Fun February Facts: Feb 4th is World Cancer Day, in 1789 George Washington was unanimously elected as the first President of the United States by the U.S. Electoral College and in 2004 Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg.
Ok, on to jello…
As a child of the 80’s I certainly remember Jello. It was a nice treat and although most of us wouldn’t have considered it healthy or good for us it just might have been more valuable than we thought. Why? Because it probably the only time we ate gelatin. Why is gelatin important? Because it’s the only source of collagen most of us ever get.
In our beauty obsessed world, most of us are familiar with collagen. It’s thought of as the nutrient that keeps the skin young and healthy. Today’s most expensive and advanced beauty creams are filled with collagen to help nourish and refresh the skin.
Why is it so important to put it on our skin? Because we don’t eat it anymore and without a good source of it coming in our bodies (and skin in particular) slowly fall apart. Collagen could be one of the most important nutrients we are missing in the modern diet and is so crucial for the integrity of our body it needs to be on everyone’s dietary radar…
Collagen: The Missing Link
Collagen, made up mostly from the amino acids glycine and proline, is the most abundant protein in our body, making up from 25% to 35% of the whole-body protein content. As the main structural protein in our connective tissues it is literally the glue that holds our body together. Collagen is mostly found in fibrous tissues such as tendons, ligaments and skin but is also abundant in corneas, cartilage, bones, blood vessels, the gut, intervertebral discs and the dentin in teeth. In muscle tissue, it serves as a major component of the endomysium, which is the sheath surrounding individual muscle fibers.
Take Home #1: Collagen is everywhere in your body, is almost a third of your body protein content and is integral to human physical structure. It is the link that holds you together.
What happens when you don’t eat collagen or the building blocks that it’s made from?
Your tendons, ligaments and skin don’t get the material they need to stay strong and healthy. The same goes for your corneas, cartilage, bones, blood vessels, intestinal cells, intervertebral discs and teeth. They all degrade slowly as the existing collagen wears down and only partially or slowly gets replaced.
One of the reasons we have so many structural issues as modern humans (skin, joints, teeth, bones, etc.) is that we simply don’t eat the nutrients that repairs and rebuilds those structures. We put them through excessive wear and tear without adequately fueling their repair. Cortisol (the main stress hormone) degrades collagen proteins in the body. This means people who are stressed are losing even more collagen than normal wear and tear and are even more needing of consuming collagen.
If you don’t eat collagen your body does one or both of the following things:
– doesn’t repair (or delays) the collagen damage in your body
– uses nutrients and resources from other functions to repair collagen degradation
This means either your body has to leave collagen rich tissues unrepaired or work really hard to keep all those systems functioning by taking nutrients, proteins and amino acids from other places and processes to keep a patchwork system in place for collagen maintenance.
Take Home #2: Unless you eat collagen or the composing amino acids you are slowly wearing down all over but particularly in the places that are made up of or rely upon collagen, such as the skin and connective tissue.
Where Is Collagen Found?
In the natural world it’s found in the animals we eat in the same places it exists in us. Animal skin, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bones, intestines and blood vessels are all rich in collagen. Unfortunately, most people I know do everything possible to avoid all of the above things. The closest we might get is an old fashioned bone broth/stock made from boiling bones or a bone in crock pot roast where the juices soak into the meat but that’s pretty rare for most folks. This means almost all of us get very little collagen unless we are eating whole sardines, organ meats, chicken skin, the tendonous parts of meat and stews/soups made with bone in meat or bone broth. Subsequently, we are left looking into the supplemental realm which is usually less than ideal but almost a necessity in this case.
Gelatin is a jelly like substance resulting from collagen being partially broken down and infused with water. Most of us know of powdered gelatin which is the dehydrated version that we mix into things like jello by heating and adding water. This gelatinous substance is rich in both collagen and water, making it a very nutritious food. It can be found in most grocery stores but I prefer to get mine from Great Lakes Gelatin or Knox. Most of us aren’t going to be eating plain gelatin and I am not going to encourage mass consumption of conventional Jello and gummy bears so the best way to use gelatin is with simple homemade recipes like this “healthy” fruit jello.
This pure and simplified collagen and is the easiest and most direct source I’ve found. Quickly dissolvable into nearly anything, collagen hydrolysate can be added to coffee, water, juice, applesauce, yogurt or almost anything with a liquid or semiliquid base. It is the also the easiest to digest and most widely used collagen supplement.
*Supplemental collagen (particularly the hydrolysate form) is very rarely an issue for folks but as with any supplement, start slowly and work your way up. You should look at this as an adjunct and not a replacement for eating whole foods that have a natural balance of amino acids.
This is the version I use which can be found here:
Additionally, if you look at the amino acid breakdown you’ll see collagen is a rich source of glycine and proline, two amino acids rarely found in other dietary sources. Along with being the backbone of collagen both are crucial for many functions in the body and serve as balancing amino acids to the methionine, cysteine, glutamic and aspartic acid rich muscle meats that make up most of our protein consumption. The reason people argue that meat is “bad for you” by causing nitrogen buildup, kidney problems, inflammation or acidity is mostly due to the fact that we eat only muscle meat and very rarely eat the organs and tendons that keep the amino acid balance in tact. By including collagen rich foods into your diet you can prevent many or all of the so called “bad effects” of meat consumption.
Take Home #3: Collagen is found in the parts of animals beside the muscle meat, particularly the skin, bones and tendons. If you don’t eat these look to gelatin or collagen hydrolysate supplements to help balance out your protein intake while trying to start incorporating more of the whole animal into your diet.
Here’s a few more articles on collagen that get a bit more in depth:
Hydrolyzed Collagen from The Doctor Within
Gelatin, stress, longevity from Ray Peat
Role of collagen hydrolysate in bone and joint disease from Pub Med
5 Reasons Why Even Vegetarians Should Eat Gelatin from Chris Kresser
The Bare 5 Bottom Line on Collagen:
1. Collagen is a very important protein that is the glue that holds our connective tissue, skin, joints and many other structural parts together.
2. Very few of us get enough of it in our diet to balance out the other proteins/amino acids we eat.
3. The lack of glycine and proline rich collagen prevents optimal repair and maintenance of our collagen based tissues.
4. Found naturally in animals, rich sources are bone broth, skin, tendons, organ meats and other connective tissue (a.k.a. all the stuff we cut off and throw away).
5. Utilize gelatin and collagen supplements to fill in the gaps that you don’t eat.
Thanks for reading, have a great day!
P.S. What else are we missing when we don’t eat nose to tail and different species?
And for the Friends fans out there…