me that gelatin without artificial flavorings could even be considered paleo.)

But low-carb guru Dana Carpender has been researching and exploring the health benefits of consuming gelatin -- both in its baking-aisle form and in its more natural, animal-bone-and-skin form -- and it sounds like she may be onto something here:
"Here's the main thing I gathered from it: You know how, over the past century or so, we've skewed our fatty acid intake by eating less animal fat and more vegetable oils, so that we're getting way too many omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3s, too many unsaturates and not enough saturates? In exactly the same way, we have been skewing our balance of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Gelatin-rich foods, from bone broths to head cheese to foods like pig's feet and ox tails, were a large part of a traditional diet. Our ancestors relished every part of the animal, and just as they ate organ meats that most modern Americans now spurn, they also ate all the gelatin-rich bony and cartilaginous bits of the animal. In this modern era of muscle meat and little but muscle meat -- think boneless skinless chicken breast -- much of this gelatin has vanished from the diet, but our bodies' need for it has not.
After naming joint health and energy boosts as positive side effects of gelatin, she goes on to list some other health benefits of the stuff:
Gelatin... with its glycine and proline, apparently does everything from reducing susceptibility to stress, to fighting tumors, to soothing the intestinal tract, to improving thyroid function. Dr. Peat also says it stimulates natural sleep,exciting stuff for this lifetime insomniac. It should be generally relaxing. And it should do very good things for skin. You've heard of collagen cream, right? I've known for years that the molecules were actually too big to penetrate the skin when applied topically, so these creams did nothing to strengthen our own collagen. On the other hand, taking it internally should be helpful. If I suddenly start getting mistaken for a 35 year old I'll let you know.
So weird, right? Bone-in meats have sort of always turned me off a little, and when I do tolerate them, I rarely get anywhere near the bone before I give up and push away my plate, but I can certainly start eating more Jell-O** or using plain gelatin as a thickening agent in my cooking. To read more about the many ways Dana is supplementing her diet with gelatin (including taking the plain powder by the teaspoonful with water), check out her whole post.


**I should note here that Jell-O brand's sugar-free gelatin is sweetened with aspartame, which many health-minded folks try their best to avoid these days due to its reputation as a neurotoxin. Katie and I have explained in the comments discussion following this post how we still enjoy it in moderation, but I would hate for this post to encourage anyone to start loading up on large quantities of aspartame-sweetened Jell-O. I've read that there are a few ways to make your own flavored gelatin with your sweetener of choice, such as mixing unflavored gelatin with Kool-Aid packets and sweetener or DaVinci's sugar-free syrups, but I can't vouch for exact amounts of each since I've never tried it. Perhaps I'll give it a go and share what I find out.