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Gelatin is a widely used ingredient in the production of many foods, cosmetics, and medicinal products. (1)
It is a protein obtained from the collagen in the bones and skin of animals such as cows, sheep, goats, and pigs. Unfortunately, gelatin from these sources is not suitable for consumption by some people due to their religious and dietary preferences. (2)
To circumvent this, industries have begun using marine sources of gelatin from the skin and bones of fishes and mollusks such as tuna, tilapia, cod, halibut, squid, and eel. (1) (2) However, this does not address the concerns of people with vegetarian and vegan diet preferences who do not consume animals or any of their products.
Why Is Gelatin Used?
Gelatin is added to items for thickening, foaming, binding, and adding a soft chewy texture. (3)
Products That Contain Gelatin
Vegetarians and vegans need to look out for gelatin in the following products:
1. Food products
Sweets and desserts such as marshmallows, gummy bears, gumdrops, Turkish delight, and soft chewy candy all contain gelatin to thicken and bind. (3)
Some freshly picked fruits and vegetables, fish and other aquatic foods, and canned or packaged meats are also coated with gelatin to extend their shelf life and preserve them. (4)
2. Pharmaceutical products
In the pharmaceutical industry, gelatin is used to prepare the outer gel layer of the capsules of some supplements, especially omega-3 oil or powder supplements. It can also be used to coat tablets and pills to give them a glossy appearance and mask their flavor.
Gelatin can also be used in wound dressings, implants, bone substitutes, and stabilizing emulsions of injections or hydrogels. (5)
3. Cosmetic products
Cosmetically, gelatin is used in creams, gels, shampoos, hair gels, lotions, hairsprays, sunscreens, bath salts, and bath bubbles. (5)
How to Avoid Gelatin
Reading labels when buying food products or cosmetic items is a surefire way to avoid the use and consumption of gelatin. Companies are required to disclose the presence and source of gelatin.
With regards to medical products, especially in life-saving drugs and procedures, there might not be a way around gelatin, but when it comes to food or cosmetics, there are vegetarian options produced from plant starch and cellulose (6) agar-agar, guar, xanthan gum, gellan gum, and carrageenan. (7) These are also readily available to use for home cooking and baking.
Most-Asked Questions About Gelatin
Is gelatin safe to eat?
Gelatin has been approved by the Food and Drug Association for consumption.
Does gelatin have side effects?
Gelatin may cause unpleasant reactions in those allergic to it. It can also have an unpleasant taste (though you can’t taste it in commercial products) and can cause heaviness in the stomach, flatulence, belching, and acidity.
Gelatin is obtained from the bones and skin of animals such as chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, and fish. It is used widely for thickening, foaming, gelling, and binding in food products, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products.
These products can be unsafe for vegetarians and vegans who avoid the consumption of animal and animal products. For this reason, it is important to read nutritional labels to identify the presence of gelatin.
Many companies have turned to vegetarian sources of gelatin obtained from plant starch and cellulose, which is the preferred choice of vegetarians.