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What it is, nutrition, ingredients, benefits, and downsides

Jello is a low-calorie dessert, but is it really good for you? This article provides a comprehensive guide to the ingredients used in jello and their impact on your health.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Jello: Nutrition, ingredients, benefits, and downsides
Last updated on March 14, 2024, and last reviewed by an expert on February 17, 2024.

Jello is a light dessert that’s low in both calories and fat. However, it does include either sugar or artificial sweeteners and doesn’t offer much in terms of nutrition. It’s made from gelatin, which is derived from animal collagen.

Jello: Nutrition, ingredients, benefits, and downsides

Since 1897, jello has been a staple in American diets.

It’s commonly remembered as a part of school lunches and hospital meals, but it’s also a favorite among those looking to reduce their calorie intake.

The term “Jell-O” is trademarked by Kraft Foods and covers a range of products from jellos to puddings and other sweet treats.

This piece provides all the details you need on jello and what goes into it.

In this article

What is jello?

Gelatin is the main component of jello, originating from animal collagen - the protein found in connective tissues like skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones.

Animal parts, particularly from cows and pigs, are processed through boiling, drying, and treating with acid or base to extract collagen. This collagen is then dried, powdered, and sifted to produce gelatin.

Despite common beliefs, jello isn’t made from animal hooves, which contain keratin, a protein that can’t be turned into gelatin.

Jello comes either as a powder mix for home preparation or as a ready-to-eat dessert in individual servings.

Making jello involves dissolving this powder in hot water. The heat breaks down collagen bonds, and as it cools, the collagen restructures into a water-encased, semi-solid form, giving jello its unique wobbly texture.

Summary: Jello mainly consists of gelatin, a protein obtained from animal skins and bones. It’s prepared by dissolving gelatin in hot water, which then cools to form a gel-like substance.

Additional ingredients of jello

The squishy texture of jello comes from gelatin, but pre-packaged mixes also include sweeteners, flavors, and colors.

Sweeteners in jello are usually either aspartame, a no-calorie artificial sweetener, or regular sugar.

Jello’s flavor often comes from artificial flavorings, which are chemical blends designed to replicate natural tastes.

The colorings in jello may be natural or synthetic. Some products now use natural sources like beet and carrot juice for color due to consumer preferences, though many still contain artificial dyes.

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For instance, Strawberry Jell-O has ingredients like sugar, gelatin, artificial flavor, and red dye #40. Sugar-free Black Cherry Jell-O has similar ingredients but substitutes sugar with aspartame and includes maltodextrin and blue dye #1.

With a variety of jello products on the market, checking the label is the best way to understand what’s in your jello.

is jello vegetarian?

Jell-O is created from gelatin, which comes from the bones and skin of animals. This means it’s not suitable for vegetarians or vegans.

That said, there are vegetarian jello options available that use plant-based ingredients such as agar or carrageenan instead of gelatin.

You can even whip up your own vegetarian jello at home with these plant-based alternatives.

Summary: Jello consists of gelatin, flavorings, sweeteners (either natural or artificial), and colorings (natural or artificial). The traditional brand-name Jell-O isn’t vegetarian, but there are vegetarian options out there.

Is jello healthy?

Jello is often included in diet plans because it’s low in calories and doesn’t contain fat. But that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy choice.

A single serving (21 grams of dry mix) contains 80 calories, 1.6 grams of protein, and 18 grams of sugar, which equals about 4.5 teaspoons.

It’s high in sugar and low in both fiber and protein, making it a not-so-great choice for your health.

A serving (6.4 grams of dry mix) of sugar-free jello, which uses aspartame, has only 13 calories, 1 gram of protein, and no sugar. However, artificial sweeteners can have their own health drawbacks.

Suggested read: 6 health benefits of taking collagen supplements

Moreover, jello doesn’t offer much in terms of nutrients, lacking in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Gelatin and health

While jello itself might not be the healthiest option, gelatin, its main ingredient, could have some health benefits. It contains collagen, which has shown potential in various studies.

Collagen can have a positive effect on bone health. For example, a study found that postmenopausal women who consumed 5 grams of collagen peptides daily for a year saw a significant increase in bone density compared to those who didn’t.

It might also ease joint pain. In a study with college athletes, those who took a 10-gram daily collagen supplement reported less joint pain than those who took a placebo.

Additionally, it can benefit your skin. In a study, women aged 40–60 who consumed a 1,000 mg collagen supplement daily for 12 weeks saw improvements in skin hydration, elasticity, and wrinkles.

However, the collagen levels in jello are much lower than the amounts used in these studies, so eating jello probably won’t give you noticeable health benefits.

Plus, the high sugar content in regular jello could negate any potential benefits for your skin and joints, as diets high in sugar can speed up skin aging and increase inflammation.

Summary: Jello is low in calories but also high in sugar or artificial sweeteners and lacks nutrients. Although gelatin, a key ingredient, may offer health benefits, consuming jello is unlikely to provide these benefits.

Potential downsides of jello

Before indulging in jello, it’s wise to be aware of its potential health drawbacks.

Jello contains artificial colors

A lot of jello products use artificial colors. These colors are created from petroleum, which is also used to produce gasoline and could pose health risks.

Ingredients in some food dyes, like red #40, yellow #5, and yellow #6, have been linked to cancer because they contain benzidine, a carcinogenic substance. Even though the Food and Drug Administration allows these in small amounts considered safe, there’s still concern.

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Research has connected artificial colors to behavioral issues in children, with or without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Some studies found that doses over 50 mg could lead to behavioral changes, but other research indicates that even 20 mg might have adverse effects.

In Europe, food products containing these dyes must have labels warning that they could lead to hyperactivity in children.

The exact amount of food dye in jello can vary and is not always disclosed by manufacturers.

Jello contains artificial sweeteners

Packaged sugar-free jello often contains artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose.

Studies suggest aspartame might harm cells and cause inflammation. Animal research also associates aspartame with an increased risk of cancers, such as lymphoma and kidney cancer, at much lower doses than the current acceptable daily intake.

Yet, there’s a lack of human research on aspartame and cancer risk.

Artificial sweeteners might also disrupt the balance of gut bacteria. For example, a study with mice showed that consuming sucralose daily significantly reduced beneficial gut bacteria.

Despite being marketed for weight management, evidence doesn’t support the effectiveness of artificial sweeteners in reducing body weight. In fact, consuming them regularly may lead to weight gain.

Gelatin allergies

Gelatin allergies are uncommon but possible.

Being exposed to gelatin through vaccines might increase sensitivity to its proteins. A study found that children with allergies to gelatin in vaccines also reacted to gelatin in food.

Reactions to gelatin can range from hives to severe, life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.

If you’re concerned about a potential allergy to gelatin, it’s possible to get tested by an allergist or immunologist.

Summary: Jello includes artificial colors and sweeteners, which could be harmful. Also, although rare, gelatin allergies can occur.


Jello typically comes from gelatin, which is obtained from the bones and skin of animals.

Unless plant-based gelling agents are used, it’s unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Moreover, it’s not particularly nutritious and often has artificial colors, sweeteners, or sugar, which could be bad for your health.

Although gelatin and collagen can be beneficial, the gelatin amount in jello probably won’t significantly impact your health.

Despite being a favorite for many, it’s not the best option for a healthy diet.

For those who enjoy jello, making it at home with gelatin and fruit juice is a healthier alternative than the store-bought mixes.

Suggested read: Is ginger ale good or bad for you? Benefits & side effects

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