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Collagen vs. Gelatin: What’s the Difference?
By Jill Levy
January 27, 2021
Collagen and gelatin have become two of the hottest supplements in the health world in recent years, especially among those who follow a Paleo or ancestral diet that emphasizes foods like bone broth.
Not only do both boast a long list of health benefits, but they can also each be used in a variety of recipes, ranging from soups to sweets and beyond.
However, although the two share similarities, many people are unsure about what factors distinguish collagen vs. gelatin and which one is a better option.
So what is the difference between collagen vs. gelatin? Keep reading for everything you need to know about these two common supplements, along with some simple ways to get your fix of both.
First and foremost, let’s define what collagen and gelatin are:
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and is a major component of connective tissues, making up about a third of our total body mass. Collagen is made up of amino acids, especially the types called glycine, proline, hydroxyproline and arginine that can be difficult to get from other food sources.
Gelatin is a natural form of collagen, which means it’s essentially a part of collagen that has been broken down into smaller units. Gelatin is also sometimes referred to as the “cooked form of collagen” because it’s obtained from heating collagen.
It’s believed that our ancestors obtained more collagen and gelatin than most people eating a “modern diet” do today because they frequently consumed traditional bone broths made with connective tissues, tendons, and other odds and ends of animals that are naturally rich in these substances.
Within the body, collagen goes through a series of steps to break down its long-chain proteins into its smaller amino acids (also called peptides), which are then absorbed and used for collagen synthesis throughout the body. Collagen is a key builder of healthy skin, muscle, tendons, joints, bones and other tissues in both humans and animals, so when we don’t produce enough, our overall health can be directly impacted.
Although there are a few key differences between gelatin vs. collagen, both have been associated with several potential health benefits.
Here are a few of the top ways that these superstar supplements can impact your health:
Generally speaking, collagen and gelatin can help to support the health of the barrier of the digestive tract because they promote healthy connective tissues that form the intestinal lining. This is very important for optimizing gut health, since it helps with proper nutrient absorption.
Roughly 75 percent or more of your immune system is located in your gut, which means that a healthy gut also impacts a healthy immune system.
Collagen helps to hold the body together (acting as an internal “glue”) by forming connective tissues found all over, including tendons, ligaments, bones, muscle tissue and more.
Consuming more can help to keep joints and cartilage in good shape overall including as you age, which contributes to healthy strength and functionality. A diet with adequate protein is also important for building muscle mass and supporting exercise recovery, which helps to take stress off of your joints and improves overall mobility.
Because collagen is found throughout the hair, skin and nails, many people use collagen supplements to help support skin health and hair health as part of a more natural approach to skin care and beauty routine.
Collagen and gelatin are overall similar in terms of their benefits — because they contain the same amino acids and because gelatin is derived from collagen — but their uses are slightly different.
One of the key differences between gelatin vs. collagen is their digestibility.
Gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen both have a low molecular weight and may be easier for your body to absorb, especially if you are interested in digestive health. In other words, some people digest gelatin a bit more easily since it’s already “broken down” in some ways.
Hydrolyzed collagen supplements are similar to gelatin because they usually also contain smaller, easy-to-process particles.
When collagen is hydrolyzed, it's broken down in a similar manner as gelatin, making it more bioavailable. When collagen peptides are “fully hydrolyzed,” this means they will dissolve in any temperature liquid, whether hot or cold, plus they won’t have any overly apparent taste or smell.
Another difference has to do with how these two supplements are used and cooked with.
Gelatin only dissolves in hot water, while collagen dissolves more easily in a variety of liquids at different temperatures.
Gelatin forms a gel-like substance when mixed with water, whereas collagen does not. This means that gelatin might have more practical uses when cooking, such as making your own jellies or thickening sauces.
How is gelatin made?
Cooking collagen helps isolate gelatin, which means that if you were to make homemade bone broth, you’d see gelatin separate from the rest of the ingredients.
To convert collagen from animal parts into gelatin in order to make powdered gelatin supplements, several processes are used that break the bonds of collagen and release certain amino acids.
Extraction of gelatin in food manufacturing is usually done using hot water and acid solutions to hydrolyze collagen into gelatin. Then certain filtration, clarification and sterilization processes usually take place to form the dried, final product, depending on how it’s sold.
As with most foods or supplements, the less processing it goes through the better it is for your health. Gelatin degradation is minimized most by deriving gelatin at the lowest temperature possible, which typically allows it to hold on to the natural peptide structure that provides its benefits.
Both gelatin and collagen are widely available in supplement form, usually as powders, and are highly versatile. Collagen supplements are often unflavored, making them a great addition to both sweet and savory recipes.
To boost your collagen and protein intake you can opt for highly convenient powdered bone broth supplements, such as Ancient Nutrition’s Bone Broth Protein or Multi Collagen Protein powder, which combines hydrolyzed collagen types I, II, III, V and X to provide a broad spectrum of benefits to support healthy skin, nails, hair, joints and more.
Try mixing hydrolyzed collagen powder (also called collagen hydrolysate) into drinks, smoothies, baked goods, waffles, pancakes, soups and stews to ramp up the protein content, nutritional value and health benefits of your favorite recipes.
Most hydrolyzed collagen powders should dissolve instantly in hot or cold liquids and not change the texture or flavor of recipes. Depending on your preferences, you can choose from pure/unflavored collagen formulas or chocolate, vanilla and other flavors.
The recommended dosage of collagen can vary a bit depending on the specific supplement you’re taking, but it’s generally recommended to stick to around 10–30 grams of collagen per day (which is usually 1 to 3 servings). Of course, you should always consult with your healthcare professional prior to starting any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including dietary supplementation. Likewise, you should always read and follow product label directions.
Alternatively, you can also get your fix of collagen and gelatin by brewing up a batch of bone broth at home. Instead of discarding the bones of your meat, simply add them to a slow cooker with some water and simmer for 24–48 hours before skimming the fat and straining out any solids.
Gelatin works well for cooking certain types of recipes and can be found in sheet or powdered forms.
When cooking with it, it dissolves in hot water and can be used to make desserts, jellies, candies, soups and sauces that have a thick texture and gel-like consistency. You can think of it as a binder or thickener, and it’s commonly used in place of eggs. When adding it to recipes, use a little bit at a time as you slowly combine it with hot liquids.
In supplement form, gelatin is typically taken in doses up to 10 grams daily. Although many gelatin supplements are unflavored, they are not always flavorless and may leave an unpleasant or off-putting taste in your mouth.
For some people, the difference in taste of gelatin vs. collagen makes collagen supplements a more appealing option. However, adding powdered gelatin supplements to drinks or smoothies can help mask the flavor and make it much more tolerable.
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.