Gelatin, collagen and glycine are talked about a lot about in health circles – and rightly so. They’re essential for all of the cells and systems in our body. Here’s a brief run-down on what they are, how they differ, and how we can get enough of them.
What’s the Difference Between Gelatin, Collagen and Glycine?
Gelatin is a protein which is released when the skin, bones and connective tissues of animals are cooked. When we make bone broth, it’s the gelatin which causes the stock to transform into a quivering semi-solid mass once cooled. The high gelatin component of bone broth is one of the reasons why we sing its praises, and why it’s recommended for people who are following a healing diet. Given that gelatin is obtained from those parts of the beast which are generally thrown away, it’s fair to assume that unless you’re consuming bone broth regularly, your gelatin intake is likely to be low.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the animal kingdom. It has a triple helix structure made up of three amino acids: glycine, proline and hydroxyproline.
Collagen and gelatin are more or less the same thing. Collagen hydrolysate is a protein peptide derived from gelatin. The skin, bones and connective tissues of the animals undergo more intensive processing, such that the large protein molecules of the gelatin are broken down into small collagen peptides. Both contain the same amino acids. Our digestive acids will break down all of them in the gut, regardless of whether they’ve come from gelatin or collagen, but being smaller, the peptides will be easier assimilated. This can be a good thing for people with compromised health and/or digestive issues.
Collagen comes from the Greek root kolla, meaning glue. In fact ‘colla’, in Italian means exactly that: glue. So, collagen is the glue that holds all the body bits together. It’s the main structural protein found just about everywhere: bones, skin, soft tissues, digestive wall linings, muscles, tendons. Collagen gives our tissues and skin their elasticity. It allows us to recuperate quickly after exercise, and heal after injury.
Glycine is the primary amino acid in collagen, making up about 33%. It’s the second most widespread amino acid found in human enzymes and proteins. Proline is essential for it’s formation. Hydroxyproline is the precursor to proline. They all work alongside vitamin C and lysine to create the essential building blocks for the elastic fibres found in the skin, bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Gelatin vs Collagen
So why choose one over the other?
Well, for getting gelatin into your diet, you can’t beat bone broth.
It’s great sipped on it’s own at the start of a meal or as a snack. A cup before going to bed will help you sleep. Adding a ladel or two as your base stock when cooking makes everything taste rich and sumptuous. With the Instant Pot, it’s breeze to make at home. It’s cheap – all you need are a few bones, a celery stick, a carrot, herbs and salt – and it’s environmentally sound, as it means you’re using more parts of the beast than you would if you were only eating the muscle.
Other than bone broth, powdered gelatin or sheets can be used to make all sorts of tasty treats, from jellies and gummies to puddings and parfaits.
But hydrolysed collagen powder has it’s advantages.
One reason is that, as mentioned earlier, collagen may be easier to digest and assimilate, given that it’s already broken down into smaller protein structures. This might be a good thing for people who have digestive issues such as leaky gut or IBS.
Another reason is that sometimes you just don’t want a bowlful of bone broth.
Gelatin only dissolves in hot water and causes liquids to gel, which means you can either drink it hot as a broth or soup, or make the broth into an aspic, which nobody seems to do these days. Or, you can buy the gelatin in powder or sheets, and make it into all kinds of treats, from jellies and gummies to pannacotta’s and marshmallows.
Collagen, on the other hand, dissolves in cold water, and doesn’t cause gelling, which means you can mix it into any kind of drink, hot or cold, and swill it down. Personally, during the warmer months, I’ll choose a smoothie with a spoonful of collagen peptides over a hot cup of stock. A scoop can also be added to your energy bars, fat bombs and baking.
Both gelatin and collagen have their place. The important thing is to get it into you.
Tell Me More about Glycine
Glycine is the smallest and simplest of the 22 essential amino acids, yet it’s found in high concentrations in our skin, connective tissues and muscles. It’s essentially the big all-rounder.
Digestive System It helps break down fat through regulating the concentrations of bile acids. and helps transport glycogen to the cells to be used for energy. It helps rebuild the tissues that line the walls of the digestive tract, making it an important part of a healing diet for anyone suffering from leaky gut, IBS and other inflammatory digestive disorders.
Circualtory System It’s required for the biosynthesis of heme, a key component of haemolglobin. Haemoglobin ensures healthy red blood cells, which transport oxygen to all parts of the body.
Central Nervous System Glycine works with taurine and gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it calms down an overly excited central nervous system (think, hyperactivity, schizophrenia, bipolar, epilepsy.) It helps protect the body from shock, and promotes sleep.
Blood Sugar It assists with the regulation of blood sugars by converting glucose into energy.
Muscle growth and repair Glycine is necessary for the biosynthesis of creatine, which provides muscles with a direct energy source and helps build muscle tissue and strength. In the absence of collagen, damaged tissues can’t repair.
Anti-aging Glycine is required for keeping connective tissues and the skin firm and flexible. It helps prevent the formation of free radicals.
Hormones Glycine can be methylated into dimethlglycine (DMG), which is necessary for the biosynthesis of estrogenic and androgenic hormones. It helps stimulate the secretion of the Human Growth Hormone.
Should I Take Collagen Supplements?
The human body requires at least 10 grams per day of glycine for basic metabolic processes, more if managing a disease that disrupts glycine synthesis. Given that only around 3 grams can be synethesized, the other 7 or more grams need to come from the diet.
Sources of Glycine include fish, meat and dairy. Vegetable sources include spinach, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, pumpkin, banana, kiwi, cucumber, and beans. Fantastic sources of glycine, obviously, are bone broth and collagine peptides.
Collagen Supplements may be useful if you are
- treating chronic fatigue syndrome, anaemia or hypoglycaemia
- needing to boost your energy levels and well-being
- an endurance athlete and working out hard
- recovering from soft tissue injuries
- wanting to enhance skin appearance
- suffering from joint and muscle pain
- managing autoimmune disease
Gelatin, collagen and glycine synthesis is enhanced with vitamin C. Pop a kiwi fruit and a handful of spinach into your collagen enriched smoothie!
Resources for Gelatin, Collagen and Glycine
I used these articles to compile this post:
A Primer on Peptides: What They Are and Why to Take Them – Breaking Muscle
Glycine – Amino Acid Studies
Proline – Amino Acid Studies
All About Gelatin and Collagen – Paleo Leap
10 Reasons to Eat More Collagen – Mark’s Daily Apple
Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix – NCBI Books
Looking for Collagen Peptides in the UK?
Try the great range at Planet Paleo: Pure Collagen, Active Collagen and Primal Goddess.
Here’s a great line-up of Gelatin desserts – they’ll give you loads of ideas for upping your gelatin intake.
75 Ways to Get More Gelatin in Your Life – Savory Lotus
On the Side
Peptides: What Are They and Should I Take Supplements? – a brief post to clear up the question, ‘What’s a Peptide?’
How to Make a Great Bone Broth – It’s an AIP, low FODMAP recipe that I swear by.
Instant Pot Love: 11 Irresistable Reasons Why You’ll Lose Your Heart to the Instant Pot – if you’re serious about your health and your gelatine/collagen/glycine intake, then you’ll be needing one of these.
This post has been shared on Real Food Fridays.
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