What Is Gelatin?

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on August 11, 2017Written by Kathryn Watson on August 11, 2017


Gelatin is a natural food ingredient. It comes from animal proteins and can be derived from land mammals and some fish.

Gelatin is often found in desserts, candies, jellies, and cooking broth. In its natural state, gelatin has no flavor of its own and is completely clear. Gelatin is sometimes used as a dietary supplement.

People who consume gelatin for its health benefits claim that it:

  • helps heal joints
  • increases bone density
  • speeds up weight loss
  • reduces back pain
  • keeps skin looking youthful

Read on to learn more about gelatin and if evidence supports these claims.

What is gelatin made of?

Gelatin is made from the collagen found in the skin, fatty tissue, ligaments, and joints of animals. Pigs are one of the most common sources of gelatin, followed by chicken, cattle, and fish. Even sharks can be a source of gelatin.

How is gelatin made?

If you’ve ever made your own chicken soup from scratch and thrown the leftovers in the fridge, you may have already made your own gelatin! The fatty, jiggly deposits that rise to the top of the broth when you refrigerate it are gelatin from the chicken’s bones.

The laboratory process for making gelatin isn’t much different. Different parts of animals are broken down by an alkaline bath. This makes the connective tissues easier to separate from bone and muscle. After soaking in the alkaline bath, the gelatin is obtained from the animal parts through a heating and cooling process.

Different textures of gelatin are produced in different ways. Collagen is extracted from animal products through a process called hydrolysis. Hydrolysis creates a gelatin powder, which can then be mixed with water. This substance is called hydrolyzed collagen. You can find it in powdered pudding and gelatin mixes as well as many other food products. It’s also sold as a nutritional supplement, and it can be used to make bone broth.

Pure gelatin is produced by moving the animals’ collagen into a machine called a votator, which rotates and heats it until it’s ready to be chilled and dried. This type of gelatin is used in pills as well as foods like fruit snacks and marshmallows.

Health benefits of gelatin

Gelatin boasts quite a few potential health benefits. Some have been demonstrated in clinical trials, while others need more research behind them. Most of these supposed benefits are connected to the high levels of collagen you consume when you use gelatin. Bone density and joint health might also benefit from the use of gelatin as a dietary supplement for this reason.

Based on current literature, we know that gelatin probably gives you better sleep. Gelatin also speeds healing time when you’re building muscle and improves the appearance of cellulite. Gelatin may also repair skin damage and improve digestion.

Some people believe that consuming bone broth that’s made from gelatin can help you lose weight. There is some evidence that gelatin can reduce weight gain in women who are going through menopause.

Risks and complications

Though there are substitute food agents that can be used to “gel” food, there’s no such thing as vegetarian gelatin. People who are opposed to using animal products in their lifestyle or diet should be aware of this and avoid gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen when they see these things listed on ingredient labels.

There is also concern that consuming high levels of gelatin could be dangerous because of lead in gelatin. Sometimes high levels of lead end up in the finished product when gelatin, broths, or stocks are mass-produced or consumed in popular “bone-broth” diets. The chicken used to create some organic broths store high concentrations of lead in their bones because of the way they’re raised. This concern is also valid among non-organic chicken broths.

The bottom line

For improving your skin’s appearance, joints, and bone health, gelatin has proven benefits. It might even help you get a better night’s sleep. Other benefits, such as weight loss and improved digestion, have less documented evidence. But for the potential benefits that gelatin offers, it’s hard to find a product with fewer side effects.

As long as you aren’t a vegetarian, there is little drawback to trying gelatin as a health supplement. Children shouldn’t be drinking broth regularly due to the lead risk. Otherwise, it’s a low-risk substance that is generally considered to be safe.

Always remember that herbal and alternative remedies don’t have the same requirements from the Food and Drug Administration as synthetic drugs. If you’re considering taking gelatin for a specific health benefit, speak with your doctor before altering any medication or treatment plan that you’ve already been prescribed.

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