What’s the Deal with Collagen?

McKenzie Jones | June 6, 2019

When you walk down the aisles of your local supermarket, there seems to be a new ingredient in town that people just can’t get enough of. First gaining popularity in supplemental powders, collagen is now popping up in products from beverages to bars to baked goods and everything in-between. According to SKIN LLC, in the 365 days leading up to February 25, 2018, the number of products featuring collagen in the grocery category catapulted by 430%! Americans seem to be convinced that they better load up on collagen-containing products. And with claims to help improve the appearance of your skin and support bone, joint, and muscle health, as well as promote weight loss, can you really blame us?

But, what is the deal with collagen? Is it worth your money? And are the claims in fact valid? Read on to get the lowdown.

What is collagen?

Collagen is a protein that makes up 30% of the whole-body protein content and is ubiquitous in our bodies as it’s the main structural component of connective tissues including skin, tendons, bones, and ligaments.

How do you absorb collagen?

Collagen itself cannot be absorbed as a fully intact molecule, so our body uses collagen peptides (also called collagen hydrolysates) – the popular form of collagen supplements on the market – as the building blocks for making collagen. Alternatively, our body can also build collagen from amino acids, which are found in a variety of animal and plant foods from eggs to quinoa to beans.

What foods help to promote collagen formation?

Vitamin C, the powerful antioxidant found in a variety of fruits and veggies, plays a role in collagen formation. Similarly, turmeric, or more specifically, the spice’s prized compound, curcumin, has also been shown to increase collagen synthesis and cell growth.

What does the research say about collagen?

Most skeptics of collagen supplements or the collagen trend, in general, will point out that the majority of research on collagen has been funded by the collagen supplement companies, which opens the opportunity for potential bias. But, if the research is well done, the proof is still in the pudding.

  • Decreased joint pain. Much of the research on collagen supplementation has been geared towards its potential promise for improving joint pain and stiffness in individuals with arthritis, as well as potential in reducing exercise-related joint pain among healthy individuals. Alternatively, some studies have found no benefit.
  • Skin health. Perhaps the most convincing area of research on collagen is in relation to skin health as studies have found supplementation may improve skin elasticity, hydration, and potentially even reduce the appearance of cellulite.
  • Wound healing. Some research has also found that collagen supplementation may help to speed up the wound healing process.

While you can find additional research linking collagen to potential heart health benefits, gut health, as well as hair and nail health, and even sleep quality, the evidence to date is minimal.

The bottom line on collagen?

At the end of the day, it takes a lot of convincing to make me believe that supplements are superior to eating a well-balanced diet, especially since some of them can easily be $50 bucks a pop. I’d rather see people opt to spend their money on a basket full of produce – which is really the cornerstone of a healthy diet – and opt for real, natural sources of protein that provide the essential building blocks for making collagen in the first place. But, if you’re curious to try collagen supplements or products, or have noticed personal improvements in the appearance of your skin or reduced pain in your joints, all the more power to you. It’s important to recognize the foods, habits, and supplements that work best for you and help you feel your best since we don’t all fit into the same mold.

If you’re curious about collagen, check out the recipes below!

  • Fat Fudge: With MCT oil, maca, ashwagandha, and collagen – this bite-sized dessert is packed with some serious superfoods.
  • Raspberry Chard Cold Cup: Raspberries and peanut butter are a match made in this (collagen-containing) smoothie heaven.

If you’d rather skip the collagen supplements altogether, check out this smoothie recipe packed with protein and collagen supporting components, like vitamin C-rich produce and turmeric.

  • Chia Zucchini Supreme: Almond butter, pea protein powder, and chia seeds all dish up a hearty dose of protein in this great-tasting smoothie.

Regardless of your stance on collagen supplements, we can all agree that a healthy and balanced diet is the key to healthier skin and a healthier you!


McKenzie Jones

McKenzie Jones

McKenzie is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for NutriBullet who aims to make the world a healthier, happier place. She believes that living a healthy lifestyle and eating for your health isn't meant to be complicated -- it's meant to be simple, enjoyable, and judgment-free (with room for dessert). When she’s not dishing out nutrition tidbits, you can find McKenzie running after her energetic toddler, hiking along her favorite trails, visiting her local farmers market, or cooking in her sunny kitchen.

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