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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Collagen is a buzzword in the beauty industry for promoting a youthful complexion. But its benefits are more than skin deep.
There are a handful of foods high in collagen and many others that support collagen production in the body. Let’s look at the role of collagen in health and wellness––and the best collagen-rich foods to add to your diet.
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What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It’s a major component of cartilage and connective tissues in your tendons, ligaments, bones, and skin. Collagen is essential for repairing and regenerating tissues, and keeping our bodies strong (Wu, 2021; Khatri, 2021).
There are almost 30 types of collagen in the body, but here are the three most prevalent types.
- Type 1: Found in ligaments, skin, teeth, and connective tissues
- Type 2: Found in joints and elastic cartilage
- Type 3: Found in muscles, blood vessels, and organs
Collagen production tends to decline naturally with age, and eating foods high in the protein may be an easy way to support your health (Varani, 2006).
What foods are high in collagen?
When you consume dietary sources of collagen, the body is unable to absorb it in one piece. During the digestive process, it’s broken down into smaller units or individual building blocks called amino acids that facilitate absorption. The three main amino acids that make collagen up are glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline (Wu, 2021).
Unfortunately, there are limited options for collagen-rich vegetarian foods and no vegan options. However, there are vegetarian-friendly options that can boost collagen production. Here are 10 foods that contain collagen or boost its production in the body.
1. Bone broth
Bone broth is made by slowly simmering animal bones (beef, pork, or chicken) in water for long periods. The collagen from the bones and bone marrow seeps into the liquid, creating a collagen-rich base for soups, stews, or even drinks.
Bone broth is available at many grocery stores. Products usually indicate how much collagen is in one serving (roughly 6 g per cup) and may vary based on the brand.
Collagen for skin: benefits and how it works
Gelatin is a slightly degraded or broken down form of collagen. It still contains the same three amino acids needed to synthesize collagen. Gelatin is often found as a powder and only dissolves in hot water, whereas many powdered forms of collagen dissolve in hot and cold powders.
Its ability to gel makes it a main component of jello and gummy candies. While gelatin is a source of collagen, it’s not the healthiest option as many products contain a lot of added sugar (Mad-Ali, 2017).
Fish is another source of collagen, particularly the skin. Sardines are especially notable. With sardines, you eat the whole fish so you’re getting all the collagen from its scaly skin, tissues, and bones. Studies on fish skin consumption show that eating it may improve skin texture, hydration, and elasticity (León-López, 2019)
4. Chicken (bone-in with the skin)
Don’t automatically reach for a boneless, skinless chicken breast when you’re at the store. If you’re looking for a collagen boost, choose cuts with the bones and skin—that’s where the collagen is. Chicken feet are especially high in collagen as they’re primarily cartilage (León-López, 2019).
5. Organ meats
Another natural source of collagen protein is organ meats. These include the liver, tongue, heart, kidneys, and brains from beef, pork, or chicken (León-López, 2019).
6. Bell peppers
A half-cup of bell peppers contains more than the recommended daily amount of vitamin C, which is needed for collagen production. Vitamin C promotes the formation of pro-collagen, a precursor to collagen (ODS, 2021; DePhillipo, 2018).
7. Leafy greens
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and swiss chard are excellent sources of vitamin C. The deep green hue of these vegetables is due to a plant compound called chlorophyll, which acts as an antioxidant in the body.
There is some scientific evidence suggesting that chlorophyll promotes collagen synthesis, however, more research is needed to prove that connection (Cho, 2014).
Aging skin: causes, procedures and anti-aging skincare
No matter what berries you pick—blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, or strawberry—they’re all great sources of vitamin C. For example, one cup of strawberries contributes over 100% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C (ODS, 2021).
Why is collagen good for you?
Eating collagen and collagen peptides is associated with numerous health benefits that support overall wellness. Here are a few examples.
- Skin health: Several studies suggest that collagen promotes healthy skin by improving elasticity, hydration, and the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. While the data can be promising, many collagen products over-promise on outcomes (Rustad, 2022; Barati, 2020).
- Exercise-related joint pain: If you’ve just started experiencing joint pain from exercise, collagen may help. Note that there’s not sufficient evidence to show it will prevent joint pain related to physical activity (Clark, 2008; Zdzieblik, 2017).
- Osteoarthritis: Research suggests that collagen may improve inflammation and joint pain in people with osteoarthritis (García-Coronado, 2019).
- Bone mineral density: Collagen may help increase bone density in postmenopausal women (König, 2018).
11 foods for healthy skin: at least two will surprise you
Are collagen supplements safe?
Much of the research on the benefits of dietary collagen is on supplements not food. Studies supplementing with 2.5–10 g of collagen per day suggest it’s generally safe with little risk of side effects (Choi, 2019).
Like other protein supplements, collagen products are sold in powder form. These supplements may also be labeled as collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen. Other nutrients may be added to collagen powders so make sure to read the label and buy from a reputable brand so you know exactly what you’re getting.
Is it better to get collagen from food or supplements?
The best way to get this protein is by incorporating natural foods high in collagen––as well as foods that support collagen production––into your diet. If you’re meeting your daily protein needs and get enough vitamin C, supplementing with collagen might not have an effect.
However, if you’re specifically looking for ways to support skin health, improve joint pain, or boost bone density, talk to a healthcare provider to see if supplements may be beneficial.
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