Is there a difference between gelatin vs collagen? And if so, is one over the other better for you to be using?
When it comes down to it, the nutritional value of collagen and gelatin is very similar, but they are not the same thing. They also don’t interact with your body in the same exact ways.
While some of the same structures and nutritional properties are at play when examining gelatin vs collagen, the applications of both vary dramatically, and it should be stressed that they cannot be used interchangeably.
But if they are structurally so similar, then how and why are gelatin vs collagen so different?
Let's take a look at the difference between gelatin vs collagen: what they are, how they are made, and how your body processes each of these protein supplements.
Gelatin vs collagen: what’s the difference?
Both collagen and gelatin are proteins that are composed of amino acids. But a simple distinction between gelatin vs collagen is that collagen is an abundant protein found naturally in your body, and gelatin is a cooked form of collagen proteins.
Collagen is a triple helix structure comprised of thousands of amino acids.
Gelatin is a degraded form of collagen. It is also made up of shorter amino acid chains than natural collagen due to the processing necessary for its creation.
But if gelatin and collagen are both made of amino acids, do they have the same nutritional value? How is collagen made in the first place?
To get to the bottom of these questions and more, we need to know what exactly collagen and gelatin are and where they come from.
What is collagen?
Collagen protein is necessary for your body’s natural elasticity, strength, and movement in things like your bones, tendons, muscles, skin, tendons, and other connective tissues. It is one of the most vital protective and foundational components of your body.
What is collagen? It’s an insoluble fibrous protein found in all mammals. It is also the most abundant type of protein in the human body, and can be thought of as the building blocks of your connective tissues.
Collagen protein is made of over 1,000 amino acids, creating a triple-helix (three chain) structure. Some of the most prominent amino acids within the collagen structure include glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline.
Your body naturally synthesizes some collagen, but as you age, your natural collagen production decreases. That’s why it is recommended that collagen supplements start to be integrated into your diet by the time you are 25 years old.
When used in supplements, collagen protein generally comes from animals like pigs, cows, chickens, and fish. It can be extracted from the connective tissues of these animals, because it helps their body structures just like it helps ours.
Most of the collagen found in supplements are collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen. The protein has been put through the process of hydrolysis to make it more digestible and help it be soluble in water (whereas the collagen found in your body is an insoluble fibrous protein).
The major difference is that the amino acid chains of collagen peptides have been cut into smaller, more digestible pieces. Not all collagen, even in supplements, is in the form of collagen peptides though. In fact, you can get collagen in many forms - and one of them is gelatin.
What is gelatin?
Much like collagen, gelatin is a mix of amino acid chains. Gelatin is made by heating or treating collagen, and is therefore a mixture of the amino acids found in collagen. That being said, some of the chemical bonds have been broken in gelatin due to processing.
Gelatin is essentially a form of collagen, but gelatin and collagen have different chemical compositions, especially when comparing collagen peptides vs gelatin.
Collagen peptides are soluble in water, and gelatin is only soluble in hot water and will gel when cooled.
Gelatin can be seen as a form of collagen that is often used in foods because of its gelling capabilities. It is not soluble in water, and it is most often extracted from the bones of animals.
When looking at gelatin vs collagen, gelatin is not as easy to digest. That’s because gelatin is not as water soluble as collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen.
So, although gelatin may contain some of the same amino acids as a collagen peptide supplement, your body will not be able to use all of those amino acids because they won’t be fully digested.
It is important to distinguish between collagen in its natural form and collagen peptides here. When comparing gelatin vs collagen in its whole form, gelatin is actually easier to digest. However, most collagen supplements are hydrolyzed, making them far easier to digest than gelatin.
The reason why gelatin is slightly easier to digest than collagen in the whole form is because gelatin is a degraded form of collagen and has been partially hydrolyzed, making its amino acid chain structures shorter.
Even though gelatin vs collagen may look similar at first glance, because of their differing chemical structure and applications, they cannot be used interchangeably.
Now that we’ve discussed a bit about the structure and digestibility of gelatin vs collagen, let’s examine the nutritional value of each.
