Walking through Costco I was offered a sample of a “collagen peptide” supplement. “Yum, more protein,” I said. “No, this is collagen, not protein,” said the sample lady. I replied, “Collagen is a protein. You know, the collagen triple helix?” Then I realized, most people don’t know enough molecular biology to make sense of the proliferating collagen supplement market. So let’s clear this up.
Short: Gelatin and collagen peptides are the same thing. And the bulk of them is just two amino acids you can get by eating other food.
Long: Collagen is a protein. Proteins are composed of amino acids – think of amino acids as the building blocks for your body. (And, by the way, “peptides” are just chains of amino acids.) Collagen makes up the bulk of skin, cartilage, and other connective tissues. Everyone wants healthy skin, so won’t eating collagen improve your skin? Well … does eating hair improve your hair? Does eating brains improve your brain? Not really: When you eat any protein your stomach breaks it down into its constituent amino acids. Your cells then use those amino acids to rebuild the proteins in your body from scratch.
Human bodies use 20 different amino acids to build the many thousands of different proteins that make our body grow and work. 9 of those amino acids are “essential” meaning we have to get them in our food. (The human body can create the other amino acids itself.) If you have a nutritional deficit of essential amino acids then you won’t be able to build all of the proteins your body wants. If you have more amino acids than your body wants then those amino acids are not going to get used. Your body doesn’t say, “Hey, I have some extra glycine and proline, why not use those to make some extra collagen to plump up my skin?”
The bulk of collagen is just two amino acids: glycine and proline – neither of which is essential. If you really aren’t consuming enough food for your body to make those amino acids, then yes your body will not be able to make as much collagen as it wants, and yes your skin and other tissues made of collagen will suffer. And yes, eating animal collagen is one way to make sure you aren’t deficient in the amino acids that make up collagen. But you don’t need precious collagen supplements. Gelatin is literally just denatured collagen (a.k.a., “collagen peptides”). And you get the exact same nutrients by eating bone broth, skin, and other animal-based food. But even if you don’t eat those exact things, your body gets the amino acids used to create collagen from the other food you eat.
I lost 15 pounds in six weeks. I went from 190 pounds to 175, and have stayed at 175 for two months. All I changed is what I ate and how much.
The first trick is what to avoid eating: Avoid simple carbohydrates, and absolutely no sugary food! Before this experiment I had a very carb-heavy diet (i.e., one built around cereals, rice, pasta, potatoes), and I never abstained from desserts. In my experience, eating simple carbohydrates – especially sugars – leads to blood-sugar crashes that make me extremely hungry after a few hours. When I cut out sugar I never experience hunger like that. So I stick to vegetables and protein. (My go-to snack now is a Pure Protein bar.)
The second trick is to eat less. Before this experiment I didn’t have any portion control: I would whatever was served, and at a shared meal I would volunteer to finish anything that was left. Now the question became how little can I eat? I could eat two hamburgers, but I can also eat just one. Where before I would pour a full bowl of cereal, now I pour half a bowl. Less also means avoiding extra fats when possible. So no adding butter or mayonnaise to things. No fatty/starchy snack foods. Nothing deep-fried.
Eating less actually reduced my stomach capacity. I get full on less food, and I can’t eat as much in a sitting as I used to.
Neither of these tricks completely eliminates hunger or cravings, but not being fully satisfied at all times is part of life. The only thing I allow myself to eat outside of mealtimes are protein bars, carrots, or diet soda. That’s it. A simple rule, so there’s no thinking, no bargaining, no calorie counting. And no way to not lose weight!
(NB: Some cravings might be driven by nutritional deficits, so I take a daily multi-vitamin. As long as I have body fat I don’t have a calorie deficit.)
It’s huckleberry season! Huckleberries ripen beginning in late July. And since huckleberries resist cultivation, they have to be picked in the wild from bushes that grow on mountain slopes.
In Idaho and Montana, huckleberry foraging locations are traditionally family secrets. I was permitted to accompany one expedition to a patch just off a dirt road deep in Forest Service land at 6,600 feet elevation.
Picking huckleberries is not easy: The bushes are low to the ground, the sparse berries tend to form under the leaves, and even when fully ripe the small berries do not easily detach. An hour of concerted picking yields dark purple fingertips and only about three cups of huckleberries (which reduce to just two cups when crushed).
What’s the attraction? Huckleberries have a taste along the same axis as blueberries, and blackberries, but the flavor is far more intense than that of similar fruit.
Huckleberries are often canned as jam and syrup. I helped can a traditional jam recipe that cooks equal parts berries and sugar, plus some pectin. The result was a precious product that we canned in 4-ounce jars. Given the strength of the huckleberry’s flavor I thought that recipe was excessively concentrated. So for a second batch I added crushed cultivated (i.e., large and relatively flavorless) blueberries in equal part to huckleberries; reduced the sugar by 20%, and canned the jam in 8-ounce jars. Informal blind taste tests concluded that my modification did not diminish the product.