Updated: Jun 4, 2022
Collagen is the most abundant form of protein in our body. It is the building block to our skin, hair, bones, cartilage, tendons, muscles, organs, and blood vessels. Our bodies naturally produce collagen through adequate dietary consumption of a variety of nutrients including vitamin C, copper, proline, and glycine (the procollagen nutrients).
Below is a list of rich plant-based sources of procollagen nutrients. To get a full and complete list, visit our blog, How to Build Collagen Naturally.
Proline and glycine: soy, watercress, spirulina, spinach, turnip greens, asparagus, and kidney beans
Vitamin C: bell peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, papaya
Copper: sesame seeds, cashews, soybeans, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, tempeh
As we age, our production of collagen decreases, which leads to wrinkles, less elasticity in the skin and joint pain. In order to preserve the collagen our bodies create, it's best to limit (or avoid completely!) sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed food, fried food, processed meat, excessive sun exposure, and smoking (1). Daily consumption of foods rich in antioxidants (berries, leafy greens, green tea, dark chocolate, and more—get a full list here) help to protect against free radicals which want to destroy our body’s collagen. There are also certain nutrients that help restore the damaged collagen including carotenoids, the plant-based source of vitamin A (found in foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, and kale) and vitamin C.
None of us want wrinkles or joint pain, but should we supplement with collagen in order to prevent or treat these natural effects of aging?
Some experts say consuming collagen is just like eating other protein rich foods because the body breaks the collagen down into amino acids then uses it wherever it’s needed (2). Therefore, it's not guaranteed that collagen will go directly to helping our skin or repairing joints. Also, collagen is not considered the best source of protein since it doesn’t contain all nine essential amino acids. The main amino acid components of collagen are proline and glycine, which are a part of the non-essential amino acids (meaning our bodies make them) so we therefore do not need to consume them.
Another important thing to consider is the potential heavy metals that could get in the collagen supplements. For example, studies conducted on bone broth found that the heavy metals leached out of bones when cooked into a broth, lead to toxic levels of heavy metals. Not sure about you, but it sounds to us that if the goal is to drink bone broth for its health benefits, the heavy metals that brands don't disclose sound anything but healthy. Read more about that here.
There are some studies looking at collagen supplementation.
For instance, one study in 2014 looked at the effects of collagen hydrolysate on women’s skin. Sixty-nine women between the ages of 35 and 55 were assigned a group. One group took the collagen supplement twice a day for eight weeks, while the other group took a placebo. The group that supplemented with collagen hydrolysate found a greater improvement in skin elasticity compared to the group who took the placebo. (No improvement in skin moisture was found) (3).
Another study published in the Nutrition Journal found that collagen supplementation in subjects with osteoarthritis did have short-term effects in relieving joint pain, but the authors questioned whether the effects of supplementing with collagen are long lasting (4).
It’s important to note that most of the research out there used collagen supplements that contained other ingredients than just pure collagen on their participants. For example, the study published in the Nutrition Journal used a collagen supplement that contained ingredients including vitamin C and MSM (both of which help produce collagen) and turmeric (which helps fight inflammation).
Although there have been some studies that showed benefits when supplementing with collagen, most of the research is still very limited and lacking in quality. There needs to be more evidence-based research before spending your hard-earned money on these high dollar supplements. To learn more about collagen supplements and the research behind them as well as the collagen supporters that we absolutely recommend, visit our blog, Do Collagen Supplements Work?. (Side note: collagen supplements are made of ground animal parts—clearly not vegan for those of you who are vegan-curious.)
While new trends can be easily convincing, consistently eating a healthy, plant-based diet including a variety of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, complete proteins, and healthy fats will give you the biggest and safest bang for your buck when trying to prevent signs of aging. Visit How to Build Collagen Naturally: Part One of a Three-Part Collagen Series to learn how to naturally support collagen through food.
Here is an example of a collagen-building plant-based meal:
1/2 cup quinoa, cooked (high in protein and copper—helps produce collagen)
1 cup watercress (high in glycine and proline—the main components in collagen)
1/2 cup kidney beans (high in antioxidants, copper, and protein—especially glycine and proline)
1/2 cup sweet potato, diced (high in copper, vitamin A, and vitamin C—help restore the damaged collagen)
1/2 avocado, sliced (high in vitamin E—helps prevent the breakdown of collagen)
Grapefruit, halved (high in vitamin C—needed to produce collagen)
Throw ingredients into a bowl and enjoy the benefits!
Visit our other collagen-related articles:
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1. Puizina-Ivic, N. Skin aging. Acta dermatovenerologica Alpina, Pannonica, et Adriatica. 2008;17, 47-54.
2. Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). What's the scoop on bone soup? - Harvard Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/whats-the-scoop-on-bone-soup
3. Proksch E, Segger D, Degwert J, Schunck M, Zague V, Oesser S, Oral Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides Has Beneficial Effects on Human Skin Physiology: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27:47-55
4. Xie Q, Shi R, Xu G, Cheng L, Shao L, Rao J. Effects of AR7 Joint Complex on arthralgia for patients with osteoarthritis: Results of a three-month study in Shanghai, China. Nutrition Journal. 2008;7:31.
Casie Cuneio is currently in the Master of Science- Coordinated Program in Nutrition at Georgia State University. Casie is passionate about all things related to nutrition and cannot wait to obtain her registered dietitian's license to help others feel and look their best. Outside of studying nutrition, Casie enjoys exercising and hanging out with her pups!