If you have been following a Paleo diet for a while you will most likely have come across various articles and recipes around the use of gelatin. It is widely used in a Paleo lifestyle due to the many health benefits that it provides but do you know what it actually is and why it is good for you? You may also have heard about collagen and its health benefits but are not too sure how it all fits together in the grand scheme of things or even why you need to know about it. In this article I am going to take you through the basics so you will be able to understand what they are and why they are intertwined.
What is gelatin?
Gelatin is derived from boiling cuts of meat that contain connective tissue as well as skin and bones. Straight away we come to collagen as it is contained in large amounts within these off-cuts; collagen is an important protein (more abundant in our bodies than any other kind of protein) which creates gelatin when heated. So on a very basic level gelatin is a heated version of collagen making it more accessible in our diets. The benefits of both gelatin and collagen are very much intertwined and all part of the same process.
Why is it good for me?
You have more collagen in your body than any other type of protein and by consuming gelatin you are able to take advantage of all the health benefits of collagen a few of which I have provided below:
Beneficial for your skin: Collagen is the most important protein in connective tissue, skin, and bones and is included in many beauty products to help combat wrinkles as well as increasing the firmness, strength and elasticity of the skin. Our stores of collagen begin to deplete as we age so anyone aged over 30 would benefit from increasing their dietary intake of collagen through gelatin.
Important for bone health: Gelatin is also important in the role of bone health containing calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus which help to build strong healthy bones. It also contains Chondroitin which is commonly used in treating arthritis pain. Chondroitin found in gelatin supports joints, cartilage and tendons as it is derived from the dissolved connective tissue of animals.
Good for your digestion and gut: Amino acids found in gelatin are helpful in improving digestion and absorption of nutrients. Gelatin is also beneficial when it comes to healing the lining of the gut so would be of particular interest for anyone suffering from coeliac disease or leaky gut syndrome.
How to get more gelatin in your diet…
There are some really easy ways to get more gelatin in your diet and you may find that you are already getting a good dose without even knowing about it. You can increase your intake through the foods that you eat every day without having to add it into your recipes.
Whenever you cook a piece of meat which has lots of connective tissue then you are going to be naturally consuming gelatin. Essentially cuts which come from the legs and shoulder area of an animal are going to contain more connective tissue. They are the cuts which require slow braising to make them soft and tender and are personally some of my favourites. Not only are they melt in the mouth and delicious they also tend to be cheaper. A good recipe for this is my Braised Lamb Shank where the pan juices create a gorgeous gelatin rich gravy.
Bone broth is a Paleo classic and is also packed full of gelatin. If you have ever made it at home then you will know that the process of making bone broth is essentially the same as making gelatin. You use all of those cuts which usually get discarded to add flavour and extract the goodness. If you find that your bone broth turns to jelly in the fridge then you know it is packed full of gelatin. The best way to ensure that this happens is to always use bones and cuts from free-range, grass-fed animals. Take a look at my blog on The Nutrient Power of Bone Broth for more details on the health benefits as well as my own recipe for homemade Bone Broth.
You can also use store bought gelatin to add to your cooking and baking recipes. It works well as a Paleo friendly method of thickening soups and sauces and will provide more nutrients than using starches such as tapioca flour. I find it is an essential store cupboard ingredient that is really useful in all aspects of cooking.
When it comes to sweet treats a good place to get started is to make your own gummy sweets. They are really simple to do and are great fun if you have kids. You only need a few ingredients and you can easily create a whole range of Paleo friendly snacks. Keep an eye out for my recipe for Paleo Gummies which will be coming to the blog soon for some inspiration as to what you could try out. If you have some silicone moulds then you can make gummies in all shapes and sizes. I recently made some in the shape of Easter eggs so I could snack on some guilt free treats instead of chocolate!
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Use good quality gelatin…
To get the maximum health benefits from gelatin then you need to be using a product that is from free range, grass-fed cattle. This is not going to be the cheap versions you find in your local supermarket baking aisle. As with all animal by-products; if the animal is not healthy then you will not be getting the maximum health benefits. Cattle that has been pumped full of antibiotics and fed on grain is not going to produce nutrient dense by-products.
In the UK this means you need to purchase online. The brand that I use is Great Lakes Gelatin and it is available from Perfectly Paleo. It is unflavoured so do not worry about any lingering beefy flavours coming through into your cooking. It is more expensive than the cheaper varieties you can find in supermarkets but it is really worth the investment to make sure you maximise the health benefits and get the best result for your cooking and baking needs.
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