|June 2, 2014|
By Tracey Hatch-Rizzi, LAc, MAcOM, Co-Founder
Gelatine: It does more than just look good in a Jello mold!
I know, the first thing many of us think of when we hear ‘gelatine’, is the lovely, well-used copper Jello molds our grandmothers had hanging on the wall in the kitchen or the fruit-filled, jiggly, multi-colored summer desserts. While we cherish these fond memories and look forward to our next Jello-shooters, I’d like to highlight the true health benefits of the popular ingredient that we happen to use in our food.
I answer many questions about our use of gelatine. Many folks assume that we add it to help ‘set’ or thicken our cat food. While it may help to create a texture that kitties go crazy for, we really add it to our products because it is an incredibly nourishing and healing food.
The gelatine we use is made from US-sourced beef hide. It is produced by a heat process that essentially converts the collagen in the skin to gelatine, which is then concentrated by evaporation, filtered, dried, then ground into a powder.
What is gelatine, exactly?
This where I start geeking out, but this is very cool stuff. . .
Gelatine is made up of smaller units called amino acids (18 of them), which are the building blocks of protein. All of these amino acids are linked together by chemical bonds that are broken when in water. Heat (above 95F or 35C) breaks these bonds further, allowing it to dissolve in liquid and these bonds form once again when cooled (below 59F or 15C).
So, gelatine is, essentially, collagen. Collagen, you ask? It’s really the most fibrous protein and is the most basic structure of skin (or epithelial tissue, which we’ll get to in a minute) bone and connective tissue (ie. tendons and ligaments). It is also only found in animal sources. Vegetarian ‘gelatines’ aren’t actually gelatines at all, but are extracts or gums, like guar gum and carrageenan.
Do you remember the ‘old wives’ tale’ about how good broth is to drink when you’re sick? This actually isn’t referring to the broth that is sold on store shelves, but good ol’ home-made broth that is rich in gelatine from the boiling (hydrolysis) of bones and skin. This provides an almost complete, easily digestible protein source that is high in minerals from the boiling of the bones. I say ‘easily digestible’ because when gelatine is dissolved and those little amino acid bonds are broken, they are then called ‘free-form’ amino acids, which take no digestion at all – they are easily assimilated by the body. So, if you’re sick, have an upset tummy, etc., what an easy way to get some good nutrition that’s sustaining.
I mentioned that gelatine is an ‘almost complete’ protein because it provides only 18 amino acids instead of the 20 that would make it complete – no tryptophane or cystine – darn. But, it is a good source of many essential (meaning you have to get it from food) and non-essential (meaning your body synthesizes these on its own) amino acids.
So, why is all of this important? Because it sets you up to understand the really good stuff: why it’s so beneficial to our kitties (and us humans, too). Now let’s jump into the nitty-gritty goodies:
Glycine and proline – two amazing aminos
Gelatine is a nice source of the amino acid, glycine, which makes up about 27% of gelatine’s composition. It’s a tiny little amino, but our joints, skin, cartilage and intestines absolutely rely on it. This is such a great addition to a high protein diet because glycine stimulates HCl (hydrochloric acid) production in the stomach. HCl really helps to break down all of those proteins our kitties love so much. Cats naturally have very acidic stomachs – even more acidic than us humans. But, they also have very short digestive tracts, so they need to break down the food they eat and assimilate those nutrients quickly. Raw is really best for this anyway, but that’s for another post.
Proline, another amino acid, makes up about 25% of gelatine. It is essential for healthy skin and tissue repair. Together, proline and glycine play a huge role in maintaining muscle and joint integrity. They aid in development of new tissue (which is essential in growing kittens) and repair of damaged tissues, whether from injury or simple ‘wear and tear’, as cats age.
In our experience, there are many kitties that have compromised digestive systems, due to illness, age, etc. and anything we can do to help with the digestion, the better. For normal, healthy cats, having that extra glycine will just enhance the breakdown of the food. The ability to digest protein quickly and efficiently is vital in maintaining optimal health. Kudos to our friend, glycine!
Remember a little while ago I mentioned epithelial tissue? This is the tissue that covers the entire surface of our body and forms the lining of cavities, like the heart, lungs and blood vessels, as well as the lining of the kidney tubules and ducts of glands. This tissue forms the lining of the stomach and intestines, where is assists in absorbing nutrients from our food. It also helps to create the protective mucosal layer in the intestine, which keeps the surface smooth. This layer can be damaged by inflammation, IBD and IBS, which we hear about so very often. Gelatine not only helps to maintain the integrity of the digestive system, and all epithelial tissue, but heal it, as well.
Amino Acids and their affect on kidney values
I’ve received countless emails and phone calls from people who have transitioned their kitties in various stages of kidney failure to our products and have had amazing results. What I mean by amazing, is that their BUN and creatinine levels actually went down. While it’s true that phosphorus may be more of a contributing factor than high protein in kidney disease (which, of course, is for another post), I was intrigued by so many reports of this happening. Naturally, feeding a healthy, species appropriate diet can work some magic, I really wanted to dig a little deeper into this.
The liver produces ammonia (which contains nitrogen) after breaking down proteins. This is converted into urea, which is the ‘U’ in the BUN (blood urea nitrogen). Healthy kidneys will filter the urea, but when the BUN values are higher, this can suggest that the kidneys may not be working properly. The glutamate that is found in raw meat, combined with the easily assimilated glutamate in gelatine may be one reason we’ve seen these values decrease.
Gelatine is about 11% glutamate (no – not monosodium glutamate. These are very different). Glutamate actually combines with ammonia to form glutamine and is then transported to the kidneys in a safe form. Therefore, it is believed that it can be important in ammonia detoxification, reducing the “load” on the kidneys.
Gelatin absolutely does not contain MSG
I’ve been asked this before: “Doesn’t gelatine have MSG in it”? No. Absolutely not – this is misinformation.
Essentially every food contains glutamate. As an amino acid, it is found in high quantities in meats, in both its free-form and in its bound form (with other proteins). MSG is the sodium salt of glutamate, which essentially means that glutamate is isolated and forced to join a sodium salt. Even though this can occur during a natural fermentation process, this has nothing to do with how gelatine is produced. Glutamic acid that is found as part of a protein chain (like in food and gelatine) is not MSG. The sodium-rich anion form of glutamate (MSG) seems to be metabolized very differently than glutamate in its natural form.
Believe me, I’m one of those people that is profoundly affected by MSG. If I have it, its gets ugly and I’m a mess. And, we would never, ever add something to our product that would harm cats. Our food is healing, just the way we like it!
The Chinese Medical Perspective
As my degree is in Oriental Medicine, which includes extensive herbal studies, I need to give just a little information on how gelatine, known as E Jiao, has been used medicinally for thousands of years.
Gelatine has a long history of being used as a remedy in China. It was listed as a ‘top grade’ herb in China’s first Materia Medica, about 2,500 years ago. Currently, E Jiao is made from donkey hide, but was originally produced from cowhide, as is the gelatine we use in our products.
E Jiao is used as a blood tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It is known for it’s effectiveness in nourishing blood in cases of anemia, nourishing the yin to treat insomia, irritability, dry cough and dry skin, dizziness and heart palpitations. It is a common ‘herb’ found in formulas to treat gynaecological disorders and has often been used to prevent miscarriage. Many people also consume it for its anti-aging effects.
So my first blog post has become a short novel, but I wanted to explain in enough detail how gelatine is pretty much a superfood, not just for us humans, but for cats, as well.
Please feel free to email me with any questions and I’d be happy to answer them!