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The Best Foods to Boost Collagen

The Best Foods to Boost Collagen featured image
Luxy Images / Getty Images

You know those youthful, bouncy cheeks we all crave? They’re a sign of healthy, abundant collagen. Located within the outermost layer of skin, collagen is the foundation of connective tissue that supports the skin’s structure. “Collagen is naturally found throughout the body,” says San Francisco facial plastic surgeon David W. Kim, MD. “It isn’t just in the skin. It is commonly found in muscles, tendons, the gastrointestinal tract, and even blood vessels.” Unfortunately, collagen depletes with age, but our diet can help. Luckily, there are many foods that boost collagen naturally.

Why You Might Be Lacking Collagen

“Collagen naturally decreases over time, so to minimize this, you want to think about healthy aging overall,” says Whitney Tingle, cofounder of Sakara Life. “Focus not only on how to protect your collagen, but also how to keep your whole body youthful, vibrant and healthy. This includes your skin.” Aging, sun damage, pollution, free radicals, and smoke are responsible for disintegrating collagen. But, Tingle says the top reason people don’t have enough collagen is poor diet. “Your body can’t make collagen if it doesn’t have the necessary elements. These include amino acids, vitamin C, zinc and copper,” she explains. “For most people, as they age, their gut also becomes compromised and doesn’t function properly. Therefore, it’s no longer able to absorb nutrients as well.”

How Your Diet Can Help Boost Collagen

“A diet built on fresh, organic plants will provide all the phytonutrients and plant fiber the body needs to thrive,” says Tingle. “It will also nourish and heal your gut. A happy, properly functioning gut is able to absorb all the wonderful nutrients your body needs to build collagen.”

While the body is constantly creating new collagen to repair what’s been damaged, the production process 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, many foods have the power to naturally boost collagen in the skin. “I always work with whole foods first,” says Tammy Fender, holistic practitioner and founder of her eponymous skin-care brand. “I recommend adding fruits and vegetables to your diet that are eaten in their most natural state. That is, as close to raw as possible. The body thrives when we eat this way, and it shows in the skin as pure radiance.”

“Collagen supplementation for skin health currently has limited clinical data and further research is needed to elucidate its benefits,” says New York dermatologist Teresa Song, MD. “While specific supplements may not be recommended, a healthy diet with natural essential nutrients to support collagen synthesis can be beneficial for overall skin health.”

The Top Collagen-Boosting Foods

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Protein (Meat and Eggs)

“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 the amino acids—lysine and proline—that are needed to produce collagen in the body,” adds Dr. Kim.

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Amino Acid–Rich Plants

“By eating a diet diverse in plant-rich ingredients, you will provide your body with an abundance of vitamins and minerals, as well as all the amino acids needed to form complete proteins—all the necessary elements to produce collagen,” says Tingle. “Some plants that contain all nine essential amino acids include quinoa, buckwheat, hemp seeds, chia seeds and spirulina.”

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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.

Tingle says phytoceramides, a plant-based ceramide, can be thought of as a plant-based, vegan-friendly alternative to popular collagen supplements. “They can be found in spinach, among some other foods, and help restore the body’s natural lipids, helping to maintain the skin barrier, lock in moisture, plump fine lines, and fade acne scars while keeping pollutants out. Sakara’s Beauty Chocolates also contain Ceramoside phytoceramides, and are a great option for supplementation, as well as a healthy, sweet treat.” 

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Bone Broth

According to celebrity aesthetician Nerida Joy, bone broth can be a source of a collagen. 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. “I am a believer in organic whole food sources such as bone broth,” she says. “As its taste is not terribly pleasing, cooking with it or adding it to dressing helps add value and nourishment to a meal.” 

Monroe, LA dermatologist Janine Hopkins, MD also often recommends bone broth. “Clean natural, foods high in antioxidants and lean protein are excellent choices for our skin,” she says. “Foods with a high glycemic index and processed sugar in particular are bad choices for our skin. Glycation is a metabolic process triggered by chronically high blood glucose levels that damages our collagen bundles. Excess glucose fibers in the skin triggers an internal reaction in which sugar molecules adhere to the collagen and elastin proteins, which normally help keep skin firm and supple.”

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Vitamin C–Rich Fruits (Berries and Citrus)

Studies show that fruits that are rich in vitamin C like guava have the ability to help amino acids—lysine and proline—convert to collagen. “While there has been a lot of focus on animal-based foods that support collagen, including bone broth, we need to remember that vitamin C is also needed to synthesize collagen,” says Fender. “You can go to berries and citrus fruits for your vitamin C, but I love to recommend foods like broccoli, which is not only full of vitamin C, but also a wealth of other nutrients that benefit the whole body system.”

Antioxidant-rich vitamin C is also extremely important in helping to ward off free radicals that can lead to visible signs of skin aging. “Fruits like citrus, berries, kiwis and pineapples are high in vitamin C and can help to neutralize free radicals that break down both collagen and elastin,” adds Dr. Kim.

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Fish

“Fish and shellfish contains omega 3 fatty acids, which reduces inflammation thats contributes to collagen breakdown,” says Dr. Song.

“Skin cells are surrounded by a fatty membrane that protects them,” says New York nutritionist Brook Alpert. “When the cells are healthy, they are able to support the structure of the skin. Fish like tuna and salmon are loaded with omega-3 fatty acid.”

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Fermented Foods

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.” 

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Red Vegetables

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.

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Nuts and Seeds

“Many nuts and seeds contain essential minerals like zinc and copper, which are needed in the collagen production process,” says Dr. Song. Pumpkin seeds, cashews, sunflower seeds, flax seeds and almonds are good options to snack on.

Almonds
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Orange Vegetables

Vegetables that are orange in color, like carrots and sweet potatoes, are rich in vitamin A and “can help restore and regenerate damaged collagen,” says Dr. Kim.

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Soy

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.

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Oysters

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. 

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Garlic

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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