Collagen has made a name for itself as an anti-aging powerhouse. In fact, collagen isn’t just the latest skin care fad — it’s been consumed for hundreds of years and is essential to the proper function of the human body.
The presence of collagen in the skin keeps it youthful, supple, and bouncy. You may see collagen advertised in skin care products or as a supplement that can be mixed with food or taken in a capsule.
But collagen isn’t just a beauty ingredient. It’s important for the health of all connective tissues in the body, including the muscles, tendons, joints, and intestines. It acts as a glue or scaffolding that holds almost all of the body’s tissues together.
We’re all born with collagen built into our bodies, but as we age, its production slows down. This can lead to aging skin and problems with muscles and joints. Getting collagen through a healthy diet can help make up for this loss.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a powerhouse protein, packing in more protein per calorie than any other type. It’s also the most abundant protein in the body and contains vital amino acids the body needs for its functions and for healthy tissue.
You’ve likely eaten collagen without even realizing it: gelatin is a key source of collagen, found in many foods. And, when you eat meat such as beef, chicken, or fish, you’re getting some collagen. Bone broth is a good source of collagen, as the collagen gets released from the animal bones as it cooks.
But, just eating meat or broth once in a while may not be enough. And vegetarians may not be getting enough of it either.
Many studies have been conducted on the benefits of collagen with positive results:
- One study found that taking collagen in combination with resistance training may help with muscle building. The study was conducted on older men. Those who took collagen peptides had better strength and body composition than those who did resistance training alone.
- Collagen may help with ulcer healing, according to a double-blind study that was conducted on both men and women from ages 18 to 70.
- In another study, athletes who experienced sports-related joint pain were given collagen supplements or a placebo for 24 weeks. Those who took the collagen had better relief at the end of the study than those who took a placebo.
- A study on mice found those that took collagen orally had healthier skin than those that didn’t get the collagen. The mice that received collagen had better skin laxity, higher collagen content in the skin, and more efficient collagen repair.
- Another study found that collagen taken with hyaluronic acid and vitamins and minerals resulted in better skin hydration and elasticity and an improvement in the appearance of wrinkles. The double-blind study was conducted on 18 women ages 45-64 for 12 weeks.
How to boost your own collagen
Many foods contain collagen or help to naturally boost your body’s collagen production and fight the aging process on your skin, joints, and bones. In general, look for a variety of whole foods in different colors. These are just some of the foods that can keep your collagen production at its best:
- Bone broth. As mentioned above, bone broth from beef, chicken, or fish contains the natural collagen from bones. When you consume broth, you’re getting one of the richest food sources of collagen available.
- Matcha green tea. This ancient Japanese drink is loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, fiber, and chlorophyll. While matcha alone doesn’t contain collagen, one study suggests drinking matcha may help preserve the collagen you have, thereby slowing the aging process. It’s easy to implement matcha into your daily diet; it dissolves in water for a quick iced or hot tea, or can be added to smoothies and yogurt. Some newer matcha products contain collagen for an extra boost. Whichever matcha you choose, avoid those that have added sugar.
- Eggs. One of the few foods aside from bone broth that contain actual collagen, eggs are a healthy, nutrient-rich protein source that will give you a dose of this protein. Be sure you eat the yolk, however: collagen is not present in the whites.
- Leafy greens. Kale, spinach, and arugula are indeed superfoods, including when it comes to collagen. Their green color, like matcha tea, is from their natural chlorophyll, which increases the body’s building blocks for collagen.
- Fresh garlic. Use this pungent bulb in your recipes to help amp up your body’s collagen production. Long known to be healthy and even used in ancient medicine, garlic contains antioxidants and amino acids that encourage the body to make more collagen.
- Wild-caught salmon. Wild salmon is one of the best ways to get skin-friendly, heart-healthy omega-3 fats. But its benefits don’t stop there. Salmon also contains zinc for healthy skin production and collagen synthesis.
- Strawberries. This summer favorite is packed with vitamin C and antioxidants that fight off free radicals and boost collagen.
- Citrus fruits. The vitamin C and antioxidants in lemons, grapefruit, and oranges fight off the toxins that attack our body’s collagen stores. Vitamin C is also crucial for skin’s natural repair process.
- Nuts and seeds. Pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, and cashews, among others, are packed with fiber, healthy omega-3 or monounsaturated fats, and yes, minerals that aid in the production of collagen. Specifically, zinc is a trace mineral the body needs to keep collagen from breaking down and it’s found in many nuts and seeds.
- Avocados. Avocados contain loads of healthy fats and antioxidant carotenoids that help prevent damage to the skin and its collagen. To top it off, they’ve got plenty of vitamin C as well.
- Tomatoes. Tomatoes and tomato products (like tomato sauce and tomato juice) contain lycopene, a carotenoid that gives red fruits and vegetables their color. It’s also a free-radical scavenger, destroying the molecules that lead to skin and collagen damage. Lycopene is also found in watermelon, pink grapefruit, and red peppers.
Eating healthy, whole foods to boost collagen naturally is a great way to look and feel great while getting the nutrients your body needs.
Wondering which foods you should be eating to achieve your personal wellness goals? Garcia Weight Loss and Wellness Centers can help. Contact us to set up your no-cost consultation and discover what a personalized diet and wellness program can do for you.
Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on October 8, 2018