Chances are, you’ve never taken a moment out of your day to consider the state of your collagen. In other words, the thought, “Hmm, I wonder how my collagen is doing today?” has likely never crossed your mind.
While it may sound humorous, researchers say collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, representing 30% of its dry weight (1
). That’s a large portion of our body made up of collagen. It also makes up many of our body parts, including skin, cartilage, tendons, bones, and all other connective tissues (1
). Think of collagen as the glue that holds everything together — it gives our bodies support, strength, and structure.
Read on to discover why it’s essential to get enough collagen, as well as 11 foods with collagen that you can consume to boost your production of this necessary protein.
Why Getting Enough Collagen Is Important
The reality is, the older we get, the less collagen we’re producing.
After you turn 20, the dermis of your skin — the layer directly beneath the epidermis, or outer layer — produces 1% less collagen each year (2
According to the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, “the collagen and elastin fibers become thicker, more clumped, and looser.” This results in inelastic and brittle skin, which leads to wrinkling, sagging, and patchy skin (2
By the time you’re in your 40s, collagen synthesis in your skin stops altogether. At this time, the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science says “the collagen and elastin fibers break, thicken, stiffen, clump together, and lose their elasticity. This results in wrinkles and aging lines” (2
While there’s no way to prevent this loss of collagen, there are steps you can take to help your body build collagen, and it starts with diet. You can get more of this protein from eating foods with collagen, or by taking a high-quality collagen supplement
— whatever works for you and your lifestyle.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Bradley, Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, “aside from aging, the top reason people don’t have enough collagen is poor diet” (3
Boosting your collagen
levels with your diet can support youthful skin, reduce joint pain, improve mood, increase bone density, improve chronic digestive problems, and much more.
You can start to boost collagen production and restore healthy skin today by incorporating the following foods into your diet.
11 Top Foods With Collagen
Your body produces collagen by combining different amino acids —
the building blocks that create proteins (3
). (Remember, collagen is a protein.) You can get amino acids from foods that are high in protein, be it plant or animal sources. If you’re worried about low collagen levels, consume these collagen-boosting foods to support your health.
1. Bone Broth
One way to consume more foods with collagen is by sipping organic bone broth
, especially when it’s made from chicken. When you consume chicken collagen, your body produces anti-inflammatory substances that can reduce pain, including joint pain, back pain, and neck pain (4
). Furthermore, the chondroitin and glucosamine in chicken collagen help repair cartilage.
Eggs are an excellent source of collagen, as well as nutrients that promote collagen production, such as B vitamins, vitamin E, amino acids, and sulfur (5
). You can get egg collagen by cooking and eating an egg or by taking an egg collagen supplement.
3. Fish, Including Cod
Fish is another good source of collagen. Although collagen levels are higher in the parts we don’t eat — e.g., eyeballs and scales — you can still reap the benefits by making a bone broth with fish bones. You could also make fish head soup, leaving the scales on for the most health benefits.
That said, at least one study has found that there may be a significant loss of collagen during the cooking process, especially during hot smoking (6
). More research is needed to examine how cooking impacts collagen in fish, and what this means for you when it comes to the collagen-related health benefits of eating fish.
4. Meat, Especially Beef
Three of the amino acids necessary for the production of collagen are found in beef: glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline (7
). Beef is also high in zinc, which is another nutrient that promotes collagen production, just like the B vitamins, vitamin E, and sulfur found in eggs.
Gelatin is a wonderful source of collagen because it’s simply the cooked form of collagen. An article in the Annual Review of Food Science and Technology examined the health benefits of both collagen and gelatin and found them to provide similar benefits (8
). When picking gelatin, always opt for a high-quality product. Look for gelatin made from organic, grass-fed animals without hormones or antibiotics.
Collagen has high levels of the amino acid glycine, and the algae spirulina has a lot of glycine. According to researchers Deasy Liestianty et al. (2019), just one gram of spirulina contains 32 milligrams of glycine (9
). Try adding spirulina powder to your smoothies, yogurt, or a glass of water.
7. Citrus Fruits, Bell Peppers, and Leafy Greens
Your body needs vitamin C to produce collagen (3
). Consuming citrus fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit is a smart (and tasty) way to get more of this important vitamin. Other sources of vitamin C that you may not have considered include bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and leafy greens like kale and spinach.
Berries like strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries are all high in vitamin C. Furthermore, they have what’s known as ellagic acid, which helps protect your skin against sun damage. In one study, researchers found that “ellagic acid prevented collagen destruction and inflammatory responses caused by UV-B” (10
9. Sweet Potatoes
The benefits of sweet potatoes for collagen production lie in their vitamin C content. A one-cup serving of cubed sweet potatoes gives you 3.2 milligrams of vitamin C (11
). To put this in perspective, the Mayo Clinic recommends adults get anywhere from 65-90 milligrams of vitamin C daily (12
). While sweet potato doesn’t offer the highest levels of vitamin C, by consuming it along with other foods on this list, you can support your body’s collagen production.
10. Nuts, Especially Cashews
Cashews are high in two collagen-supporting nutrients —
zinc and copper. A 100-gram serving of raw cashews pack 5.8 milligrams of zinc and 2.2 milligrams of copper (13
). That’s 73% of the recommended daily value of zinc for women (14
While there are no regulations regarding the recommended amount of copper in the United States, the Mayo Clinic states the recommended daily intake for women is generally 1.5-3 milligrams per day (15
11. Seeds, Especially Pumpkin Seeds
Seeds, in general, are full of vital nutrients, including fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, and more. However, pumpkin seeds are especially high in zinc. (Remember, zinc is a significant nutrient for collagen production and it’s also found in beef.) One hundred grams of pumpkin seeds will give you almost 8 grams of zinc, which is the recommended daily dose for women (16
The Key Factors to Consider When Picking Foods With Collagen
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, so it’s worth taking a few seconds out of your day to consider whether or not you’re doing enough to support it.
You can’t prevent the collagen decline associated with aging, but you can help your body build collagen by giving it the amino acids — aka collagen building blocks — it needs with your diet. Incorporating foods like bone broth, eggs, fish, meat, gelatin, spirulina, citrus fruits, berries, sweet potatoes, nuts, and seeds into your regimen can help support collagen production.
While these guidelines are intended to offer helpful information, bear in mind that we’re not doctors and this information does not constitute medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before adding new foods to your diet. You may also want to work with a nutritionist to create a collagen-boosting diet tailored to you.
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