Collagen and gelatin can be found virtually everywhere. From adrenal-boosting coffee to childhood favorites like Jell-O, these building blocks in the bodies of humans, animals, and aquatic life are composed of a type of protein known for health-boosting properties. Anyone who has expressed interest in boosting general health, improving joint health, increasing amino acid intake, or improving the appearance of hair, skin, and nails has likely heard of collagen powders and their purported benefits. Are these supplements truly worth the hype? 

Unlike many "superfoods" found in the wellness realm, there is a host of research to support the use of collagen in the human body, whether it comes in the form of bone broth or dedicated collagen products, including hydrolyzed collagen and gelatin or in the form of collagen-rich foods. 

What is Collagen?

Before a thorough discussion of collagen vs. gelatin can truly get under way, it is vital to understand what exactly both of these supplements consist of and how they are used. While collagen may be enjoying some time in the limelight, many people--including current users--are not certain what collagen actually is. Collagen is a protein found in human, animal, and even marine connective tissue, bones, and skin. Food-grade collagen can be derived from numerous sources, though the three most common types of collagen include bovine (sourced from cattle), poultry (sourced from chicken), and marine (sourced from fish). 

Most collagen is found in the form of encapsulated or powdered collagen hydrolysate, which can be taken alongside a daily supplement routine, or added to food and drinks to provide a boost of collagen to improve existing collagen levels, or as a targeted way to support healthy hair and nail growth, healthy hair, and strong connective tissue in the human body.  

What is Gelatin?

Although gelatin and collagen can be used interchangeably, not all collagen supplements are gelatin supplements--though all gelatin supplements will contain collagen. Gelatin is a form of collagen that is created when collagen-rich animal parts are taken, heated in water, and the collagen is subsequently extracted and delivered in the form of a gelatin powder. It can be considered a concentrated form of collagen, due to this process, or a more highly-processed form of collagen. Gelatin is perhaps best well-known for its ability to solidify liquids, and is often found in gelatin products such as gummy candy, Jell-O, and puddings and yogurt. 

Gelatin can be sold as a supplement like collagen, but is more often sold as a cooking ingredient with the primary purpose of creating rich, or jelly-like foods. Gelatin is primarily bovine-based, and is therefore not an ideal option for those experiencing a red meat allergy or similar condition. 

What are the benefits of Collagen and Gelatin?

Both collagen and gelatin have proven useful as supports for issues regarding joints and connective tissue, skin, hair, and nails, bowel disorders and conditions, and even bones. 

Collagen and gelatin can be used to improve the elasticity and strength of connective tissues found in the joints, and may be used as a means of improving joint disorders, injuries, and even simple wear and tear that comes with age and use. One review found that consuming collagen resulted in a heightened ability to synthesize collagen in the body, resulting in more resilient connective tissue and a diminished inflammation rate in existing joint disorders. 

Collagen is frequently found in skin and hair products used both internally and externally. Because collagen supports healthy elasticity in the body and is one of the sources of strong, healthy skin, hair, and nails, many beauty products and supplements include a healthy dose of collagen or gelatin. An emerging body of research has demonstrated that collagen is an effective supplement to improve skin elasticity and overall health, increase the absorption of moisture in skin, and provide anti-aging benefits. 

Collagen and gelatin have also been implicated as useful agents in relieving symptoms of bowel diseases and disorders. When taken internally, both may have a hand in strengthening the joints between cell walls, improving the strength of intestinal walls and diminishing intestinal permeability. Intestinal permeability (also called "leaky gut") has been linked to a host of other concerns, with wide-ranging symptoms and a slew of negative effects on other organ systems. Regular collagen peptide intake can improve the structural integrity of intestinal wall cells, resulting in reduced inflammation, more effective digestion, and improved symptoms. 

Finally, collagen and gelatin can have a positive effect on bone density and strength. Whether they are taken as a supportive supplement designed to combat osteoporosis that can come with advanced age, or as a targeted approach to target more aggressive or early-acting bone loss, both have been used in functional medicine and elsewhere to improve the strength and condition of bones. Bone density loss can occur as a result of aging, menopause, and even pregnancy, making collagen a worthy addition to a general anti-aging and health routine to aid in bone repair. 

What is the difference between Collagen and Gelatin?

Although collagen and gelatin are derived from the exact same sources, the manufacturing process is different, resulting in a different chemical composition--and, correspondingly, a different mechanism of action. The table below highlights some of the most significant differences between gelatin and collagen, and how they are typically used. 

