Collagen protein is all the rage right now, but what is it really? Learn all about collagen protein and its dietary benefits.

healthy skin with flowers

Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.

What is Collagen Protein?

Collagen is the most abundant protein present in the human body. Collagen is responsible for the health of our hair, skin, nails, blood vessels, digestive system, and musculoskeletal system. Collagen gives our skin elasticity and helps skin cells renew. It’s also what our joints and tendons are made of, making it essential for connecting our bones and enabling us to move safely. 

Collagen is comprised of 19 amino acids, called “nonessential” amino acids. Typically, our bodies would produce these amino acids on their own. However, our modern lifestyles–including constant stress and illness and an unvaried diet–inhibit our production of these amino acids. For this reason, supplementing with dietary collagen can preserve the health of your bones, skin, gut, and blood vessels.

Types

Collagen is very popular right now. You’ll likely see skincare products touting the benefits of topical collagen–however, topical collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed by the skin. Your best bet to get the benefits of collagen is dietary collagen as it can be more easily absorbed by the body. There are several different types of collagen supplements you can try.

Collagen Powder

This form of dietary collagen is often made of bone broth protein, dried and/ or powdered. Bone broth protein provides other benefits such as hyaluronic acid.

Collagen Peptides & Hydrolyzed Collagen

This form of collagen is what you most often see in the tubs or cans on health food store shelves. Products labeled “peptides” or “hydrolysate” are the same product, made by processing collagen protein through hydrolysis. This is the most bioavailable form of collagen for our bodies. It’s also odorless, tasteless, and dissolves in hot or cold liquids making it ideal to add to your daily meals. Many people add collagen peptides to their cup of morning coffee. I use it in almost all of my smoothie recipes.

collagen coffee

Marine Collagen

Marine collagen is a form of hydrolyzed collagen is made of the scales and bones of fish and is rich in Type 1 collagen, which is the most abundant form of collagen in your body. It’s also easily digestible.

Gelatin

You probably know gelatin from eating jello-type desserts as a kid. Gelatin is derived from collagen and so it is a form of collagen. I use gelatin most often in recipes such as my Homemade CBD Gummies or my Homemade Jello.

gelatin tummies

Collagen Pills

These are simply capsules filled with collagen protein. You may opt for these if you don’t want to add collagen peptides to your drinks or food.

Small white pills in a dish

Potential Benefits of Collagen Protein

There are countless benefits of collagen, although there may be some side effects of collagen for some people. Aside from being the most abundant source of protein in your body, having an adequate supply of collagen contributes to organ, skin, hair, and nail health. Here are five potential benefits of collagen (always be sure to ask your healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet or supplement routine):

1. Supports Digestive Health

Collagen is essential for a healthy intestinal lining. The villi in your intestinal lining are made of collagen, and collagen helps repair loose junctions in your gut. Collagen a must-have protein for a healthy gut. If you’re on a gut healing protocol, consider adding a collagen supplement to your routine.

2. Supports Joint Health

The amino acids glycine and proline found in collagen have anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe inflamed, weak, or achy joints. Your joints are made of collagen, so ensuring you have an adequate amount will help your joints remain healthy.

3. Enhances Skin, Hair, and Nail Health

Collagen is the building block of youthful skin, strong nails, and shiny hair. It’s no mistake that beauty products use collagen as a marketing tactic. Collagen really can reverse hair loss, transform brittle nails into strong ones, and reduce your chance of wrinkled skin.

woman with shiny hair standing near a wall

4. Supports a Healthy Heart

A recent study determined that collagen tripeptide, derived from collagen, can help prevent and treat atherosclerosis in healthy humans. 

5. Supports Healthy Detoxification

The amino acid glycine, found in collagen, is essential for proper liver function. Having an adequate store of glycine will ensure your liver is able to properly filter toxins.

What are Collagen Supplements?

You can ensure that you have an adequate supply of collagen through collagen supplementation. Keep in mind that collagen can be found in whole foods, so supplementation is not necessary with a perfect, real food diet. But, since most of us don’t eat perfectly, you may also choose to supplement with collagen in addition to eating a healthy, whole foods diet. Those on a vegetarian diet may also choose to supplement with marine collagen to help prevent deficiencies. 

A collagen supplement cannot replace whole food sources of protein, as it is not a complete protein. Like many plant sources of protein, collagen does not contain all nine amino acids necessary for a fully functional body. Take collagen in addition to consuming plenty of complete proteins such as animal protein. Read more about how to fill your plate everyday for optimal health.

chicken salad bowl

How to Add Collagen to Your Diet

Collagen peptides can be dissolved into hot beverages or water, or added to puddings, soups, or smoothies. You can also take collagen pills if you don’t want to use a powder.

orange collagen smoothie

What are Collagen Pills?

Collagen pills are simply hydrolyzed collagen in capsule form. It’s best to look for a collagen pill that contains simply hydrolyzed collagen and that use cellulose for the capsule–there is no need to add additional ingredients.

What is Collagen Cream?

Collagen cream is a face moisturizer that contains collagen molecules to improve the appearance of skin and reduce wrinkles. However, topical collagen is not the most effective use of collagen–the molecules are often too large to effectively penetrate pores and provide any benefits. 

Real Food Sources of Collagen

Luckily, collagen is also readily available in whole food form! Both plants and animal products provide us with collagen. Here are 5 foods rich in collagen:

Bone broth and gelatin: Bone broth is the stock simmered from animal bones and cartilage. By simmering these animal parts for 24-48 hours in water and apple cider vinegar (plus any veggies and spices you want), you create a mineral-dense broth high in gelatin, collagen, and nutrients.

Organ meats: It is no secret that organ meats from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. One of their health benefits is collagen, which is especially abundant in tendons, bones, and joints. Organ meats are also high in Vitamin A, which boosts collagen production.

Eggs, muscle meats, and fish: products from grass-fed, pasture-raised, and wild-caught animals and fish are naturally high in collagen.

Berries and leafy greens: these are high in antioxidants and vitamin C, both necessary cofactors for collagen bioavailability. Antioxidants from these foods also provide anti-aging benefits.

Leafy greens and strawberries

Spirulina: this dried algae is a great source of collagen for vegetarians and vegans. It contains amino acids like glycine to promote collagen production. Another fact about glycine is it is also amazing for sleep and relaxation!

Conclusion

It can be beneficial to either consume collagen from real food sources or to supplement. Collagen has several important health benefits including support for joints, skin, and gut health, and is an important nutrient.

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