Food Focus: Collagen

This was a tough one for me. When I first heard this nutrition trend, as a long time vegan, I was like "powered cow hide?!" No way! Sound the alarm.

But, it's my duty as a nutrition coach to help my friends, family and clients find the truth about all answers and emerging science, so I attended seminars, talked with experts and read, read, read.

Let's start off with what exactly collagen is and why we might need to supplement it into our diets in the first place. Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the body. It makes up connective tissues, like tendons and cartilage, and plays an important role in the integrity of our bones, skin, and even the gut. Connective tissues are exactly what their name implies – tissues that connect things. Fascia tissue, dermis (the bottom layer of your skin), muscles, tendons, cartilage and the tissue surrounding your hair + nails are all prime examples of connective tissue. Collagen is the main protein of all connective tissue. There are 16 known types.

Collagen supplements are now mainstream because research shows that it can help decrease the signs of aging by reducing the appearance of wrinkles and improving skin elasticity. It also helps with those who suffer from frequent joint pain. Yet, research is pretty minimal on these supplements so far.

So, why add more into our diet? What reduces collagen in the first place?

Turns out, many things! Excess sugar, extended sun exposure, smoking, drinking, hormone changes during menopause and growing up. Yep, as we age, the synthesis of collagen slows down.

How can we boost it? A diet that is rich in anti-inflammatory foods, has adequate protein, and includes a variety of nutrients. In particular, vitamin C is essential for the synthesis of collagen. Good sources of include red peppers, broccoli, oranges, and lemons. Dietary sources of copper (sesame seeds, tempeh, lentils, cashews) and iron (beans, lean organic beef, organic chicken, dark leafy greens) are also essential.

Aside from diet, collagen supplements are becoming widely available. These supplements are typically made from bovine (cow) tissue but also come in fish or chicken forms. If you choose to take a supplement, research the product thoroughly. The supplement industry is NOT regulated and something you are ingesting every day must be of the highest quality and completely pure.

Plant-based peeps, listen up. You do not need to consume supplements to rebuild collagen, but it will take more work. It’s important to understand that collagen protein powders contain a concentrated source of the key amino acids that your body needs to build new collagen. This includes primarily glycine and proline. Sources of glycine are banana, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, kale, kiwi, pumpkin and spinach. Proline is abundant in alfalfa sprouts, asparagus, beans, buckwheat, cabbage, cucumber, chives, tempeh, and watercress.

Whether or not you decide to include a supplement in your regimen, you can help support collagen in the body through a good diet, avoiding extended sun exposure, not smoking, and moderate (if any) alcohol consumption.

Sources and Additional Reading:

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I help busy mamas go from burnout to mental vigor using the gut brain axis.


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