Collagen is essential for plump, healthy skin with that youthful bounce we all crave. Located within the dermis (below the outermost layer of skin), collagen is the foundation of connective tissue that supports the skin’s structure. But as we age, our bodies produce less of it because naturally occurring enzymes break it down, causing our skin to thin, lose fullness and form wrinkles. The sun, pollution, free radicals and smoke are also responsible for disintegrating collagen.
While the body is constantly creating new collagen to repair what’s been damaged, collagen production naturally begins to taper off around age 30, and the quality of collagen made is not as good as it was in years past. The good news? In addition to topical products and treatments (and collagen peptide supplements of course), many foods have the power to naturally boost collagen in the skin. These are 26 you should know about.
“Collagen is formed from 19 amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein,” says holistic nutritionist Jennifer Hanway. “Adding protein-rich foods into our diets provide us with the raw materials necessary for collagen production. Choose from high-quality animal proteins such as organic chicken, grass-fed beef and wild-caught salmon.”
Egg whites are a great option too. In addition to giving your body a dose of healthy protein that it needs, egg whites are high in both lysine and proline, as well as collagen itself, so adding more of them into your diet could help support your body’s natural production of collagen.
“Fish like tuna and salmon are loaded with omega-3 fatty acid,” says New York nutritionist Brook Alpert. Skin cells are surrounded by a fatty membrane that protects them. When the cells are healthy, they are able to support the structure of the skin.
Dark Green Vegetables
Rich in vitamin C, dark green vegetables like spinach and kale can rev up collagen production. In topical products, “vitamin C has antioxidant properties that stabilize the messenger enzymes that break collagen down. It also protects against free radicals to prevent weak collagen,” says Orlando, FL dermatologist Dr. Dimitry Palceski.
Hanway says fermented foods such as tempeh, yoghurt, sauerkraut and kombucha contain Lactobacillus, a strain of probiotic bacteria that produces superoxide dismutase. “Superoxide dismutase is a powerful antioxidant that may prevent collagen breakdown by reducing the production of free radicals,” she explains. “Aim for one serving of fermented foods a day, and consider supplementing with a good quality probiotic.”
Tomatoes, peppers and beets contain the antioxidant lycopene that helps boost the body’s defense against sun damage. “Lycopene acts as a natural sunblock of sorts, protecting the skin from damage while increasing collagen levels,” says Alpert.
Vegetables that are orange in color, like carrots and sweet potatoes, are rich in vitamin A, which helps restore and regenerate damaged collagen.
Vitamin C–Rich Fruits
Studies show that fruits that are rich in vitamin C have the ability to help amino acids—lysine and proline—convert to collagen. “Guava and kiwi are the two fruits that are highest in vitamin C, but citrus fruits, berries and leafy greens are also great sources,” says Hanway.
Antioxidant vitamin C is also extremely important in helping to neutralize free radicals, which break down collagen and elastin in the skin.
According to Hanway, bone broth can be a great alternative to collagen peptides. “The collagen is released from the beef, chicken or fish bones during the cooking process, which provides a collagen-rich liquid that can be used for sipping, or added to sauces,” she explains.
Whether sources from soy milk, cheese or tofu, soy contains genistein (plant hormones that serve as antioxidants), which prompts collagen production and helps to block enzymes, like MMPs that can age the skin.
Hanway says copper, manganese and zinc are the three minerals that play a key factor in collagen production, and oysters are high in these minerals. Also chock-full of other nutrients, including iron and vitamin B12, oysters provide a low-calorie option and a long list of health benefits.
One of the best sources of sulfur, which is necessary to collagen production in the body, garlic also provides lipoic acid and taurine that help rebuild collagen fibers that have been damaged.
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