Collagen vs Gelatin or Jello: What’s The Difference?

Collagen has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, filling out the shelves in health food stores and making a lot of claims about anti-aging and supporting connective tissue health. Research has demonstrated that both hydrolyzed collagen (gelatin) and collagen peptides yield measurable results in terms of absorption and benefits, and require the help of vitamin C, which supports the conversion of the amino acid proline and lysine into hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine (important components of collagen tissue).

In short, gelatin is hydrolyzed collagen, which is broken down collagen, and makes the collagen more easily utilized in the body. So why not enjoy gelatin, a tasty and easy dessert?

Collagen peptides differ from gelatin, having undergone further processing to yield a more broken down product that has been shown to support the synthesis of cartilage. However, even gelatin with vitamin C has been shown to have similar absorption and effects.

Supplement trials have shown adding gelatin to an intermittent exercise program improves collagen synthesis and could play a beneficial role in injury prevention and tissue repair.

If you are already excited by the prospect of health benefits associated with eating gelatin, check out my turmeric gelatin recipe here!

Collagen and gelatin are both derived from animal connective tissues and share similar properties, but they have some differences in terms of processing and applications. Here’s a comparison between collagen and gelatin:

Collagen:

  • Natural Form:
    • Source: Collagen is the main structural protein found in the skin, bones, tendons, and connective tissues of animals.
    • Structure: It is a fibrous protein that provides strength and support to tissues.
  • Processing:
    • Original State: Collagen is typically found in its natural, fibrous form within animal tissues.
    • Extraction: It can be extracted from animal hides, bones, or connective tissues through a process that involves breaking down the collagen structure.
  • Properties:
    • Solubility: Collagen is not soluble in water. It forms a gel when heated and then cools (think gelatin and Jello-o).
    • Gelling Ability: Collagen itself doesn’t gel easily; it needs to be hydrolyzed or processed to become gelatin (like cooked bone broth or gelatin powder you can buy has been cooked).
  • Applications:
    • Supplements: ‘Collagen’ supplements are popular for promoting skin health and joint function. The best ones to buy are collagen peptides as they are most easily utilized by the body.
    • Medical Uses: Collagen is used in various medical applications, including wound dressings and cosmetic surgery.

Collagen peptides can be easily absorbed as they are broken down small peptides, smaller than that found with gelatin. It is often used in supplements, powders, and beauty products for its potential benefits on connective tissue health and anti-aging. Here are some factors that may contribute to the effectiveness of collagen peptides for these purposes:

Bioavailability:

Hydrolyzed and peptide collagens have increased bioavailability compared to native collagen. This means that the body can more readily absorb and utilize the smaller peptides. However, research suggests that bioavailability may not be superior to that of gelatin, even though it has not been broken down as extensively.

Collagen Type:

There are different types of collagen, with type I, II, and III being the most common. Type I collagen is abundant in the skin, tendons, and bones. Type II is found in cartilage. When looking for collagen supplements for anti-aging and connective tissue health, consider one that contains primarily type I collagen for skin benefits.

Amino Acid Profile:

Collagen is rich in amino acids, particularly proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline. These amino acids play a crucial role in supporting the structure and health of connective tissues. Hydrolyzed collagen provides these amino acids in a more concentrated and easily absorbable form.

Vitamin C Intake:

Vitamin C is essential for collagen synthesis in the body. Consuming hydrolyzed collagen with foods or supplements rich in vitamin C may enhance its effectiveness. Vitamin C helps in the conversion of proline and lysine into hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine, important components of collagen.

Consistency in Use:

Consistency is key when it comes to collagen supplementation. Regular and ongoing use may contribute to better results. It’s not a one-time solution; rather, it is a long-term approach to supporting connective tissue health and potentially mitigating signs of aging.

Healthy Lifestyle Choices To Compliment Collagen and Gelatin Use

Collagen supplements work best when combined with a healthy lifestyle. This includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, hydration, and proper skincare. These factors collectively contribute to overall health and can complement the benefits of collagen supplementation.

Sun Protection:

While collagen supplements may support skin health, protecting your skin from excessive sun exposure is crucial for anti-aging. Sunscreen and sun-protective measures can help prevent collagen breakdown and maintain skin elasticity.

