Deriving its name from the Greek words kolla (glue) and gennao (I produce), collagen is indeed a vital element that helps to keep the body functioning well and our skin strong and elastic.
As you age, the production of collagen in your body also slows down. This results to the aging of the skin, which is characterized by signs like thinning, wrinkles, lines, age spots and dullness.
Dozens of expensive collagen supplements are currently flooding the market. However, a wide array of collagen-rich foods and foods rich in nutrients proven to stimulate collagen synthesis are likely already in your kitchen.
That's right. You can reap the same collagen benefits naturally with a simple, well-informed trip to the grocers.
What is collagen?
Simply put, collagen is the substance that holds the body together. This abundant structural protein acts as a building block for your bones, teeth, muscles, skin, joints and connective tissues. It supports the appearance of smooth, un-dimpled skin and provides strength to our bones and muscles.
What are the benefits of collagen?
This powerful protein is capable of many essential bodily functions.
- Supports muscle, joint, and tissue health. Collagen's function in our body is to keep connective tissues moveable, elastic and strong, in order to prevent brittleness. This keeps our joints mobile, and our skin, nails, and hair healthy and less susceptible to damage.
- Firms skin and lessens the appearance of wrinkles. In fact, a study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology found that those who took collagen peptides once daily for eight weeks showed a significant improvement in skin's elasticity.
- Improves gut health. According to a 2011 study, glutamine, an amino acid in collagen, can help preserve gut barrier function.
- May help treat arthritis. A Creighton University Medical Center study found that collagen can also be an effective treatment for arthritis, which is a condition characterized by the breakdown of cartilage and certain connective tissues.
Why experts recommend eating foods with collagen rather than taking collagen supplements.
Because collagen production decelerates in your thirties, many people have begun to seek out collagen supplements. Though these supplements can be valuable in replenishing the nutrient, there's still an edge to getting collagen through whole foods.
Nutrients in food are much more bioavailable to us than commercially produced supplements. Eating whole foods allows us to absorb more nutrients so our body can make all the collagen it needs. Buying collagen supplements is simply an extra expense.
You can naturally increase your body's collagen synthesis by consuming foods that are natural sources of collagen (can help the body create it's own collagen). And eating foods that contain nutrients known to increase collagen synthesis.
How many collagen-rich foods should you consume to increase collagen production?
While collagen can clearly have a positive impact on both internal and external factors associated with your body, experts have not determined the exact amount you should be eating of each nutrient that increases collagen formation within the body.
I would say the best recommendation to ensure you are allowing your body to have enough collagen production to stay healthy and strong is to consume a well-balanced diet with plenty of water, ensuring you are reaching the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, zinc, and copper. These are the nutrients which work with each other in connective tissue to help keep collagen strong and elastic.
What are naturally collagen-rich foods?
As far as collagen-rich foods go, bone broth is probably the most well known. It is made by simmering animal bones with liquid and some vinegar over a period of 12 to 24 hours to extract the collagen from the animal's connective tissue. Animal bones are also a natural source of gelatin, which in and of itself is packed with collagen.
Meat and Fish
Since collagen is the most abundant protein in mammals, it's no surprise that it is found in various types of protein-rich meat, including beef and chicken. Furthermore, meat sources that include bone and/or connective tissue (such as a ribeye steak or chicken wings) are especially rich in collagen because it is the main component of said tissues. And when you make fish at home, be sure to eat the skin, too. Fish skin, which has been used to help heal burn victims, is loaded with collagen.
Eggs and their shells
Collagen is rich in the amino acids lysine and proline. In total, eggs contain 18 amino acids and all nine essential amino acids. More specifically, the type of collagen present in egg whites provides glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid, and various other amino acids necessary for collagen production.
Studies have shown that these substances can help build connective tissues, heal wounds, increase muscle mass and reduce pain or stiffness. In fact, in a 2015 study, researchers discovered that eggshell membranes can have positive effects on the suppression of skin aging and protecting the skin from UVB radiation.
By consuming adequate protein (and therefore providing your body with essential amino acids), along with foods rich in vitamin C, zinc and copper, you're providing your body with the 'tools' needed to boost collagen production.
Proline, a nonessential amino acid, is made by the body. Proline can also be consumed in wheat germ. Lysine, an essential amino acid, must be obtained in the diet. Vegetable sources include soybeans and tofu, almonds, Brazil nuts, chestnuts, cashews, pistachio nuts and garbanzo beans. Lysine is also found in seeds, such as fenugreek, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
Which foods increase collagen synthesis and production?