The nutritional value of gelatin vs collagen
The nutritional value of gelatin vs collagen can be very similar depending on the form of collagen you are using and your intention in consuming your supplement.
Most gelatin will have the same nutritional profile and will be processed and absorbed in the same way. Collagen, on the other hand, comes in many forms, so its nutritional value varies.
In most circumstances, collagen and gelatin will have a similar number of calories and protein per serving. They also share a similar make-up of amino acids, and that is primarily because gelatin is a degraded form of collagen.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein in your body, and the more access your body has to digestible amino acids, the more collagen you can produce naturally.
For the exact nutritional value of gelatin vs collagen, the numbers will vary according to animal sourcing, extraction methods, and ingredients within the collagen supplement or commercial gelatin product.
Some examples of foods that contain gelatin include:
- Candy corn
- Gummy bears
- Fruit snacks
- Some dairy products (cottage cheese, cheese spreads, etc.)
- Canned meats like ham
As you may have noticed in the list above, a lot of the foods that contain gelatin are high in sugar, artificial colors, and flavors. These factors alone can skew the nutritional value of the gelatin content in those foods.
You can also purchase a plain gelatin mixture at most grocery stores that has no additives, so be sure to read the labels carefully when considering gelatin vs collagen.
Some people can get a bit of gelatin-like collagen substance in the skin of meats that they cook with, but this hasn’t gone through the same denaturing process and will have a slightly different amino acid compound.
Much like the form of gelatin impacts the nutritional value, the form of collagen can also impact the value. While you can get collagen from some food sources (animal products), it tends to be more bioavailable when found in the form of a collagen peptide supplement.
There are several types of collagen supplements on the market ranging from collagen pills, topical collagen, collagen powders, and liquid collagen supplements.
Not all collagen supplements are created equal, and not all collagen supplements utilize hydrolyzed collagen. The type of collagen, whether or not it went through hydrolysis, and other ingredients in the supplement can all impact the bioavailability - and therefore the nutritional value.
Look for collagen supplements from reputable companies that use transparent marketing. You also want to ensure your supplement does not have unnecessary additives, and uses hydrolyzed or nano-hydrolyzed collagen. Whether it is a liquid or powder can matter as well.
But what specific supplement is best for your case? Let’s take a hard look at gelatin vs collagen.
Gelatin vs collagen: which one is better?
When looking at some of the differences between gelatin vs collagen, personal health goals can impact which one is best for you, just as when we compare other proteins like collagen vs whey.
If your intended health goal is to up your amino acids to help boost your natural collagen production, then in most cases, adding a high-quality and highly digestible collagen peptide supplement will be most beneficial.
That’s not saying that gelatin has no benefits. Both collagen and gelatin are proteins that contain amino acids. Just remember, how well your body can digest those amino acids does impact how you apply them and how useful they are to you overall.
Native collagen (collagen in its whole form) is harder to digest than gelatin, making gelatin a better option for bioavailability.
However, hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides have been broken down into even smaller pieces than gelatin, making this type of collagen more bioavailable. In this case, collagen peptides are a better option than gelatin.
A collagen peptide supplement is easy to digest and easy to integrate into your diet. You can add it to most foods with little to no taste or texture difference or even choose a liquid collagen supplement that you can drink on its own.
Gelatin is most desired for its ability to gel, giving it more specific culinary applications when it comes to thickening. If you’re looking to cook with more collagen, then gelatin might be more beneficial than adding collagen in the whole form to your diet.
At the end of the day, you’re likely only eating small amounts of gelatin when using it in a recipe. If you are seeking a supplement that can help improve collagen production in your body, and is the most bioavailable for you, then sticking to a high-quality nano-hydrolyzed collagen supplement is your best option.
Nano-hydrolyzed liquid collagen protein supplements like ProT Gold are easy to drink, easy to digest, and are fully absorbed by your body in just 15 minutes. They are one of the swiftest and simplest ways of adding high-quality collagen to your diet.