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Once you step into your 30s and notice the first signs of aging, building your anti-aging skincare routine becomes the No. 1 skin priority. And while there's nothing wrong with investing in good collagen-boosting serums or creams, fighting aging will require a more holistic approach.
Eating certain foods can help you support collagen production in your body, helping the skin maintain its youthful look and feel. Therefore, you shouldn't rely solely on your skincare and supplements, but try to tackle those pesky fine lines and wrinkles from the inside as well.
So, let's find out what those foods are. But first, a little reminder about why collagen is so important.
What Exactly Is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body, making up about 30% of all the protein. It provides structure to various tissues, such as our skin, bones, hair, nails, blood vessels, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. You could picture it as a structural framework or glue that holds everything together.
Collagen is made up of 19 different amino acids, including proline, glycine, arginine, and hydroxyproline. There are about 29 different types of collagen. The most common ones in the human body are:
Type I: forming the connective tissue in our bones, skin, teeth, and ligaments;
Type II: in cartilage;
Type III: in muscles, blood vessels, and organs;
And type IV: creating a support network around certain cell types.
The collagen fibers are located between muscles and the epidermis in our skin, giving it firmness and elasticity. However, as we age, after we turn 25 more or less, collagen production in our body naturally decreases, eventually resulting in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Besides age, various lifestyle and environmental factors can also negatively impact the collagen levels, such as diet, smoking, ultraviolet radiation, and pollution.
The only way to slow down this process is to increase collagen production and strengthen existing collagen fibers through healthy lifestyle habits, supplements, skincare, and a proper diet rich in proteins and other nutrients that stimulate the collagen production process.
Foods That Stimulate Collagen Production
To create new and repair collagen that's damaged, the body synthesizes various nutrients from the food we eat, including amino acids, vitamin C, zinc, sulfur, copper, manganese, omega-3 fatty acids, and others. So, to ensure you're giving your body what it needs to keep your skin healthy and youthful, consider including more of these foods in your diet:
Bone broth is rich in protein. Our body breaks down all protein sources into amino acids and then uses them for various functions, including building collagen. A good-quality bone broth is also rich in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, glucosamine, gelatin, and other nutrients. A 2017 study shows that gelatin supplementation boosts collagen production in various tissues.
To make a good bone broth, you'll need to cook beef or chicken bones for several hours. Therefore, it's best to look for ingredients from your trusted local butcher. However, if you don't have time or patience to make your own bone broth, you can buy a ready-made one in most health stores or online.
Egg whites are rich in proline, arginine, lysine, as well as other nutrients and enzymes needed for collagen synthesis [source]. Egg yolks are also filled with healthy fats and vitamin D that help keep the bones, skin, and muscles healthy.
So, scramble a couple of eggs and start your day with a hearty and protein-packed breakfast now and again.
Fish and Shellfish
Fish and shellfish are also rich sources of protein, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids – all of which are very important in supporting collagen production [source]. In addition, these are also an excellent source of vitamin D, which is necessary for bone and skin health and maintaining a healthy immune system.
However, we often don't consume those parts of fish that are richest in collagen – fish skin. It contains the highest amount of collagen type I – the one that makes up most collagen in our skin.
Chicken white meat contains ample amounts of amino acids our body needs for proper collagen synthesis and collagen building. For this reason, many collagen supplements are made of chicken cartilage [source].
Fresh citrus fruits, like grapefruit, orange, and lemon, contain an abundance of vitamin C, which plays a key role in collagen production. To be more precise, vitamin C regulates the normal synthesis of pro-collagen, our body's precursor to building collagen [source].
It is also a powerful antioxidant that reduces the harmful activity of free radicals, protecting the skin from sun damage and pollution and keeping it healthy and radiant.
So, add several slices of your favorite citrus fruit to your salad, or make a delicious and refreshing orange smoothie to go along with your scrambled eggs breakfast.
Besides citrus fruits, berries are also an excellent source of vitamin C. In fact, strawberries are richer in vitamin C than oranges. In addition, berries also contain a hefty amount of ellagic acid, fighting UVB damage and helping the skin looking wrinkle-free [source].
To make them more appetizing, toss some strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries in a little bit of honey and make it your next favorite snack. You can also blend them in your smoothie or mix them with your breakfast oatmeal.
Dark Leafy Greens
Leafy green vegetables, like kale, spinach, and Swiss chard, are also packed with vitamin C – the key component in collagen synthesis. They get their green color from chlorophyll, which supports pro-collagen type I synthesis and protects the skin from UV damage. A 2014 study revealed that taking chlorophyll extract supplements for 90 days improved the skin elasticity and appearance of wrinkles in women over the age of 45.
Dark leafy greens are also rich in folic acid, ensuring a normal skin cell division and supporting collagen fiber density. So, have a bowl or two of your green salad as often as possible.
