Collagen and collagen production has been getting a lot of hype in the media in recent years. Responsible for everything from healthy hair and nails to providing elasticity in the skin to nourishing the cells and connective tissues in the body, collagen is vital.
However, for vegans, getting sufficient collagen levels can be a little trickier, as most dietary sources of collagen come from meat and fish. While some genetically engineered collagen for vegans has been developed, these plant-based collagen supplements aren't yet widely available. So, vegans must look for other options to aid with the natural production of collagen.
What is collagen?
Before we look at how to get collagen from vegetarian sources, it's worth understanding what collagen is and how the body uses it.
Essentially, collagen is like the "glue" that holds your body together. It's used in multiple body functions, including providing elasticity to the skin and strengthening bones, nails, and hair.
Natural collagen is found in most animals' muscles, skin, tendons, and ligaments (including humans). It's an insoluble, fibrous protein made from various amino acids found in meat, fish, and vegan fat sources.
What is collagen good for?
Collagen is vital for a wide variety of bodily functions. It is the secret to healthier, younger-looking skin, nails, and hair and can help promote longevity by keeping the connecting tissues in your body healthy.
Collagen supplements can be invaluable if you're recovering from a wound, injury, or achy joints, as it's used in rebuilding and maintaining everything in the body, including tendons, ligaments, muscles, and skin. It's also essential to ensure healthy collagen production if you suffer from an autoimmune condition and is involved in strengthening, healing, and sealing the gut lining.
Collagen production is also associated with some of the more visible signs of aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles, thinning skin, hair loss or thinning, and many others. Enhancing natural collagen production can work wonders in enabling the skin, nails, and hair to look younger and healthier for longer.
Where does collagen come from?
In the body, collagen production starts with a molecule made from vitamin C and protein called procollagen. With time, these molecules bind together to form fibrils. As the fibrils continue to build up, they bundle together and form the structural elements of everything from our skin to tendons.
Collagen is found in the connective tissues in the body of most animals and fish. The actual collagen protein comes from the parts of the animal that we don't consume in a modern diet – the cartilage, bones, and skin – so people generally look for foods that promote collagen instead of consuming it.
What is collagen made of?
As we've mentioned, collagen is a fibrous protein found in the structure of almost every tissue in the body.
Collagen is made from various minerals, vitamins, and proteins and can be naturally produced by the body. For this reason, vegetarian collagen generally looks to boost the essential nutrients our bodies need to produce collagen for as long as possible.
According to Medical News, natural collagen production requires a selection of amino acids (protein), including glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine. It also requires Vitamin C, polysaccharides, silica, zinc, and copper.
Many low collagen symptoms can also be warning signs of a mineral or vitamin deficiency in the body, so looking for foods that build collagen naturally can be a great way to stay healthy for as long as possible.
Currently, collagen peptide supplements tend to be made from the connective tissue from cows or fish (marine collagen). Foods naturally high in collagen include bone broth, gelatine, and skin from animals such as pork or chicken.
Is collagen vegan?
Because collagen is only found in the connective tissues of animals and fish, there is no such thing as vegan collagen.
That said, scientists have developed techniques to artificially engineer a vegan alternative to collagen from foods that promote collagen, such as yeast. As these genetically engineered vegan collagen peptides don't use any materials from animals or fish, they can be considered vegan collagen sources.
However, this process is still relatively new and not yet widely available to consumers. Therefore, vegan collagen must be found in foods that promote collagen rather than contain it.
Does the body naturally produce collagen?
Yes, the body naturally produces collagen throughout our lifetimes by combining the required proteins, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals via a process called collagen synthesis. This is a relatively complicated process, but one that our bodies go through automatically.
But while we're always able to go through collagen synthesis, our ability to store the collagen our bodies create decreases as we age. This is why aging is associated with collagen-reduction, such as wrinkles, thinner skin, achy joints, and even hair loss!
It's even more essential for vegans to consume foods that promote collagen production and contain all the necessary nutrients to provide an effective vegan collagen booster to encourage healthier and younger-looking skin, nails, hair, joints, muscles, and tendons.
Are there any plant-based collagen sources?
Although there's no such thing as vegan collagen, you can stimulate the body's natural collagen synthesis by consuming foods that are high in the nutrients required for this process.
Here are some of the best vegan collagen boosting foods:
Amino acids are fundamentally the "building blocks" of protein and are essential components for creating collagen.
Although many people consider protein to be more prevalent in animal sources, many complete proteins are suitable for a vegan or vegetarian diet:
- Pea proteins
- Soy products (tofu)
After amino acids, vitamin C is the most critical component in collagen production, without which your body will be incapable of producing or storing collagen.
Luckily for people looking for vegan collagen, foods rich in vitamin C are almost universally plant-based, so there are loads of options for stimulating plant collagen with a natural vitamin C injection.
Vegetables with the highest amounts of vitamin C include:
- Brussel sprouts
- Green and red peppers
- Spinach and other leafy greens
- Potatoes (sweet and white)
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
- Winter squash (such as pumpkins)
Vitamin E is also vital in collagen production and is packed full of anti-aging properties. This vitamin aids vitamin C to enhance the antioxidative properties and helps fight against collagen cross-linking.
Some of the foods highest in vitamin E include fish such as Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout, but vegans can find plenty of this nutrient in the following foods:
- Red sweet peppers
- Brazil nuts
- Turnip greens
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Green leafy vegetables (including spinach and broccoli)
Many of these options are also an excellent source of vegan vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones and immunity.
Polysaccharides are a type of sugar-carbohydrate responsible for assembling the various amino acids required in collagen formations. Aloe vera is incredibly rich in polysaccharides and can be ingested to promote healthier skin, hair, nails, and collagen growth.
Other foods rich in this carbohydrate include:
- Starchy carbohydrates, such as corn, potatoes, rice, and pasta
- The skin of fruits, such as apples and pears
- Whole grains, such as wheat bran
- Leafy greens, such as spinach
- Seeds and nuts
Almost all plant-based foods contain plenty of natural silica, but bamboo is considered one of this nutrient's best sources. You can also find high silica quantities in green beans, bananas, leafy greens, brown rice, cereal, and lentils.
Silica is used to increase your hair, skin, and nails' resilience and appearance and is often credited with making hair appear bright and shiny. People with a silica deficiency may notice symptoms such as dull or split hair, itchy skin, and hair loss.
Zinc & Copper
The final minerals that are essential for plant collagen production include zinc and copper. These minerals are most frequently found in oysters and other animals such as beef, veal, pork, and lamb.
That said, vegans can still find plenty of zinc and copper in foods such as:
- Soy products
- Whole grains (especially oatmeal and wheat germ)
How to naturally boost collagen:
Besides consuming plenty of collagen-boosting foods, if you would rather avoid expensive supplements or animal products, you can also increase your body's ability to generate collagen by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Using sunscreen, not smoking, and ensuring a healthy, balanced diet is vital for healthy collagen production that will keep you looking, feeling, and functioning at peak form for as long as possible.