Is Jello Good for You?
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One of my favorite scenes in the sitcom The Office is when Jim puts Dwight's stapler in jello. I remember thinking to myself I might want to do that to someone some day. Why not? It's cheap, jiggly and not too messy, which sounds like a perfect prop for a harmless prank. When it comes to its nutrition, however, this wiggly wobbly snack might not be so perfect.
Due to the immense success of Jell-O, this brand name has become a generic term for gelatin dessert across the U.S. and Canada. Google "jello recipes" and you'll get thousands of search results. Walk into a typical American supermarket and you'll encounter rows of shelves featuring myriad Jell-O products. Some hospitals even serve jello to their patients. Is jello really healthy for us to eat, though? Let's take a look at its pros and cons.
Jello-O: Pros and Cons
Contains artificial food additives
Low in Calories (especially the sugar-free versions)
Not a significant source of nutrients
Easy to Digest and known to be soothing for the stomach
May cause allergic reactions, such as hives and dizziness, in some people
Contains a small amount of protein and offers some health benefits
As you can see from this chart, jello is not such a horrific thing to eat. It might actually be a pretty good snack for those who are on a diet, trying to limit their fat intake or have a sensitive digestive tract. Yet, it doesn't do much for the body in terms of nutrition. Plus, it contains food additives (sugar, preservatives, artificial food colorings, etc), which can pose several health risks for consumers. So if you're planning to enjoy this jiggly goodness on a regular basis, I suggest you opt for a sugar-free version, or better yet, buy plain gelatin with no added flavor and color.
What is Jello Made from?
Gelatin is derived from collagen, a fibrous protein in animal flesh, skin, bones and other connective tissues. Manufacturers grind these animal parts and allow them to go through several acid, alkali, and enzymatic treatments. During this process, collagen ends up being partially broken down and turning into a gelatin solution, whereas impurities, such as fat and salt, are removed from the materials. The solution is then chilled, cut and ground into gelatin powder. Other common ingredients that are added to gelatin powder include maltodextrin (a food additive that makes jello appear smooth and slippery), sugar or artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, preservatives, adipic acid (for tartness), and disodium phosphate (for acidity control).
Is There Such a Thing as a Vegan Gelatin?
Yes, some natural food stores do offer gelatin substitutes that are made from plant products, such as Agar-Agar, guar gum, carrageenan and Kuzu root.
Gelatin Made from Humans!
According to USA Today, Chinese scientists in Beijing have been trying to create a "human-derived" gelatin by inserting human genes into yeast. Although this new type of gelatin may sound unnecessary and borderline cannibalistic, it does have some promises in the medical world. While gelatin made from animals or plants can be allergenic to some people, this genetically-engineered gelatin will not carry that same risk because it's derived from human genes. If the research turns out to be successful, this "human jello" might become widely used in certain medical applications and the production of drug capsules. Yet, it's quite doubtful that this new product would ever find its place in a supermarket aisle or become Jell-O's competitor.
Fun Facts about Jello
- Jello is the official state snack of Utah.
- Since the love for jello is regarded as a "Mormon stereotype," the Mormon Corridor region (where the largest population of Mormons live) has been nicknamed the "Jell-O Belt."
- In the Victorian era, jello was considered a very classy dessert.
- Ivette Bassa won the Ig Nobel Prize (an American parody of the Nobel Prizes, given for trivial achievements in scientific studies) for inventing blue Jell-O in 1992.
Gelatin Health Benefits
- Gelatin and Beauty - Believe it or not, gelatin can make you look more beautiful! It contains keratin, the key component in human hair, nails and the outer layer of the skin. By increasing your keratin levels, you can make your hair healthier, your nails stronger and your skin smoother.
- Gelatin and Weight Loss - Gelatin provides lysine and arginine, two types of amino acids that can potentially aid in muscle growth and improve metabolism. Plus, it is very low in fat and calories. One serving of sugar-free Jell-O, for instance, contains only 10 calories and 0 grams of fat. Last but not least, some recent studies have found that gelatin may also help suppress appetite and make us feel full longer, though this discovery has not yet been widely confirmed.
- Gelatin and the Liver - Another healthy component gelatin has to offer is glycine, an amino acid that the liver needs for detoxification. Without an adequate amount of glycine in the body, its ability to eliminate toxins can also be limited.
- Gelatin and Bone Health - Since it contains collagen, one of the materials that make up cartilage and bone, gelatin can strengthen bones and joints, as well as shorten recovery from strenuous workouts or sports-related injuries.