With the ever-growing popularity of traditional diets that incorporate animal-based foods, you may have seen an influx of recipes that include collagen powder. I've shared a few recipes with collagen myself, like this amazing chocolate chia pudding recipe and my staple morning elixir. But what is collagen anyway, and why are we suddenly using it so much? It's a pretty amazing protein, and I want to share the scoop on the benefits of collagen protein and how you can begin using it in your diet.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most plentiful protein found in all animals. In humans, it accounts for about 1/3 of our total protein in our bodies and 3/4 of the dry weight of our skin. It helps us build our connective tissue - our bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage - and supports healthy skin, hair, nails, joints and digestion.
Health Benefits of Collagen
Collagen is a rich source of amino acids that is wonderful for our health. Here are some of the ways that collagen is great for us!
Numerous studies have investigated how collagen benefits joint pain and joint conditions, such as arthritis.
- In this 6-month trial for patients with joint pain in the limbs and spine, participants taking 1,200mg of collagen daily reported a great improvement in their symptoms and pain compared to those who only took the placebo.
- A 3-month study of osteoarthritis patients with knee pain compared those who took collagen with participants who took a combo of glucosamine and chondroitin. At the end of the study period, the collagen group experienced a much higher reduction in pain and improvement in quality of life than the glucosame/chondroitin group.
- In a study of rheumatoid arthritis patients, people took a placebo or one of four different dosages of oral collagen. After 24 weeks, even the group taking the lowest amount of collagen (which was only 20 micorgrams) experienced a statistical improvement over the placebo folks.
- This 24-week study of athletes with joint pain showed that taking collagen reduced their pain and inflammation while improving mobility. Another study of activity-related knee pain also concurred that collagen supplementation can greatly improve knee pain.
- Literature reviews of collagen have concluded that it can help with osteoarthritis pain, improve bone health and osteoporosis, and reduce inflammation and immune activity in rheumatoid arthritis.
Collagen helps us maintain the hydration, integrity and firmness in our skin. It's often included as an ingredient in anti-aging beauty care skin formulas, but evidence indicates that consuming collagen can keep us looking young.
- This study of collagen found that supplementing with collagen for 60 days noticeably reduced wrinkles and skin dryness. After 12 weeks, participants had firmer skin and a higher density of collagen in their skin. Similarly, this study revealed that taking collagen for 8 weeks improved skin elasticity, especially in older women.
- Another study of collagen and skin hydration determined that collagen supplementation boosted skin hydration, collagen density and collagen production.
- Struggling with cellulite? This study of 105 women showed that taking collagen daily improved cellulite and led to smoother skin compared to those who took the placebo.
HAIR AND NAILS
Collagen can help to strengthen our nails. In this study of nail growth, daily collagen supplementation for 24 weeks improved nail growth and reduced broken nails by 42%. As for hair, some evidence indicates that hair thinning and loss can be due to nutrient deficiencies, including a lack of amino acids. Collagen may be able to step in and provide those important proteins for hair growth.
Collagen is composed of amino acids, including proline and glycine (which are also found in bone broth). Protein is essential for healing and repair, particularly in the muscles and tissues of the digestive tract.
Evidence shows that collagen can help strengthen the intestinal barrier of the digestive tract. When our digestive junctions are loose, this can lead to compounds entering the bloodstream where they shouldn't be, which may contribute to leaky gut and other immune-activated conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. Other studies indicate glycine, one of the amino acids in collagen, can help reduce inflammation and protect against IBD, as well as arm us against ulcers.
Collagen is also very easy for us to digest, allowing us to reap the benefits.
Food Sources of Collagen
Collagen is readily available in animal products including like bone broth, meat and fish. When buying animal products, I always choose organic and grass-fed.
You can also boost collagen production by eating foods that help make it, including:
- Vitamin C-rich foods: bell peppers, dark leafy greens, berries, lemons and limes, broccoli
- Iron-rich foods: Lentils, spinach, chickpeas, beef, liver, dark leafy greens, sesame seeds
- Silicon-rich foods: Alfalfa, nettles, horsetail, brown rice, dandelion greens
- Zinc-rich foods: Quinoa, beef, turkey, lamb, pumpkin seeds, lentils, chickpeas,
- Copper-rich foods: Sesame seeds, cashews, tempeh, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, lentils
What Is Collagen Powder?
Sometimes we are unable to glean enough collagen from diet alone, and this is where collagen protein as a functional food can step in and bridge the gap. Hydrolyzed collagen protein is generally what you will find in the collagen powders you are likely seeing at the health food store or online.
Hydrolyzed collagen is broken down into smaller particles, so the amino acids are much easier to digest and absorb. The process also makes the collagen easily dissolvable into recipes.
What's the Difference Between Collagen and Gelatin?
Collagen and gelatin have the same nutritional properties, but the difference is in the processing. Collagen has smaller protein chains than gelatin and is processed differently to make it more digestible.
I use collagen in recipes that don't need thickening, like smoothies and elixirs (more on collagen uses below). For recipes that need the gel factor, like this dairy-free maple custard or homemade jello, I use gelatin.
How To Use Collagen Powder
Collagen dissolves completely and is flavourless, so it is very easy to incorporate into recipes without impacting the overall consistency or taste.
Add collagen to:
- Soups, stews and other one-pot meals
- Energy balls or bites
- Homemade granola bars
- Pancake batter
- Baked goods like muffins, cookies, brownies, or flatbreads
- Fruit rollups
- Chia pudding or overnight oats
- Homemade dairy-free milk
- Breakfast porridge
- Nut butters
- Dairy-free yogurt
- Dips and spreads, like hummus, guacamole or salsa
- Sauces and condiments, like salad dressing or BBQ sauce
- Ketogenic diet 'fat bombs', like these chocolate almond butter collagen bites
How do you like to use it? Please share in the comments!
How to Choose Collagen Powders
As with all animal-based products, quality matters. I recommend purchasing collagen powder that is:
- free of artificial flavours or colours
- hydrolyzed - you'll also see it labeled as 'collagen peptides'; this is the broken-down form that is easy to absorb
While you can buy collagen supplements in pill form, I prefer to use the powders, and like the Great Lakes brand. I simply find it easier to mix it into recipes rather than having to swallow extra pills. The dosage of collagen you take will depend on your particular health needs - I recommend working with your favourite health practitioner to figure out what is best for you.
Collagen is a fantastic superfood with a multitude of health benefits. I hope you are inspired to play with it in recipes - it truly is an easy protein to incorporate into our diets with very little effort and great rewards.
Ways To Enjoy Collagen Powder
- Add 1 Tbsp to this morning elixir
- Add 1 Tbsp to one of these favourite morning smoothies
- Add 2 Tbsp to this Hemp Chocolate Spread
- Add 3 Tbsp to this Chocolate Chia Pudding
- Add 3 Tbsp to this awesome frosting recipe
- Add 2 Tbsp to this Coconut Custard Recipe
- Add 1 Tbsp to your Pumpkin Spice Latte
- Add 1 Tbsp to your Turmeric Latte
- Add 1 Tbsp to this salad dressing
- Add 1 Tbsp to your serving of Coconut Kefir
Once you start experimenting with collagen and getting used to the awesomeness of the added protein without the usual chalky texture of most protein powders, you're likely to fall in love. I used collagen throughout my pregnancy and postpartum period, and I think this helped ease the recovery period.
If you are wondering if it is safe for children, pregnant women, or while nursing, I recommend consulting the makers of the product and/or your natural health care practitioner.