Quick Health Scoop
- 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 in the body, eat foods with key nutrients that help stimulate 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 makes 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?
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 that support 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 increase 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, 8
Many protein-rich foods contain amino acids—such as glycine, hydroxyproline, 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: beef, fish, shellfish, lamb, pork, poultry, eggs, dairy products (cheese, milk)
- Plant-based sources: artichokes, beans, legumes, nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts) and nut butter, seeds (chia, flax), soy, spinach, tempeh, tofu, whole grains (oats, quinoa, wheat berries)
- 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
- Plant-based sources: beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains
- Animal sources: beef and beef liver, pork, seafood (squid), shellfish (oysters), turkey
- Plant-based sources: avocados, bananas, beans (black, chickpeas, pinto), cantaloupe, figs, kiwi, mushrooms, nuts (cashews, peanuts), olives, potatoes, seaweed, seeds (sesame, sunflower), strawberries, tofu, wheat bran cereal and whole grains*
In addition, eat foods that contain these other key nutrients shown to support ligaments, tendons, and discs.7
- Animal sources: shellfish (clams, mussels, oysters)
- Plant-based sources: bananas, beans (kidney, navy, white), blueberries, broccoli, figs, leafy greens (kale, spinach), legumes (lentils, soybeans), nuts (hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans), pineapple, seeds, strawberries, sweet potato, tea (green, black), spices (black pepper), whole grains (brown rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread)
- Animal sources: seafood such as fatty fish (herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna) and shellfish (crab, oysters)
- Plant-based sources: seeds (chia, flax), nuts (walnuts), plant oils (flaxseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil), tofu, and fortified foods (certain brands of eggs, yogurt, juices, milk, soy beverages)
- Animal sources: Beef liver and other organ meats, cod liver oil, eggs, fish (salmon),
- Plant-based sources: apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, collards, dairy products (butter, milk, cheese), leafy greens (kale, spinach), mangos, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, and fortified breakfast cereals
- Animal sources: eggs, fish, poultry
- Plant-based sources: allium vegetables (chives, garlic, leeks, onions), beans (black, navy, pink), cruciferous vegetables (bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, turnips)
Should Vegetarians Take Collagen Supplements?
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 promote collagen production in the body.
Learn More About Vitamins & Supplements:
- The Best Vitamins for Women Over 50
- The Best Vitamins for Men Over 50
- Frequently Asked Questions About Melatonin
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your health care provider for more information.
†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
- Cleveland Clinic. “The Best Way You Can Get More Collagen.” May 15, 2018. Accessed on: July 28, 2021. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-best-way-you-can-get-more-collagen/
- Dermato Endocrinology. “Skin anti-aging strategies.” July 1, 2012. Accessed on: July 20, 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583892/
- University of Notre Dame. “What’s So Great About Collagen?” December 5, 2019. Accessed on: July 20, 2021. http://sites.nd.edu/madelyn-martinez/2019/12/05/whats-so-great-about-collagen/
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Ask the Experts: Healthy Fats.” 2012. Accessed on: July 28, 2021. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2012/06/21/ask-the-expert-healthy-fats/
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Collagen.” 2021. Accessed on: July 28, 2021. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/collagen/
- National Spine Health Foundation. “Eat to Strengthen Your Bones, Ligaments, Cartilage, & Muscles.” 2019. Accessed on: July 28, 2021. https://spinehealth.org/eat-to-strengthen-your-bones-ligaments-cartilage-muscles/
- University of California, Davis. “Nutrition & Health Info Sheets for Health Professionals - Protein Requirements.” December 4, 2020. Accessed on: July 28, 2021. https://nutrition.ucdavis.edu/outreach/nutr-health-info-sheets/pro-protein-requirements
- Healthline. “10 Nutrients That You Can't Get From Animal Foods.” June 14, 2017. Accessed on: July 28, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-nutrients-you-cant-get-from-animal-foods
*Food Nutritional Data Sources:
- FoodData Central from the U.S. Department of Agriculture: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/index.html
- Individual nutrient fact sheets from National Institute of Health: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-VitaminsMinerals/
- Micronutrient Information Center from Linus Pauling Institute: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/nutrient-index