Ok, so gelatin isn’t a food exactly, but it’s definitely an unsung hero of the paleo diet. I was reflecting on this yesterday as I puttered about the kitchen, and realised that – unconsciously – much of the preparation I was doing was in order to maximise my intake of this magical substance. What was I doing? More on that later…
Firstly - what is gelatin, and why is it so important?
Gelatin is a translucent, colourless, flavorless substance derived (in the form of a mixture of amino acids) from the collagen inside animals’ skin and bones. Collagen makes up almost a third of all the protein in an animal’s body – including the human animal. It’s collagen that makes skin, bones, and tendons both strong and elastic. It’s not surprising then that gelatin’s primary function in the diet is as a substance that supports the body’s ability to make the best use of the building materials it needs to regenerate itself.
Here are just three reasons to include more gelatin in your paleo diet:
Gelatin as a Digestive Aid
Gelatin acts primarily as an aid to the digestive process because of its soothing effect on the digestive tract. Erich Cohn of the Medical Polyclinic of the University of Bonn writes:
Gelatin lines the mucous membrane of the intestinal tract and guards against
further injurious action…
This quality means that the substance has been used successfully to treat many intestinal disorders including hyperactivity, colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
Gelatin as a Protein Supplement
Gelatin is unusually high in the non-essential amino acids glycine and proline (i.e., those produced by the human body), while lacking certain essential amino acids (i.e., those not produced by the human body). It contains no tryptophan and is deficient in isoleucine, threonine, and methionine. Nonetheless, it still plays a significant nutritional role. As Sally Fallon outlines in Nourishing Traditions:
(Gelatin) acts as a protein sparer, allowing the body to more fully utilize the complete proteins that are taken in. Thus, gelatin-rich broths are a must for those who cannot afford large amounts of meat in their diets.
Gelatin as a Bone Supporter
Hyaline cartilage is the most common type in the human body, deriving its strength from a dense, criss-crossing, ropey network of collagenous fibers, and its resilience from the gel-like matrix into which these fibers are embedded. According to Donald Resnick and Gen Niwayama in their 1988 textbook Diagnoses of Bone and Joint Disorders, the amino acids proline and glycine – both abundant in gelatin – are particularly important contributors to the development of hyaline cartilage. It should be no surprise, then, that gelatine has been found to reduce joint pain in athletes.
That’s just the start of gelatin’s beneficial qualities. There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that it could have a use in the treatment of several chronic disorders including anemia, blood diseases, diabetes, muscular dystrophy and cancer.
Of course, the best reason for including gelatin in your paleo diet is because it has fantastic culinary uses, in addition to its multitude of health benefits. It can be used to make fabulous sauces, and is a key component of the bone broth that makes up the best soups.
My recent bout of kitchen activity centred around two of my favourite ways of ensuring I don’t lose a single speck fo the blessed stuff:
Gelatine & Dripping
- After roasting a bone-in joint of meat, make sure you save at least some of the juices in the pan (you may want to use some to make gravy). Pour these into a ramekin dish and place this in your fridge. Before long, this will separate into two layers: some beautiful fat that can be used in cooking the next day (I use it for my morning omelette); and a wonderful, trembling, soothing ramekin-shaped savoury jelly. This can be stirred into soups and sauces, spooned onto a plate to accompany a cold meat salad, or spooned straight from the dish for a savoury snack.
- Probably the best, most satisfying way of getting your gelatin fix. It pays to put up a pot of bone broth at least once a week, and to freeze the resulting brew in glass jars for use on a daily basis. Here’s how it’s done:
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