Is collagen worth the hype? In short, yes!
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, providing our skin, digestive tract, muscles, bones, and connective tissues with both structure and stability. Taking a collagen supplement appears to be supportive of both skin and joint health. Anecdotal evidence also points to benefits for gut health, although current research doesn’t support this claim.
Collagen supplements come in two forms; either marine collagen, sourced from fish scales and skin, or bovine collagen, made from cow hide. So where does that leave vegetarians and those who stick to a plant-based diet? Without a collagen supplement, unfortunately.
Plant-Based Supplements + Foods for Collagen
The good news is that while collagen supplements aren’t vegetarian, your body is already producing collagen all by itself, and there are plenty of plant-based ways you can support collagen production and protect the collagen that’s already in your system.
Collagen is a protein, and like all protein it’s comprised of amino acids. In other words, you need to include good sources of plant-based protein in your diet in order to support collagen formation and maintain the collagen in your body.
Find it in: beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, and nutritional yeast.
Glycine is the most abundant amino acid in collagen, and is considered “conditionally essential” meaning that your body is mostly able to synthesize it on its own, but it needs support from time to time.
For example, during pregnancy a dietary source of glycine is important to support the formation of the fetal skeletal system, skin, and teeth, and to support your own growing body and stretching skin.
Find it in: sesame seeds, spirulina, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, nori, watercress, beans, and spinach.
The mineral zinc is super important for healthy skin. It plays a role in wound healing, prevents acne, reduces inflammation, and and acts as a cofactor in collagen formation. Zinc also works to protect the skin from UV rays, which contribute to collagen deterioration.
Find it in: pumpkin seeds, cashews, pecans, oats, beans and legumes, and whole grains.
4. Vitamin C
The antioxidant vitamin C helps prevent collagen breakdown due to free radical damage. It also helps convert the amino acid proline into hydroxyproline, which stimulates collagen synthesis and also works to stabilize the structure of the collagen protein itself.
Find it in: citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruit, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, parsley, kale, kiwi fruit, bell peppers, and beet greens.
Recipes to try: Roasted Broccoli 3 Ways | Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches | Grapefruit Immune Boosting Smoothie | Kale Salad with Oranges & Blueberries | Beet Greens and Avocado with Creamy Tahini Dressing
Copper plays several roles to support the formation and maintenance of healthy skin. When it comes to collagen specifically, copper supports fibroblast generation, which in turn supports the production of collagen.
Copper also helps to stimulate collagen production and acts as a catalyst for building collagen fibrils. It’s also cool to note that about 15% of the body’s copper is found within the skin!
Find it in: nuts, seeds, leafy greens, shiitake mushrooms, and spirulina.
Catechins are a type of phenolic compound that is thought to be photo-protective to the skin, meaning they help protect it from damage caused by the sun. Catechin compounds also work to prevent improper cross-linking of collagen to elastin – the other primary protein on our skin – in skin as it ages.
Find it in: green tea (especially matcha), berries, cocoa
Chlorophyll is the compound responsible for the green color in dark leafy greens and algae. Early research is pointing towards chlorophyll helping to stimulate collagen production – it will be exciting to see how this develops!
Find it in: leafy green vegetables such as kale, collards, broccoli, arugula, and spinach.