When it comes to aging, there’s no denying that collagen has a big hand in it. Knowing that it becomes harder for our bodies to make collagen as we age has brought this connective tissue protein – which happens to make up 25-35% of all the protein in our bodies - into the spotlight.
Collagen plays an important role in so many areas of our bodies, including our skin, our joints, our bones, our blood vessels, our muscles, and our digestive systems. Think of it as the scaffolding that provides structure and strength.
What does collagen do for our skin? It keeps our skin soft, smooth, and firm. As we age and our own collagen production slows, that's when we start to see those pesky wrinkles show up. Studies have shown that taking collagen supplements can help maintain healthy levels.
But did you know that eating certain foods can also help? Whether you choose to supplement or not, eating a diet rich in specific nutrients will help because it will support your body in making its own collagen.
To start with, you need to eat some form of protein for the amino acids it provides to build the collagen that’s in all of your connective tissues. We already know that meat, fish and dairy are major sources of protein. They give us all of the amino acids we need.
Not into eating meat or dairy? You can turn to other complete protein sources like tofu, tempeh, or other alternative meat products. Plant-based meats have been popping up left and right, many of which are made from pea protein, which is a complete protein like tofu. (Always check the label to see what they’re made of and how much protein you’re getting.)
In addition to eating complete proteins, you’ll want to pay attention to foods that are high in three specific nutrients: vitamin C, zinc, and copper. These are the key to helping you ramp up your own collagen-making ability.
What other plant-based foods should you be eating to encourage better natural production of collagen? Here’s a list of some of the best options.
It’s by no means an exhaustive list. There are many foods that provide the right nutrients, but these are some of the most jam-packed that you can easily incorporate into your diet.
Best Nuts & Seeds for Collagen
Nuts and seeds are good sources of zinc and amino acids. While they don’t contain complete protein, they both contain a decent amount of lysine, which is one of the amino acids needed to make collagen and it’s one our bodies are not able to make.
Pumpkin seeds, which are high in zinc, are great in a salad, in granola, or to make your own pumpkin seed butter in a blender.
Sesame seeds, a good source of zinc and also copper, can be added to salads or to Asian dishes, or you can buy some tahini (which is really just sesame seed butter) and use it to make hummus or salad dressings.
Cashews, a nut with high amounts of copper, are great as a snack either raw or roasted. They’re also perfect for making vegan versions of anything creamy, like many sauces and desserts.
Best Fruits for Collagen
Fruits like citrus and berries are high in vitamin C, which helps your body make important enzymes that boost collagen production. It’s also a powerful antioxidant that fights skin-cell damage.
Guava is a vitamin C superhero with more than double the recommended daily value. It might not be something you eat typically, but it’s a tasty fruit on its own or you can add it to a smoothie.
Kiwi is another fabulous source of vitamin C you might not already be eating and that makes a great snack or smoothie ingredient.
Oranges, which we all know as a good source of vitamin C, are great as a snack, an addition to s summer salad, or to make juice.
Strawberries, a berry with a particularly high amount of vitamin C, are delicious many ways - as a snack or in a smoothie or sliced on top of yogurt or many desserts.
Best Vegetables for Collagen
Vegetables are full of so many nutrients, so you can’t really go wrong here. But in terms of collagen production, certain veggies are better. In addition to vitamin C, dark leafy greens provide chlorophyll, the plant pigment getting a lot of buzz lately for its potential benefits that include skin health. Lycopene, found in red veggies, is also touted for its many health benefits.
Dark leafy greens provide vitamin C and also chlorophyll. They’re the basis of a great salad and a great addition to smoothies, and so many dishes.
Broccoli has nearly double the vitamin C in an orange, and is great in all kinds of dishes, especially salads and stir fry. Also, they’re great roasted with some oil, salt and pepper.
Red bell peppers are higher in vitamin C than other peppers due to their red color, and they're delicious in salads and stir-fry dishes.
Tomatoes are chock full of vitamin C and lycopene. They’re a great addition to so many foods, like salads and salsas. If you like Italian and Mexican dishes, you’re all set.
Best Beans for Collagen
Beans contain amino acids that help boost collagen production, though they’re not a complete protein. And some are also high in minerals we need for making collagen.
Chickpeas rank the highest because they have good amounts of zinc, copper and the amino acid lysine. Use them in salads and to make hummus, which combines it with sesame seeds for a double whammy!
Kidney beans are a decent source of copper and are great in salads, soups and in chili.
While it’s sadly true that we can’t stay young forever, eating more of these foods is one of the best ways to help protect ourselves from the effects of losing our collagen. Of course, It always helps to eat healthy so we can maintain as much youth and vitality as possible. Add these foods to your next grocery list, and reap the youthful rewards!