Collagen is an essential ingredient we all need for glowing, youthful-looking skin, healthy hair and nails, and flexible joints. Knowing which foods contain collagen and which foods can boost the body’s ability to make it can help you get the most out of this protein.
We looked at the latest research to see which foods can be included as part of a healthy diet to increase collagen levels naturally. From meat and fish to plant foods, the sources of collagen — and the amino acids that support its production — are plentiful. If you’re not sure if you should take collagen supplements, we’ve got information on the many options for boosting your levels — and we’ve also listed the best protein powders in a handy guide.
Before you eat more collagen-rich foods—or if you’re considering a collagen supplement—it’s helpful to know how it can improve the appearance of your skin. You should also know about the health effects of collagen versus whey protein and whether one is better than the other for you and your nutritional needs.
Knowing when your collagen levels start to drop naturally is also helpful for figuring out when to include more food sources in your daily diet. Read on to find out. We’ll also explain how the body breaks down collagen and moves it throughout the body to where you need it most.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein that is naturally present in the body. It contains 19 amino acids, including glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. There are about 28 different types of collagen in the body, but 90% is type I collagen, the collagen that helps build and maintain connective tissue in the muscles, skin, bones, and cartilage, improving flexibility and helping cells, tissues, and organs. Collagen is the essential ingredient for the elasticity of the skin, making it appear plumper, plumper and smoother.
As we age, the body produces less collagen. Studies, including one in the journal Plastic and aesthetic research (opens in new tab), show that collagen production decreases by 1% to 1.5% from early adulthood. Lifestyle choices can affect collagen production, as well as atmospheric pollution, such as tobacco smoke and free radicals, as these can damage collagen levels.
Decreasing levels of collagen can have several effects on the body:
- weaker bones
- Wrinkles and sagging skin
- joint pain
- Poor muscle strength
- Gastrointestinal Problems
It is possible to increase collagen levels in the body by taking collagen supplements, although ample food sources of collagen are also available. Many of these offer other nutritional benefits when eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
It is also worth noting that the US Food and Drug Administration (opens in new tab) does not currently regulate collagen and other dietary supplements, so getting more collagen from your diet may be safer than taking a pill.
What are the best dietary sources of collagen?
The following foods are either rich in collagen or can help boost levels as they contain the amino acids that enable the body to make collagen.
Bone broth is made by boiling in animal bones, cartilage, tissue and ligaments to create a liquid rich in gelatin, a form of collagen. Some studies, including in the journal medicine, (opens in new tab) have shown that bone broth can help fight inflammation, improve gut health and improve joint health.
However, the amount of collagen can vary depending on which bones and tissues are present. In addition, a 2019 study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (opens in new tab) found that bone broth was less reliable than collagen supplements in supporting collagen production.
Meat, poultry and fish
Certain meats with a lot of connective tissue, such as brisket or pot roast, are rich in collagen. Poultry and fish also contain amino acids that help stimulate collagen production in the body.
contain eggs proline (opens in new tab)an amino acid that helps increase collagen levels in the body, increasing muscle strength.
Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of the best known antioxidants we can eat. It offers several benefits, including stimulating the body to produce collagen. Foods rich in vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits and mandarins)
- Berries (strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries)
Dark, leafy green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, and Swiss chard, are high in vitamin C and antioxidants that help the body make collagen.
Garlic is naturally high in sulfur, which is needed to produce collagen. Try more garlic in your usual dishes to improve the taste and get more health benefits from this versatile ingredient.
Foods that are naturally high in zinc
Zinc is essential for the production of collagen in the body. Foods that are naturally high in zinc include oysters, beans, legumes, nuts and whole grains.
How does the body break down collagen?
When we eat foods that contain collagen, the body cannot absorb the collagen directly, thus: food insight (opens in new tab). Instead, gastrointestinal processes in the stomach break down collagen into smaller amino acids or peptides. The bloodstream then transports them throughout the body to where they are needed most.
While it may not be possible to target your dietary collagen to specific areas of your body, such as your skin or hair, it can be reassuring to know that the body is prioritizing the areas that need it most – so you should benefit from the healthy, collagen-rich and amino acid-rich foods that you include in your daily diet.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.