July 28, 2020 — 9 a.m. EST
Collagen is a protein that has crucial functions like helping our bodies heal bruises and broken bones, protecting our joints, and keeping our digestive system at its best. While our bodies produce collagen naturally our whole lives, we make less and less of it as we grow older. You’re probably familiar with collagen powder, but are there ways to eat your collagen through the foods you choose?
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While many of us think of skincare when we think of collagen, and issues such as wrinkles or loss of elasticity, decreases in this vital protein may also have implications like deterioration of the cartilage in our joints (and even joint pain, stiffness, and osteoarthritis). Collagen supplementation has shown to be effective at improving skin elasticity, hydration, and the appearance of wrinkles in some studies, but this has not been 100% proven. There are some small studies that suggest collagen supplementation could improve heart health and help reduce the risk of osteoporosis in post-menopausal women, but more research needs to be done in these areas.
There are many types of collagen supplements, and while there is some initial evidence to suggest that hydrolyzed collagen (aka collagen peptides) may be more effective than other types, more research needs to be done to prove how well your body can use and absorb those expensive dietary additions. Peptides are short chains of amino acids, which are also what make up proteins. So, ingesting peptides is basically one way of ingesting the building blocks of proteins. The being said, supplements aren’t regulated as strictly as medications, so it’s difficult to know if they can actually do everything they say they can do.
Instead, look for foods that can help your body produce more collagen naturally. You’ll want to look for items that contain certain nutrients and amino acids — your body needs a few amino acids in particular (such as proline and glycine) to make and synthesize the collagen your body and skin need. Here are a few foods that can help.
This beverage — essentially a new name for an old-school, long-simmered stock made from animal bones and tissues — has been making waves in the wellness community, as well as with many celebrities and professional athletes, since at least 2017. Research has found that it is unlikely bone broth contains concentrations of key amino acids high enough to have a significant effect on collagen production. However, if you include animal products as part of your diet anyway, this may be a small way to give your body some collagen building blocks (plus other must-have minerals like calcium and magnesium) that doesn’t contain any weird ingredients, additives, or fillers.
Just like us, animals and their tissues contain many proteins, including collagen, as well as the amino acids necessary for collagen production. Chicken and other lean meats, like turkey, pork, and fish, are great choices if you want to support your body’s collagen production. This is because animal proteins are considered complete proteins—they contain all nine of the essential amino acids we need to get through food, because our bodies can’t produce them on our own.
These tasty bivalves are higher in copper than just about any other food, and your body needs copper to synthesize collagen as well as elastin, another key protein that keeps your skin and connective tissues healthy. More foods high in copper include other shellfish, like oysters, as well as beef, veal, and lamb (especially organ meats). Plant-based sources of copper exist too, although they have lower amounts of this essential mineral than the animal-based options.
Citrus Fruits & Berries
If you’re looking for a way to get your glow on without eating meat, citrus fruits and berries are good choices. This is because they’re high in vitamin C, which is essential for the collagen production process. Bonus: Many colorful fruits, especially berries, contain high amounts of antioxidants, which also do a lot to fight back against aging and stress on the body and protect your skin from damage. If you’re someone who craves variety in your diet, occasionally swap your blueberries or grapefruit for kiwi. This fruit is surprisingly high in vitamin C.
Garlic may not be the first food you think of when you think of skin health, but if you like it, you should start adding more of it to your diet ASAP. Why?There is evidence that several compounds found in garlic may basically short-circuit the decline or degeneration of procollagen, which is essentially a building block of the collagen you want your body to make more of. In short, the antiinflammatory and antioxidant compounds in garlic may keep things like stress and UVB exposure from messing with the collagen your body is working so hard to make. More pesto, anyone?
And Avoid ...
You won’t be shocked by this, but if you want to stay healthy, stay away from excess sugar. Excess sugar can lead to the production of AGEs (quite the acronym, right?), and is associated with the development of many chronic diseases. Yikes!
The truth is, if you already eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes lots of lean proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables, you’re probably already giving your body all the amino acids and other nutrients it needs to synthesize plenty of collagen. But, if you’re worried about your skin’s health or appearance, or if you’re experiencing other health problems that may be related to a decrease in collagen, such as joint pain, incorporating more of these foods into your diet may be worth a try.