Food 

Collagen-Rich Foods to Include in Your Diet

January 12, 2021 6 min read

Blackberries, a rich source of vitamin C for natural collagen production

The most abundant protein in the body, collagen, comes equipped with many functions. It helps keep your skin healthy and your blood clotting when it needs to. Recently, it's been on the radar as an element for beauty and rejuvenation. 

This article will discuss this versatile protein, explaining its health benefits and the many ways you can increase its presence in your body. 

What is Collagen?  

Collagen is a protein that is plentiful in your body, constituting about one-third of all its proteins. The word comes from the Greek "Kolla," which refers to glue. This makes sense, as collagen was once a part of glue production. 

There are 28 types of collagen in your body, but not all of them play similar roles. Here, we'll discuss the five most prominent collagen types and share the best sources to get more of them in your diet.

Type I collagen 

Among the collagen in your body, type I makes up around 90% of them. It's the most well-known collagen and is the primary element of most of your tissues.

Type I is found in connective tissues and the skin, bones, and blood vessel walls. When it faces mutations, diseases of the bones and connective tissues start appearing. If you're looking for collagen that can act as a building block for your skin, type I is the one for you. 

Some findings also indicate that it's present in scar tissues, leading researchers to suggest that it plays a role in wound healing and blood clotting.   

Best sources 

You can get type I collagen from many sources, including:

  • Marine (fish) collagen
  • Egg whites
  • Bovine collagen peptides
  • Protein-rich foods like beef and fish
  • Bone broth

Most supplements containing type I collagen are sourced from bovine or fish, along with some amino acids like proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline. This collagen is often easily absorbed by the body, especially when it's hydrolyzed.

Healthy hands rich in collagen production

Type II collagen 

This type of collagen is found in elastic cartilage, one of three types of cartilages in the body. 

It's known to provide treatment for the joints, making it helpful for eliminating some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. It's said to boost the production of substances that fight off pain and swelling related to inflammation. But, more research is required to confirm this theory. 

Type II collagen is part of the ear, nose, bronchial tubes, and rib cage structure. This collagen can survive the digestive system while staying intact when taken orally in supplements.  

Best sources 

You can find dietary sources of type II collagen in the following: 

  • Bone broth
  • Chicken collagen
  • Protein-rich foods like chicken
  • Multi-collagen protein powder

Most supplements in the market use collagen extracted from chicken broth as a primary source. Others use bovine collagen. Since this type of collagen protects the joints, it can be found in supplements that promote healthy joints.

Type III collagen 

Type III collagen supports the healthy structure of muscles, organs, and blood vessels. It's the second most common collagen after type I and is a significant element of your tissues. 

Type III is found at high levels in the intestines. It's hypothesized to support intestinal health, but more studies are needed to clarify this link. 

The body also uses type III collagen to synthesize blood platelets, so it plays a role in blood clotting, also known as coagulation. Known to help with exercise performance, many bodybuilders choose to take type III collagen to increase their muscle mass. 

Best sources 

Type III collagen is mainly found in the following sources:

  • Fish and marine collagen
  • Egg whites
  • Bovine collagen
  • Fish 
  • Beef 
  • Bone broth

Like type I, type III is usually found in supplements that aim to keep your skin healthy. When using bovine collagen, most of these supplements offer both types I and III collagen to consumers.  

Type IV collagen 

Type IV is the least common type of collagen found in the body. It helps the kidneys in their filtration functions, among other roles. Several skin layers contain type IV collagen, often found around the muscles, organs, and fat cells. 

What makes type IV different is that it's found in layers and not helix forms, like other collagen types. This structure is due to its lack of amino acid glycine. 

Some studies have linked a deficiency in this type of collagen to gastric disturbances, but more studies are needed to verify the link. 

Best sources 

Type IV collagen is found in the following dietary sources:

  • Egg whites
  • Protein-rich foods like beef and fish

Of note, it is rarely found in supplements. 

Type V collagen 

This collagen is predominately found in the skin, hair, and eyes. Those who are deficient will have a more transparent cornea, which may cause vision and overall eye problems. 

Type V is also heavily involved in embryo development during pregnancy. The placenta is the leading provider of nutrients and oxygen to the fetus, making type V collagen crucial for neonatal development.  

Best sources 

You can find dietary sources of type V collagen in: 

  • Eggs
  • Multi-collagen protein powder

How does your body make collagen?  

When you eat, your body's skin cells use vitamin C and proteins from your diet to produce specific molecules called pro-collagen. When these molecules are produced, they attach to one another, forming something called fibrils. 

Fibrils are strands of minerals and vitamins that look like fabric strings. The more pro-collagen molecules your body produces, the more fibrils form. These then turn into fibers that attach to skin cells. For this process to occur, you need an adequate intake of vitamin C and proteins

Roasted tomatoes on a countertop, which encourage natural collagen production

Nutrients that support collagen production

Your diet can help your body produce more of its own collagen. When you eat a variety of foods rich in vitamin C, zinc, and copper, you provide your system with the ingredients it needs to produce more collagen. These nutrients are easily obtained from many food choices: 

  • Citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and greens are high in vitamin C.
  • Meats, shellfish, dairy products, nuts, dark chocolate, and grains are high in zinc.
  • Nuts, sesame seeds, chickpeas, lentils, shellfish, eggs, and dark chocolate are high in copper.

Foods like beans, root vegetables, and soy are also rich in hyaluronic acid, which increases collagen production. Antioxidants offer the same benefit. 

Collagen is also found in the connective tissues of animals like chickens, cows, and fish. If you're looking to increase collagen production in your body, eating foods rich in collagen might help. 

While collagen from food requires digestive enzymes to break down amino acids for absorption, collagen in supplements is already broken down for you. This makes collagen supplements more readily absorbable than those obtained from food.  

Why it's important to support your body with extra collagen

Despite being a naturally occurring element of the human body, many factors affect collagen production, leading to deficiencies that can impair certain bodily functions. 

As you age, collagen production in your body slows down. Starting at the age of 30, you begin losing 1.5% of your collagen every year. As a result, fine lines and wrinkles start appearing. The most drastic reduction in collagen production starts during menopause. The second major decline occurs at the age of 60. 

Other than age, your diet can powerfully influence your collagen levels. Smoking, in all of its forms, not only harms your health but can also make you look older by damaging the skin's collagen production.

When you smoke, you invite nicotine into your body, narrowing your outer layer's blood vessels, reducing the number of nutrients and oxygen it can absorb. This leads to an underproduction of collagen and elastin, the protein that helps keep your skin looking young. 

Sun exposure can also harm your body's collagen production by damaging the collagen that already exists in the skin while causing its rapid breakdown. 

In summary

Collagen is an essential building block of your body. It exists in five major types, each in charge of its own specific tasks. 

Type I accounts for up to 90% of the body's collagen and helps structure the skin, bones, ligaments, connective fibers, and teeth. Type II cushions the joints by supporting the structure of cartilage. Type III strengthens the structure of the muscles, organs, and arteries, while type IV keeps your skin healthy. Finally, type V collagen plays a role in skin, hair, and eye health.

Maintaining the proper collagen ratios in your body helps you stay well while keeping your skin healthy and glowing. Factors like aging, bad food choices, exposure to sunlight, and smoking can lower the natural production of collagen. On the other hand, adopting a good skincare routine, eating a nutritious diet with collagen-rich foods, and taking collagen supplements can boost your body's collagen production.

Up next: How to Get Your Best Skin From the Inside Out


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