In recent years, the importance of healthy fats has really turned a lot of health and wellness myths on their head. Throughout the 1970s, ‘80s and even ‘90s, common knowledge held that a high-carb, low-fat diet was the key to fitness and good health. However, it has become increasingly clear that this just isn’t the case.
There’s overwhelming evidence to support the idea that a moderate-carb, higher-fat diet (consisting of healthy, whole foods-based fats, of course) can do wonders for your body weight, levels of inflammation, hormone health and cognitive functioning. As a bonus, healthy fats are crucial for maintaining beautiful skin, hair and nails. For these reasons, many health aficionados have begun adding collagen into their diets. Here’s the scoop on what collagen is, why it’s so beneficial and how you can get it into your diet, whether you’re a carnivore or a vegan.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is a type of protein that’s incredibly important for our health. You may have only heard collagen talked about in terms of its beauty benefits — and it is, indeed, a big player in retaining skin elasticity and preventing wrinkles. But the reason it does that is because it’s a huge part of connective tissue formation in general: According to Vital Proteins, collagen makes up to 30 percent of the protein in your body. It is a vital component in your ligaments, bones, joints and connective tissues (including, but not limited to, your skin).
Why Is Collagen Important?
Collagen is made up of a combination of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of your cells and your hormones, and there are certain amino acids that you absolutely need to get from your diet, as your body cannot make them on its own. These amino acids are called “essential” amino acids for exactly that reason.
“Collagen is a protein made up of amino-acids: glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine,” states Vital Proteins. “The composition of collagen is considered unique given its high hydroxyproline content. If you lack the amino acids that combine to form collagen, your body’s cells can’t produce enough of it. Threonine is an essential amino acid for collagen production.”
While collagen itself can be manufactured by the body and isn’t essential, you need to be sure you’re getting all the amino acids you need in order to make it. Additionally, our natural production of collagen decreases as we age. This is why we so often see collagen equated with visible signs of aging, such as wrinkles. However, it’s also equated with non-visible signs of aging, such as bone, joint and tissue health.
So, long story short: Collagen production is important for maintaining healthy bones, tissues, joints and organs as you age. You can manufacture it yourself, but your production is going to decrease as you get older. You can help boost your collagen stores in two ways: By consuming collagen directly, or by consuming the amino acids necessary to boost your own production.
How To Get Collagen Into Your Diet
Those who eat meat are going to have an easier time increasing their collagen intake, because collagen is stored in the bones of all animals (just like it’s stored in us and is therefore essential for good bone health). There are lots of collagen supplements available nowadays, and many of them are derived from free-range gelatin products.
If you decide to supplement with ingestible collagen, it’s important to do your research. Supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so look for products that are certified organic, promise a grass-fed product, and are in line with the Global Animal Partnership’s animal welfare standards.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’re going to need to be sure you’re hitting all of your essential amino acids on a daily basis. You can do this by combining items like oats, wheat, barley and other grains with legumes and beans. Rice and beans, peanut butter and jelly, and hummus and pita bread are a few staple combinations that offer the full spectrum of essential amino acids. Step up your intake of these combinations as much as possible, particularly as you get into your 40s, 50s and beyond.
According to the healthy food blog Wayfaring Rachel, you can also support collagen production by getting more soy, proline (found in cabbage), anthocyanidins (found in berries), copper (found in nuts), and vitamins C and A into your diet. Silica supplements can also be helpful, as silica is one of the nutrients that animals eat, which causes them to generate collagen.