Jell-O Nutrition Facts

Pros and Cons of Gelatin Desserts for Weight Loss

Jell-o nutritional facts

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Some people use Jell-O snack packs as a treat when they are trying to lose weight. It's a reasonable enough choice given that Jell-O is widely advertised as being fat-free. It is what hospitals regularly provide patients on restricted diets, after all, and something that can satisfy a sweet tooth nearly as well as a scoop of ice cream.

But does this necessarily mean that Jell-O is good for you?

Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided for one serving (96g) - one snack cup - of Jell-O brand raspberry gelatin snack.

  • Calories: 70
  • Fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 40mg
  • Carbohydrates: 17g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 16g
  • Protein: <1g

Health Benefits

At first glance, 70 calories per serving and no fat looks pretty good. But if you factor in things like nutrition and added sugar, Jell-O may fall short of your overall dietary needs. Here are some of the pros and cons of Jell-O as a weight loss aid:

Pros

Beyond sweetness, people use Jell-O snack packs for diets for two simple reasons: they are convenient and portion controlled. Both are big pluses if you aim to lose weight. In one fell swoop, you can avoid overeating and don't need to figure out how many calories you're going to consume. Nothing could be simpler. Preparing a big bowl of Jell-O at home, by contrast, can be a bit tricky. One extra spoonful eaten could lead to two, three, and more. Snack cups save you from overindulgence. 

When dieting, you can make Jell-O all the healthier by choosing sugar-free snack packs. These are sweetened with acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) used in many diet foods and beverages. Ace-K is around 100 times sweeter than sugar and therefore needs only a tiny amount to quell your sugar cravings.

While some people will deride Jell-O for being packed with chemicals, artificial colors, and artificial flavoring, the content is relatively small. Moreover, there is little evidence that these will do you any harm over the long term. If anything, the gelatin used to make Jell-O may offer some surprising benefits.

A 2016 preliminary study from the University of California, Davis reported that a 15-gram gelatin supplement taken before exercise doubled the collagen protein that composes tendons, ligaments, and bones.

Cons

For all of its presumed benefits, Jell-O is a source of empty calories. Empty-calorie foods like Jell-O provide energy in the form of added sugar, usually a lot of it. For their part, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men. One serving of Jell-O weighs in at a whopping 17 grams. 

Even if you choose sugar-free Jell-O, the reduction in calories in no way detracts from the absence of nutritional value. Recognizing this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued recommendations advising Americans to limit their added sugar intake to no more than 4% to 6% of daily calories. Increased exercise may increase your empty caloric intake.

So, if you find yourself snacking on sugar-free Jell-O, drinking diet soft drinks, and eating sugar-free snacks, you will almost be sure to be depriving yourself of the nutrients needed to sustain good health. 

You should also remember that fat-free does not mean calorie-free. At 84 calories per serving, four cups per day will account for nearly a fifth of the 2,000 daily calories recommend for women.

As for the ingredients, even if you dismiss the notion that artificial sweeteners are potentially harmful, a 2010 review in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine reported that sweeteners like Ace-K may trigger changes in the brain that actually increase your sugar cravings. With regards to this preliminary research, it has shown that Ace-K may enhance the perception of hunger and increase, rather than decrease, the motivation to eat. Overall, you should be cautious about having a diet high in sweeteners, whether artificial or not, as this may compromise your weight loss efforts.

Finally, it is important to remember that the gelatin contained in Jell-O is derived from the bones and hides of livestock, usually beef and pork. If you are a strict vegetarian or vegan, Jell-O is probably not the right choice for you (but you could make or buy vegan versions that use agar instead of gelatin).

Common Questions

Are red colorants used in Jell-O safe?

The colorants used in Jell-O have all been designated safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The red dye scare hearkens back to a 1971 study from Russia which linked the colorant to cancer. There is actually no such risk, particularly with the current food dye lot. 

However, red and green Jell-O can sometimes turn your stool a reddish, or greenish color, respectively. This can interfere with direct imaging tests like a colonoscopy by tinting the lining of your intestines. The same may occur with orange or purple Jell-O. Prior to a colonoscopy, you should receive instructions on how to prepare from your doctor. These will indicate whether you can consume Jell-O and if so, what colors.

Recipes and Tips

In the end, there is nothing wrong with Jell-O. It is tasty and convenient, has a long shelf life, and is easily digested. If you opt for a sugar-free Jell-O snack cup, it can be an acceptable snack if you are trying to lose weight—as long as you consume it in moderation.

If you like sugar-free Jell-O but don't like the chemicals and artificial sweeteners, you can make your own with fresh fruit juice and powdered gelatin. This can significantly improve the nutritional value, especially if you stir in fresh berries, bananas, or even yogurt.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can make your own animal-free gelatin with a substitute called agar-agar (made from cooking and pressing seaweed). You can buy agar in powdered form and use it as a 1-to-1 replacement for regular gelatin.

Allergies and Interactions

Although rare, allergic reactions to gelatin have been reported. Gelatin is a common cause of an allergic reaction to vaccines, many of which use porcine (pig) gelatin a stabilizer.

There are no known food, herb, or supplement interactions with gelatin, but it is not specifically known whether gelatin interacts with medicines. The best advice is to talk with your health professional before using gelatin if you take any medications.

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