When it comes to how to increase collagen, there are three key nutrients in collagen synthesis:
- vitamin C synthesizes collagen
- zinc helps collagen production by acting as a cofactor (an activator of essential proteins)
- copper helps the production of collagen by activating the lysyl oxidase enzyme to create collagen maturation. Copper will create links within collagen to keep it functioning properly. If collagen is damaged copper will help repair it to the elasticity it was as well. Obtaining copper from food is safer than supplementation because it is a potentially toxic metal.
Unlike foods that naturally contain collagen, these following foods possess the nutrient building blocks your body requires to make its own collagen.
Leafy Green Vegetables
As if you needed another reason to eat leafy green vegetables. They are known for their high nutritional content (vitamin C, zinc, copper and lutein, a powerful antioxidant), it's a collagen-boosting trifecta!
Additionally, according to a Korean study, the chlorophyll found in vegetables like kale has been shown to increase the precursor to collagen in the skin. Not only do they help in the production of collagen, but they also help your body use this protein more effectively.
Recipe: Roasted Celeriac and Kale Salad
Red Bell Peppers
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, can help to stimulate the production and maintenance of collagen by converting proline and lysine to their active forms, hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine. Vitamin C also assists in wound healing and iron absorption.
Red bell peppers are amazing sources of Vitamin C that can be easily added to your diet in many meals. Bell peppers also contain capsaicin, an anti-inflammatory compound that may combat signs of aging. A 2015 study found that capsaicin increases the stability of collagen fibres in tendons and protects collagen fibrils from enzymatic degradation.
Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables provides an abundance of vitamin C. Other sources of vitamin C include: citruses such as grapefruit, lemons, limes, and oranges, as well as papaya, strawberries, raspberries, pineapples, kiwi, cantaloupes, and watermelon. Vegetable sources include tomatoes, courgette, cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, snow peas and celery.
Red fruits and vegetables also are excellent sources of lycopene, an antioxidant. Lycopene helps fight collagenases. Collagenases are basically enzymes that destroy the collagen in your body. To make the most of tomatoes, it’s better to cook them than eat them raw. Stew or grill them, or make your own tomato sauce for pasta.
In addition to lycopene, red vegetables also contain anthocyanin, a strong antioxidant that is linked to reducing heart disease. In like manner, darker berries, such as blueberries and blackberries also help to boost the antioxidant level in the body and stimulate the production of collagen and battle other signs of aging.
Nuts and Seeds
To boost your intake of zinc and copper, two additional nutrients that also promote the production of collagen, look no further than hearty nuts and seeds. The following nuts and seeds are excellent sources (meaning they contain more than 20 percent of your daily value of a nutrient) of either zinc or copper (or both).
Pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds, sesame seeds.
Soy products contain an element known as genistein. The presence of genistein gives soy products their collagen production qualities, as swell as helping to block enzymes that tend to break down and age the skin. Just about any soy product contains enough genistein to be helpful, including soy products that have been developed as substitutes for meat products.
Oysters are hands-down the richest source of zinc. Just three ounces of oysters gets you a whopping 33 milligrams of zinc, exceeding your daily recommended zinc intake threefold. Oysters are also great sources of collagen-creating copper, as just three ounces of the mollusks contain nearly two and a half times the recommended daily value of the nutrient.
Other sources of copper, include crimini mushrooms, turnip and mustard greens, Swiss chard, spinach, kale, asparagus, green beans, potatoes, summer squash, eggplant/aubergine and tomatoes. Copper can also be found in tempeh, cashews, sesame and sunflower seeds, molasses, peppermint and ginger.
Other Helpful Nutrients for Collagen Production:
The presence of omega acids also helps to create an ideal environment for collagen production. Omega-3 promotes smooth, supple and soft skin. Excellent sources of omega fatty acids are nuts such as cashews, pecans, almonds and Brazil nuts. For a snack that promotes healthy production of collagen, try making an avocado dip. Avocados contain the same omega fatty acids as fish, and digest just as easily. You can sprinkle flax seeds in your meals instead or take supplements of flax seed oils.
Garlic is a good source of sulfur which is necessary to produce collagen in your body. Other vegetables that contain sulfur are brussels sprouts, peppers, broccoli, onions, green and black olives, fresh cucumbers, and fresh stalks of celery. Garlic also contains large amounts of lipoic acid and taurine, which are essential for rebuilding damaged collagen fibres. When cooking pasta, soup, meats and other dishes, be sure to add plenty of fresh garlic.
Working in conjunction with the sulfur, vegetables that are rich in Vitamin A also aid in keeping collagen levels high. Try adding raw carrots and baked sweet potatoes to the diet for an extra boost.