You’ve most likely heard about the many benefits of collagen supplements, which include skin, joint, and bone health—but did you know that eating certain foods helps boost the natural collagen throughout your body? Load up on these seven collagen boosters to better support the production of this important protein.
A Quick Collagen Recap
Collagen is the most abundant type of protein in our body. It’s found in everything from your skin and tendons to your muscles and bones, and acts as the “glue that holds the body together,” according to Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness.
Because collagen exists all over the body, it’s vital that we get enough of it—especially as we age. “After the age of 20, collagen production typically begins to slow, sometimes by up to one percent each year,” says Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. This can really add up as time goes on, to the point where it shows in the skin, hair, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and more.”
How We Build Collagen
To build the collagen we need throughout the body, we require certain nutrients, specifically amino acids, zinc, copper, and vitamin C, explains Christen Cupples Cooper, R.D.N., founding director of Pace University’s Nutrition and Dietetics Program. That vitamin C also helps ward off free radical damage that can ultimately do a number on your collagen, Adams adds.
You need to eat a diet rich in these nutrients in order for your body to produce ample amounts of collagen and maintain healthy levels. Generally, that means consuming enough amino acids, which are found in proteins, minerals, and fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants, says Adams.
The Best Collagen-Boosting Foods
A well-balanced diet rich in protein and full of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts is your best bet for supporting collagen production, but these stand-out foods will give you the biggest boost.
1. Bone broth
Made from simmering the bones of animals, bone broth provides collagen, as well as other nutrients and beneficial compounds, explains Axe. The collagen found in animal bones turns into gelatin when cooked, offering an array of amino acids, including glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, per 2019 research published in the journal Molecules.
The only downside of bone broth is that it takes a long time to make and can be messy. “You also typically need to make it several times a week to consume enough,” Axe says. Luckily, you can buy pre-packaged bone broths at the supermarket or try a supplement like Ancient Nutrition’s Bone Broth Protein.
2. Lean beef
Lean beef is a great source of zinc, iron, and the amino acids lysine, glycine, and proline, all of which contribute to collagen formation in the body, according to The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N. “Like other proteins, steak can be consumed at any meal,” she says. The recommended serving of steak is three to four ounces, per the American Cancer Society.
Berries like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, cranberries, acai, and goji berries are brimming with vitamin C. They also contain anthocyanins, ellagic acid, and other antioxidants that support healthy levels of collagen, according to Axe. Try snacking on them as-is, mixing them into smoothies, throwing them on top of salads, or even freezing them and adding them to frozen yogurt.
4. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits provide an array of health benefits, such as lowering your risk of diseases, including cancer, per a 2016 study published in the journal Nutrients. But you may not realize that consuming citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes is a great way to ensure you get the vitamin C necessary to build and support healthy collagen. Consuming a cup or more per day will add enough vitamin C to boost your levels, according to Adams.
Garlic is rich in sulfur, which is the third most abundant mineral in your body and also happens to play a key role in collagen synthesis. Additionally, “sulfur helps produce glutathione, an antioxidant that helps fight oxidative stress that decreases collagen levels and helps support healthy skin elasticity,” Axe says. “A lack of sulfur can negatively impact the skin, hair, and joints.”
If you’re not keen on the taste of garlic or your stomach has a tough time digesting it, other sulfur-rich vegetables such as onions, leeks, chives, and shallots are also good ways to reap similar benefits, Axe adds.
6. Wild-caught fish
Wild-caught fish (think: salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel) is an excellent source of protein and can contribute to overall healthy collagen levels, according to Axe. “Cod, in particular, is packed with amino acids that are important for collagen synthesis and the creation of collagen in the body, namely glycine and proline,” he says.
Read More: 9 Easy Ways To Increase Your Protein Intake
Cod also contains nutrients such as selenium, vitamin B6, and phosphorus, which play a role in healthy collagen, according to Axe. “Selenium is an essential skin-boosting mineral that acts as an antioxidant and is found in at least 24 proteins (including collagen) that influence the health of the body,” he says. “Vitamin B6 helps synthesize collagen and phosphorus is important for tissue health, including connective tissue—which is, of course, made up of collagen.”
Cocoa powder is a natural source of copper, which activates a particular enzyme during the formation of collagen fibrils, or large fibers of collagen, explains Michels. Not only is cocoa powder delicious, but it can easily be added to so many of the foods you eat on a regular basis, such as smoothies, oatmeal, coffee, or any chocolatey treat.