Collagen is the body’s most abundant protein, found in everything from our skin, tendons, and ligaments, to our blood vessels and corneas. It’s made from amino acids glycine, proline, and lysine, all of which boast their own benefits, including improved immunity, faster wound-healing, and fighting inflammation.
While collagen may be best known for its skin-firming, nail-strengthening and hair-growth capabilities, it’s also been linked to reduction in joint pain and arthritis, increases in bone density, gut lining protection, and even better sleep.
Our bodies produce their own collagen, though production slows as we age. Toxic exposure and stress can also take their toll, making supplementation necessary for many people. Increasing your collagen intake through whole foods, or through a high-quality supplement, can benefit your health.
Food First, Supplement Second The best way to get more collagen is by eating whole foods that not only supply it, but boost your body’s own production. Certain vitamins and nutrients, such as vitamin C and zinc, also stimulate collagen production in the body.
• Organic bone broth may be the best way to supply your body with collagen, and it’s not difficult to make at home. All you need is a stockpot or slow cooker, your favorite vegetables, and high-quality bones—either from pastured, organic livestock or wild-caught fish. It’s especially important to choose organic bones, as any toxins the animal was exposed to will be concentrated in your bone broth. Though homemade broth is best as shelf-stable, store-bought brands tend to contain less collagen, you can find richer pre-made versions in the refrigerated or frozen section of a natural grocery store. A good way to confirm the quality of a broth is whether it thickens as it cools. If it doesn’t, your broth doesn’t have enough collagen. • Organically-raised whole meats such as roasts, sausages, and skin-on chicken, all contain collagen-rich connective tissue. These kinds of meats are also especially rich in glycine, a powerful antioxidant. • Wild-caught seafood and shellfish. While the meat of fish has less collagen than the parts we typically don’t eat (head, scales, and eyes), seafood can still be a good source of collagen (and it is debatably one of the most easily-absorbed sources). Fish broth and canned salmon are excellent sources, and fresh wild-caught salmon is also rich in zinc, a mineral important for collagen synthesis. Cod, mackerel, and other types of whitefish are also rich in glycine and proline. • Glycine-rich foods. In addition to being a powerful antioxidant, glycine has a calming effect and may even help you sleep better. Plant-based sources include kale, pumpkin, bananas, and spinach. • Proline-rich foods such as asparagus, beans, buckwheat, cabbage, cucumber, chives, mushrooms, seaweed, spinach, and watercress, as well as egg whites, are not only essential to collagen production, but responsible for cellular regeneration, tissue repair, and even help balance blood pressure levels. • Lysine-rich foods. The third essential amino acid for collagen-building, lysine can be found in foods such as black beans, lentils, pepitas, pistachios, and quinoa, as well as red meat, poultry, eggs, cod, and sardines. In addition to helping build collagen, lysine has been linked to better calcium absorption and retention, improved wound healing, and may even reduce feelings of anxiety and lower cortisol levels in some people. • Vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant, is also responsible for collagen synthesis. Lemons, limes, berries, bell peppers, and dark leafy greens like kale, collards, and parsley are just some examples of fruits and veggies rich in vitamin C. • Sulfur found in onions, eggs, and cruciferous veggies, is another crucial component to collagen formation. Garlic is a superstar source, as it also contains nutrients that help repair damaged collagen. • Cuproenzyme. Found in shellfish, beans, nuts, dark leafy greens, prunes, and unsweetened cocoa powder, cuproenzyme is a copper enzyme that links collagen and elastin to help the body create strong, flexible connective tissue. • Zinc is an important mineral that also helps bolster the immune system, and is crucial for collagen regeneration. Find it in oysters and other shellfish, eggs, pastured meats, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Supplementing the Right Way Powdered collagen supplements give you even more of the amino acids your body needs to produce its own collagen. It’s a great way to add more protein to your diet, especially if you have trouble with digestion. Powdered collagen is easy for the body to process, meaning it’s easily absorbed and gentle on your stomach.
When shopping for a supplement, however, not just any one will do. First, be sure to get one free from sugar or artificial sweeteners. Also, collagen should not be your only protein powder, as it’s not a complete protein. Finally, you’ll encounter supplements in a few forms: as gelatin, hydrolyzed collagen, or collagen peptides.
– Gelatin is collagen, but in a more digestible form that’s been cooked down. Grass-fed, sugar- and additive-free gelatin can be used to make a healthier, collagen-boosting homemade treat. – As for hydrolyzed collagen and collagen peptides, the two terms are often used interchangeably. Both are collagen broken down even further than gelatin, making them even easier for the body to absorb. Also unlike gelatin, they can be dissolved in either hot or cold water and neither thickens as it cools. Because they’re relatively flavorless, these supplements are easy to add to your morning coffee or smoothie.
Choosing to give your diet a collagen boost is a great way to improve your health, both outside and in. As you can see, a collagen-boosting diet is rich in so many nutrients that do so many good things for your health. If you need help improving your diet or navigating collagen supplements, contact me. I’m here to help!