Hydration:

Adequate hydration is essential for overall skin health. Drinking enough water supports the hydration and plumpness of the skin, which can complement the effects of collagen supplementation.

Regular Exercise:

Regular exercise and having a more physically active lifestyle can help to preserve our connective tissue. Physical activity is needed to signal to these tissues to generate, giving us a greater capacity for movement and resilience.

Gelatin:

  • Derived Form:
    • Source: Gelatin is derived from collagen through a process called hydrolysis, which involves breaking down the collagen’s complex structure.
    • Structure: Gelatin has a more processed and refined structure compared to collagen.
  • Processing:
    • Hydrolysis: Gelatin is obtained by boiling collagen-rich animal tissues, typically bones, skin, and connective tissues.
    • Solubility: Gelatin is soluble in hot water, and it forms a gel-like substance when cooled.
  • Properties:
    • Solubility: Gelatin dissolves in hot water, making it suitable for a wide range of culinary applications.
    • Gelling Ability: Gelatin is known for its excellent gelling properties, making it a common ingredient in the food industry for making desserts, gummies, and more.
  • Applications:
    • Food Industry: Gelatin is widely used in the food industry to provide texture, stability, and a gelled consistency in various products.
    • Culinary Uses: Gelatin is used in cooking and baking to thicken and set liquids.

Summary:

  • Collagen is the natural, fibrous protein found in animal tissues, while gelatin is the processed form of collagen that has been broken down a bit, making it soluble and can be used for making jello or gummies.
  • Collagen is not soluble in water and doesn’t gel easily, while gelatin is soluble in hot water and forms a gel when cooled. The body can use this to benefit connective tissues in some research. Both gelatin and collagen peptides have had similar rates of absorption according to research.
  • Collagen, when processed to break it down even further into peptides, is often used in supplements. This is the easiest form for the body to use.

Collagen, when cooked to make gelatin or processed to make collagen peptides, both offer potential health benefits, but they lend themselves to different applications due to different properties. Given available evidence that absorption differences may not be significantly different, I think gelatin is an underappreciated way to get more of the benefits of collagen without spending as much money.

References:

Martínez-Puig D, Costa-Larrión E, Rubio-Rodríguez N, Gálvez-Martín P. Collagen Supplementation for Joint Health: The Link between Composition and Scientific Knowledge. Nutrients. 2023 Mar 8;15(6):1332. doi: 10.3390/nu15061332. PMID: 36986062; PMCID: PMC10058045.

Iwai K, Hasegawa T, Taguchi Y, Morimatsu F, Sato K, Nakamura Y, Higashi A, Kido Y, Nakabo Y, Ohtsuki K. Identification of food-derived collagen peptides in human blood after oral ingestion of gelatin hydrolysates. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Aug 10;53(16):6531-6. doi: 10.1021/jf050206p. PMID: 16076145.

Shaw G, Lee-Barthel A, Ross ML, Wang B, Baar K. Vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Jan;105(1):136-143. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.138594. Epub 2016 Nov 16. PMID: 27852613; PMCID: PMC5183725.

Iwasaki Y, Nakatogawa M, Shimizu A, Sato Y, Shigemura Y. Comparison of gelatin and low-molecular weight gelatin hydrolysate ingestion on hydroxyproline (Hyp), Pro-Hyp and Hyp-Gly concentrations in human blood. Food Chem. 2022 Feb 1;369:130869. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2021.130869. Epub 2021 Aug 14. PMID: 34461513.

Kjaer M, Jørgensen NR, Heinemeier K, Magnusson SP. Exercise and Regulation of Bone and Collagen Tissue Biology. Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci. 2015;135:259-91. doi: 10.1016/bs.pmbts.2015.07.008. Epub 2015 Aug 17. PMID: 26477918.

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Anne Marie Berggren RDN, MS, CDN, CNSC is a Registered Dietitian with a Master's Degree in Nutrition, training in integrative and functional nutrition, nutrition for mental health, obesity and weight management, is a board certified nutrition support clinician, and an adjunct professor for the Stony Brook Graduate Nutrition Program teaching advanced clinical nutrition.

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