Top 3 Foods That Naturally Boost Collagen Levels in Your Body

In recent years, collagen has received a growing amount of attention as an ingredient in everything from protein bars to coffee drinks. Celebrities and social media influencers alike are promoting its benefits. More consumers, too, are becoming aware of this building block of the body—and asking how they can increase collagen to boost their well-being. Many of them are interested in benefits like hair and skin health and creating an overall youthful glow.

In addition to this increased consumer awareness, more researchers and medical experts are keeping an eye on collagen. A 2021 review of clinical studies noted that collagen has been studied for a long list of uses: skin regeneration, bone defects, sarcopenia, wound healing, dental therapy, gastroesophageal reflux, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The review speculated that collagen treatment could help someone who has more than one of these health issues, as well as in cases of COVID-19.

So, it’s no surprise that many food and drink products now claim collagen on their list of ingredients. In fact, it’s one of the fastest growing functional ingredients in the country today.

But did you know that certain foods may help boost collagen production in the body? Let’s look at how collagen functions and what kinds of foods might promote its generation, naturally.

Collagen and Diet

Collagen is a type of protein. In fact, as the Cleveland Clinic explains, it’s your body’s most plentiful protein, thanks to its presence in bones, muscles, hair, skin, organs, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues. But it also naturally decreases over time, and its lack can often be seen and felt in the body. You might notice wrinkling or thinner skin, less muscle mass, stiffness or less flexibility, and/or joint pain. And, because collagen is also present in the intestinal lining, you can even experience digestive issues.

A lot of Americans unknowingly worsen these possible aging-related effects through poor dietary choices. The Omni Diet that I created, which is packed with nutrients to increase energy and youthfulness and enhance feelings of well-being, helps counteract them. In fact, many people report that several weeks after starting the plan, skin takes on a youthful glow. That’s because what we eat has an impact on how we look, not only how we feel. And, of course, we all want to feel our best and look our best.

Luckily, your body does make its own collagen. And consuming collagen-rich foods may help.

The Top 3 Categories of Collagen-Rich Foods

Best Collagen Foods | BrainMD

Following a healthy plan like the one outlined in my book, The Omni Diet, is going to give you a load of nutrients in every meal to keep you feeling vibrant. But if you want to pack in some foods that are especially associated with collagen production, there are a few categories you might focus on. Here are the top 3:

Vitamin C

Many of us associate vitamin C with citrus fruits and for boosting immunity. It’s a potent antioxidant, which inhibits or neutralizes free radicals and their damage. You’ll also find it in some unexpected ingredients, like coriander, marjoram, maca powder, and camu camu berries (these berries actually have 30 to 60 times more vitamin C than oranges!).

On the other hand, changing female hormones can lead to a depletion of this key vitamin, so it’s helpful to consume foods that are high in vitamin C. Oranges, grapefruits, and other citrus fruits are the usual suspects, but don’t forget about red or green bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and tomatoes.

Vitamin C is an essential vitamin involved in collagen production, so people enjoy its positive effects on the hair, skin, nails, and joints. As a bonus, it can help regulate stress responses and promote brain health. A whopping 42% of people don’t get enough vitamin C in their diet, so make this one a priority.

Protein-packed Foods

Protein, the body’s second most prevalent substance (after water), has a long list of functions. It promotes the growth and functioning of cells, tissues, and organs, while helping to maintain muscle mass. It supports the brain, metabolism, weight control, and energy levels. And, yes, it’s important for making collagen. That’s because amino acids found in high-protein foods are key in collagen production.

Protein provides your body with these amino acids it needs to create healthier muscles, skin, hair, hormones, neurotransmitters, and more. Essential amino acids are present in some plant foods (nuts, seeds, legumes, and some grains, fruits, and vegetables). And fish, poultry, and most meats contain all of the amino acids we need. Eggs are another great option.

One warning: When buying meat, I recommend lean meat, fish, and poultry. Fish like wild salmon, tuna, and herring are great sources of protein. Or try chicken, turkey, lamb, and lean beef. Look at labels and purchase meats that are grass-fed, free-range, hormone-free, and antibiotic-free. Use similar guidelines for eggs: Look for cage-free, organic, DHA-enriched eggs from chickens that are fed a vegetarian diet.

Bone Broth and Gelatin

Bone broths have become popular on grocery store shelves over the past few years, but you can make your own at home. (When choosing between storebought and homemade, I usually choose the second option—that way, I know exactly what’s going into it.) To make your own, the Harvard School of Public Health suggests boiling or simmering animal bones in water and a little bit of vinegar for 4 to 24 hours. The vinegar helps break down the bone, which unleashes the desired collagen and minerals.

Gelatin is also made by boiling animal bones, skin, and/or cartilage for hours. After cooking, as the liquid cools, it solidifies into a gel that you can then use for other recipes. Harvard notes that paleo dieters are often proponents of consuming gelatin and collagen-boosting foods, so this has become more trendy in recent years. Again, just make sure your base ingredients—any animal components—are organic so that they are free of nasty additions like antibiotics and hormones.

What to Avoid: Collagen Stealers

While you might want to incorporate more collagen-rich foods into your everyday diet, there are also things you’ll want to avoid. Medical experts agree that, in addition to the natural toll of aging on collagen production in the body, various dietary and lifestyle choices can deplete our collagen supply or composition. Harvard reports, for example, that sun overexposure, smoking, alcohol, and a lack of sleep and exercise are all detrimental to collagen.

Meanwhile, Cleveland Clinic experts also warn against a diet that’s high in sugar and refined carbs—unfortunately, the Standard American Diet for too many. Here are their explanations of some of these bad habits’ effects:

  • Sugar and refined carbs aren’t good for any part of your body. But collagen becomes more dry, weak, and brittle as a result of sugar intake.
  • Smoking decreases collagen production, while damaging existing collagen and elastin. Nicotine also constricts blood vessels, which interferes with the flow of oxygen and nutrients near the skin’s surface.
  • Sunlight overexposure is a rapid wrinkle accelerator. A small amount of sunlight is helpful for vitamin D production, but too much decreases collagen production and causes collagen to more quickly break down.

As collagen has become all the rage in recent years, it’s important to separate fact from fiction. Your body is already making collagen, but those abilities change over time.

By consuming the right mix of collagen-rich foods and other nutrients that support the body, we can enjoy healthier, more youthful-looking skin, hair, and nails. And we may also discover internal benefits, like better wound healing and improved flexibility.

Use these simple dietary guidelines as a starting point to promote collagen production at any age.

Tana Amen, BSN, RN
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Thanks for these tips. Great article!