 

Collagen

Gelatin

Where is it naturally found?

Skin, bones, teeth, tissues

By boiling collagen (animal skin or bones) or chemically processing

In what form can you consume them?

Liquid, powder, capsules

powder, sheet

What's its use?

Nutritional supplement as collagen peptides

Mostly as a thickening agent  for food, and nutritional material

Nutritional Value

 

 

Protein

12 gm

12 gm

Fat

0

0

Calories

50

47

Carb

0

0

Digestibility

Easy to digest as collagen peptides

Easier than collagen to digest

Is it soluble?

Yes

Only in hot liquid

collagen powder

How to use Collagen?

Collagen is used as a type of nutritional supplement that most often comes in the form of collagen peptides. Collagen peptides usually come in either a powder or pill form. Pills can be taken alongside a regular supplement routine. Powder can be mixed into morning coffee or tea, smoothies, soups and stews, and other liquid food items, such as applesauce and yogurt. Collagen peptides are largely tasteless and odorless, though there may be a slight taste, and the addition of vanilla or chocolate in powdered collagen is not uncommon. 

Collagen can also be consumed as a shake in the place of a protein shake, or can be used to increase the protein content in pancakes and pastries. Flavored collagens can be particularly useful in these instances, as they provide a two-fold purpose of increasing protein intake and sweetening a food item. 

How to use Gelatin?

Gelatin can also be used as a nutritional supplement in the form of pills, with a standard dose of up to 10 grams daily. When it is not being utilized as a supplement, gelatin is most often utilized in recipes for candy, dessert, sauce, jelly, and yogurt, to create a rich, thick texture in an otherwise liquid food item. Gelatin can be added to other foods in need of thickening, not unlike cornstarch, though the powder will only dissipate in hot water, and is not a suitable option for cold water or raw items.

Conclusion: Collagen vs. Gelatin: Which one is better for you?

Neither collagen nor gelatin is definitively the best protein-based animal product; instead, they both offer different advantages and different uses. Basing the decision purely off of calorie-to-protein ratios, gelatin is superior. Focusing on ease of use and flexibility, collagen peptides reign supreme. Both provide a substantial boost of collagen, and both can be effectively used as a supplement. Collagen is more frequently used as a supplement, while gelatin is more frequently used in baking. 

Ultimately, collagen peptides usually win out over gelatin, because this particular supplement can be added to cold liquids, has abundant protein, and is extremely easy to add to modern diets. The benefits of gelatin are largely identical to the benefits of collagen, but the cooked form of collagen is rigid in structure, and is not usually consumed in large quantities--think a single smoothie with a serving of collagen versus an entire casserole dish with a serving of gelatin. 

Both supplements are a useful protein source, and both provide a natural form of collagen to assimilate into the body. Most recent studies regarding skin health, bone health, and joint health focus on collagen peptides as the source of collagen, rather than gelatin, which can be a major component in determining the true winner of the gelatin vs. collagen debate. If research is the preferred basis for determining the major difference between collagen and gelatin, collagen peptides (whether bovine-sourced or marine collagen) come out on top. 

Collagen vs. Gelatin FAQs

What are some foods containing collagen?

Bone broth made from chicken and beef bones is one of the more common sources of collagen. Tough meat--i.e. meat filled with a great deal of connective tissue--can be another excellent source of collagen, as can fish with the bones in or the skin on. (source)

What foods naturally boost collagen production in the body?

Protein-rich foods are made up of amino acid chains that can aid in collagen synthesis in the body. These structural proteins can be found in foods such as beef, poultry, pork, fish, soy, eggs, dairy, and legumes--all of which have a hefty amino acid profile. (source)

What is the recommended dosage for collagen?

Although supplements do not have a governing board determining the optimal daily intake, one study determined that an intake of 2.5-15 grams per day provides the optimal level of collagen protein. Because the amino acids in collagen do not include all amino acids, it is not considered a complete protein, and while natural collagen production may be improved, overall protein intake is still required from whole food, complete protein sources. (source)

Is collagen powder the same as gelatin?

Yes and no. Gelatin is a powder that is made up of collagen, but gelatin is not the only type of powdered collagen available. Instead, gelatin is a form of powdered collagen that has been boiled down and is used to shift the molecular structure of a food item to create a solid or gelatinous mass, while collagen is typically made up of collagen peptides and is specifically used as a supplement.

 

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