Tomatoes, beets, and red bell peppers are rich in lycopene. This antioxidant protects the skin from environmental stressors, such as pollutants and UV damage [source]. Furthermore, these are also packed with vitamin C as well as capsaicin, an anti-inflammatory agent with antioxidant and anti-aging properties.
So, make sure to add some red to your greens and enjoy a colorful and delicious salad made of fresh veggies.
Vitamin A-Rich Foods
Foods packed with vitamin A would be your orange fruits and veggies, like apricots, sweet melons, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Vitamin A is vital for supporting healthy skin and collagen synthesis as it helps repair and rebuild damaged collagen [source].
It's much safer to get your vitamin A from whole foods than dietary supplements as the latter can lead to building up of vitamin A in the body to toxic levels.
Legumes, such as lentils, beans, and peas, are jam-packed with plenty of nutrients necessary for collagen synthesis, including B-vitamins, protein, iron, potassium, zinc, folate, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Zinc is especially important for stimulating collagen production, as this 2010 study reveals.
However, you shouldn't go crazy and eat legumes every day, as they are rich in fiber and lectins and can cause some digestive issues, like diarrhea and vomiting.
Nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, and cashews, are rich in plant proteins and healthy fats. In addition, they contain plenty of zinc, vitamin E, and, most importantly, copper, which also affects collagen production [source].
So next time you reach for a snack, make it a handful of your favorite nuts. These will fill you up and satisfy your midnight cravings.
Chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support healthy skin and collagen production [source].
You can bake ground flax seeds or chia seeds into your whole grain bread or muffins or add them to your smoothies.
Soy has many health benefits besides supporting collagen production in our skin. For example, soy is associated with the prevention of heart-related diseases, prostate and breast cancer, osteoporosis, and others [source].
This incredible plant is also rich in isoflavones, boosting collagen production in our skin, increasing the number of elastic fibers, and impacting the overall thickness of the skin [source].
To get all these wonderful benefits, you can eat tofu, soybeans, soy sauce, or drink soy milk.
Filled with sulfur and flavor, garlic doesn't only make a great addition to your pasta and other dishes, but it also boosts your collagen production. This is because the trace mineral of garlic is sulfur, which is the main culprit for the distinct smell but also the primary component that helps synthesize and hamper the breakdown of collagen [source].
Therefore, consider including garlic in your regular diet, but be careful not to eat too much of it. Too much garlic, especially raw garlic, can cause upset stomach and heartburn.
Broccoli is another excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, calcium, and magnesium. It's also rich in folic acid and, therefore, makes for another staple in your collagen-rich diet.
There are countless preparation methods for broccoli. However, the best way of preparing it would be to boil it or steam it for just one or two minutes, and no longer than that. If you cook it for too long, some of these precious nutrients will be lost.
Foods You Should Avoid
To help your body produce more collagen and restore the damaged collagen fibers, you should limit the consumption of foods that can damage it. These foods refer to as foods high in AGEs, i.e., advanced glycation end products, and they can not only damage the health and look of your skin, but your overall health as well.
AGEs are harmful compounds resulting from the process of glycation. In other words, they are formed when fat and protein combine with sugar in your bloodstream. When accumulated, these can cause various health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, as well as skin aging. AGEs occur in our bodies naturally as we age, but they can also be triggered by certain foods, such as:
Foods deep-fried in oil, like potato chips and french fries, can cause inflammation throughout the body, leading to the destruction of collagen and other more serious health issues, such as heart disease.
Avoid sugary pastries, candies, donuts, and other foods with a high glycemic index. These cause the AGEs to accumulate in our body more quickly, causing deep wrinkles, sagging, discoloration, acne, and other skin issues.
Processed meat, such as hot dogs, ham, smoked, dried, and canned meat, are usually high in saturated fatty acids that contain nitrates. These can lead to inflammation and collagen damage. They can also cause the build-up of bad cholesterol in blood vessels, causing various cardiovascular diseases and even stroke.
The occasional glass of red wine is even recommended. However, drinking too much alcohol, too often, can rev up collagen damage and skin aging.
So, stick to whole grains, veggies, fruits, lean protein, and healthy fats. These are full of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients essential for collagen building. But in essence, it's more about how you prepare your food than the food itself. So switch your preparation methods and go for steaming, boiling, and baking instead of frying and roasting at high heat.
The benefits of boosting collagen production go beyond just beautiful and healthy skin. It's vital for your overall health and the health of your joints and connective tissue.
Therefore, eat a healthy and balanced diet full of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and C to prevent degradation and loss of collagen in your body. If collagen supplementation better fits your lifestyle, go for it. Of course, you can always add them to your soy milk and berries smoothie and stock up on your collagen intake!