I don’t love the term ‘superfoods’ in nutrition - everyday foods such as apples or carrots are super nutritious; whole foods in their original state should make up the majority of a diet and this is what I would always advise people to focus on primarily - HOWEVER - as periphery/add ons to a whole foods diet, some so-called ‘superfoods’ do have great benefits for certain conditions and complaints.
Two of these are gelatin and collagen - these can be particularly great for sportspeople when suffering with joint or digestive complaints.
Technically, gelatin and collagen are the same compound: gelatin is simply cooked collagen. However, the way we may get these into our diet varies so I refer to them separately throughout the blog.
What are gelatin and collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies found in skin, the gut barrier, connective tissue, cartilage, bones and joints. It’s apparently stronger than steel gram for gram!
Collagen and gelatin come from animal parts such as connective tissue - the hard, rubbery parts mainly. Our ancestors would eat more of the animal than we now do, so traditionally would get more of this in their diets.
What are the health benefits of including these in my diet?
Sadly, by the age of 35 our collagen production naturally slows, and environmental factors such as smoking, toxins, excessive sun exposure, and nutritional deficiencies can negatively impact levels further. Things like damaged skin, generalised joint pain, weakened bones and poor gut health may develop as a result of poor collagen status.
- Joint health - collagen and gelatin directly help build cartilage which protects joints. Studies show collagen may improve joint pain overall and some cases of osteoarthritis.
- Bone health - bones again are made mostly from collagen, and thus supplementing with this nutrient as you naturally lose bone strength with age can help prolong bone density.
- Skin health - collagen is the building block for skin, so giving the skin plenty of this protein allows it to be its optimal self. If you suffer from dry, itchy, sore skin or ageing skin - providing a boost of collagen may support its natural ability to repair. Collagen is used a lot in the beauty industry.
- Gut health - the gut wall is made of collagen, and thus collagen and gelatin can help ‘repair’ a compromised wall. ‘Leaky gut’ is the term used when there are wider than average gaps in the gut wall (as a result of toxins, inflammation, imbalanced gut bacteria etc); leaky gut can predispose us to intolerances and disease, particularly autoimmune conditions. Thus repairing the gut wall with collagen and gelatin is a great way of maintaining health, and with other interventions, easing intolerances.
How can I include these in my diet?
Gelatin and collagen come from boiling down animal parts, such as cartilage and bones. Bone broth is the typical end product which is super nutritious. Collagen and gelatin are the powdered forms of compounds extracted from this.
Boiling down animal carcass produces collagen, glutamine and glucosamine among other nutrients, these are very restorative for the gut lining.
- beef bones, chicken carcass, lamb bones (always organic to avoid pesticides, hormones, antibiotics etc).
- chopped onions, carrots, celery for flavour
- herbs and black pepper for flavour
- Water - ensure all bones covered, fill pan to half way.
- Optional: splash of apple cider vinegar/lemon juice to help extract the minerals from the bones
Put all ingredients in large pot or ideally slow cooker, cover well with cold water and bring to boil. Simmer on a low heat for at least 6 hours for chicken and 12 hours for beef (or longer if you can e.g. you can do 20 hours in a slow cooker). Skim off any foam that rises to the top. Let the stock cool and strain into clean containers. Discard solids. Keeps for at least three days in an airtight container in the fridge or 6 months in the freezer. Drink on its own (like chicken soup) or add to soups, smoothies, stews. Re-heat it from fridge freezer for taste.
Gelatin can be added to water and simply drunk on its own, or it can be used to make gelatinous desserts such as jelly!
There are lots of recipes online - always choose unsweetened / unflavoured gelatin and add to homemade fresh juice for the healthiest jelly.
For 2 people, you will need 2 cups of fresh juice - e.g. orange and apple work well, or try adding some veg for added nutrients and colour e.g. beetroot! Experiment to find your favourite.
Once you have the juice, heat half of the amount in a pan and once hot (but do not let it boil) add 3-4 tbsps gelatin and quickly mix with a fork, dissolving the powder. Add to the remaining liquid and stir. De-cant into moulds or small dishes and pop in fridge for a few hours to harden like jelly! Adding whole pieces of fruit is an optional extra and more decorative! I’ve been using ‘teddy’ moulds to get the jelly into kids too! See picture.
Collagen is commonly bought as powder form, but can also be bought as pills or liquid. I recommend trying homemade jelly and / or bone broth initially as this provides the nutrients in a more well rounded ‘food state’, alongside other nutrients.
If purchasing gelatin or collagen, the best quality will be those where the animals are grass fed or pasture raised. Follow instructions on the package for optional dose and use.
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