Your body naturally produces collagen by combining amino acids and key vitamins and minerals
You can obtain collagen rich food from animal sources, primarily found in the skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments of beef, chicken, fish, and pork
To help support collagen production in the body, eat foods with key nutrients that are needed for collagen production, including protein, vitamin C, zinc, and copper
As one of the body’s primary proteins, collagen provides many benefits. In fact types I and III collagen make up 90% of our hair, skin and nails. But where does collagen come from? Your body can naturally make collagen. How, you might ask? It combines amino acids (found in protein) with vitamin C, zinc, and copper.1 So, to help your body produce collagen, you need to eat a combination of foods high in these key nutrients. What is the best source of collagen? In food, collagen primarily comes from the skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments of animals and fish.
Unfortunately, your body produces less collagen as you get older. In fact, once you hit your 20s, you slowly start losing collagen—roughly one percent every year.2 As time goes on, issues can arise as part of the natural aging process when the amount of collagen produced by the body decreases even further. In addition, the body doesn’t absorb or synthesize nutrients like it used to in its younger days The result? As we age, your skin can start to sag and dry out, and you may start to experience the effects of reduced cartilage on your body.3
The solution: Change your diet or take a collagen supplement—or both!
Which Foods Are High in Collagen?
Opting to change your diet should be your first step, as it’s always best to get the nutrients you need from food. With that in mind, look to add these collagen-rich food sources to your diet.
Beef, Pork, Poultry, Eggs, and Fish
Since collagen is in the skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments of animals and fish, then it makes sense to eat them if you want a diet rich in collagen. However, many people who follow a Western diet might not enjoy eating certain animal parts (think organ meats, tendons, ligaments, chicken feet, shrimp shells) that contain high amounts of collagen. And you might be worried about the fat in poultry skin, for example. But experts say that most of the fat (62%) in chicken skin is the healthier, unsaturated fat.4 However, do be mindful that around 28% of the fat in chicken skin is saturated fat.5
This tops the list of food sources that contain high amounts of collagen. You can buy bone broth at the grocery store or make it yourself. To make bone broth at home, simply cook beef, pork, poultry, or fish bones in water. Most recipes call for simmering this bone-water mixture for several hours, which allows for the flavor to intensify and the collagen to be extracted. You can add vegetables (like onions, carrots, and celery) as well as herbs (such as rosemary and thyme) to amp up the nutrients and taste. You can follow this simple bone broth recipe if you want to try making it yourself.
Because recipes vary, the nutrient content, including amount of collagen in bone broth, will differ.
What Is Plant-Based Collagen?
To recap, the food sources of collagen are fairly limited, as they come directly from animal sources. But what if you don’t eat beef, pork, poultry, or fish? Is there a vegetarian source of collagen?
Let’s start with the basics first. Does plant-based collagen exist? Are there sources of plant-based collagen? Technically, vegetarian collagen sources don’t exist, since collagen is primarily found in animals and/or made by breaking down various plant based proteins (ex: pea protein or soy) and re-combining specific amino acids which mirror the amino acid structure of collagen. However, by eating foods needed for collagen production in the body, such as foods high in vitamin C, copper and zinc you can reap the benefits of collagen—even if you’re vegan.†
Foods That Support Collagen Production
Since only a few animal foods naturally contain collagen, you’ll need to eat a variety of animal- and plant-based foods that support collagen production in the body. Make sure to eat a variety of healthy foods rich in proteins as well as vitamins and minerals to allow the nutrients to be readily available for the body to use as “collagen building blocks.”†
Nutrients and their food sources that are needed to make Collagen in the body 3, 6, 7
Many protein-rich foods contain amino acids—such as glycine and arginine—needed to make collagen. The animal sources are your best bet as a collagen protein source, since they actually contain collagen. There are plant-based sources that also provide protein.
Animal sources: Vitamin C is not found in useful amounts in cooked animal foods, but it’s present in small amounts in raw liver, raw meat, raw fish, and fish eggs9
Plant-based sources are your best source for vitamin C and include the following: berries, bell peppers, black currant, broccoli, brussels sprouts, chives, citrus fruits, coriander, garlic, guava, kiwi, leafy greens, mango, papaya, pineapple, red and green peppers, strawberries, tomatoes
Animal sources: poultry, shellfish (oysters, crab, lobster), red meat
Everyone needs collagen. And everyone can eat foods that support collagen production in the body. But since collagen food sources are found in animals and fish, where do vegetarians get collagen? In looking at the information and list of collagen food sources above, you’ll see that your body requires a combination of protein, vitamin C, zinc, copper, and other nutrients to make collagen. The above list includes plant-based options for all of these essential collagen supporting ingredients.”
Still thinking about taking a collagen supplement? Like meat eaters, vegetarians may want to take a collagen supplement if they’re not regularly eating enough foods that support collagen production.
Also, understand that supplements may contain different types of collagen, such as Type I and III collagen, which make up 90% of healthy hair, skin, and nails, or Type II to maintain cartilage. And many supplements derive their collagen from cows, eggshells, chicken, and fish, which are typically not be a viable option for vegetarians or vegans.3
The Bottom Line
If you’re asking yourself, “How can I get more collagen from food?”, look no further than animals and fish, since they’re the best food sources of collagen. This includes beef, pork, poultry, eggs, and fish (especially the skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments), as well as bone broth made from them. However, since your body can make its own collagen with the right food choices, you can eat good sources of collagen-contributing foods. Look for both animal- and plant-based collagen supporting nutrients (such as amino acids found in protein, plus vitamin C, zinc, copper, and other key nutrients) that support collagen production in the body.†