Marketed by the health industry as the miracle cure for skin wrinkles and the medical industry as the cure for arthritis and joint pain, collagen has become a popular dietary supplement. However, collagen’s search is elusive for those following a vegan diet because it is not easy to spot vegan sources of it.
Typically, collagen is made of amino acids, and those are found in high-protein foods. Meats and dairy products, particularly animal flesh and connective tissues, are the collagen’s highest dietary sources (1).
When you’re on a vegan diet, it’s a challenge to ensure you get enough collagen to keep your body healthy. But the good news is that exist several collagen-boosting vegan foods, meaning they enhance your body’s production of collagen.
Why is Collagen Necessary?
Collagen is needed for maintaining skin structure, stability, and strength. With elastin, collagen keeps the skin tight and reduces damage and wrinkles that occur naturally over time (2). Collagen is also necessary for various cellular functions. It involves moderation of cancer, inflammation, atherosclerosis, kidney, lung, and skin fibrosis (wounds of connective tissues leading to internal scar tissue formation) (3).
In addition to animal products, a variety of “collagen-boosting” foods exist. While these are not high in collagen themselves, they stimulate collagen production by your body when eaten. Vitamin A and C are two of these collagen-boosting substances that can help you maintain your collagen (4). Check out the “Top 10 Foods High in Vitamin A”.
Vegan sources of collagen
In a recent study looking at human skin cells, soy extract’s additions increased skin cells’ growth by 75% and increased collagen production by 114% (5). This suggests that collagen might have a positive effect on skin regeneration.
Another study performed on rats showed that soy protein reduced the impact of collagen-induced arthritis (6). While more indirect, these studies show soy products positively affect collagen deficiencies and associated problems. They could be a solution for skin problems and collagen-associated arthritis in the future.
Beans (particularly black beans and kidney beans)
Beans are excellent sources of collagen with their high-protein content, which is what likely borrows this effect. Those proteins translate to amino acids, which eventually can become collagen. While the evidence is slim and studies are ongoing, this food group may be one of many keys to boosting your body’s collagen production while maintaining veganism.
In addition to protein, kidney beans are very high in copper, with 1 cup containing 42% of your daily recommended intake (7). Copper is a co-enzyme required for bonding of collagen and elastin (8, 9).
Even if not a direct vegan source of collagen, this gives us two primary reasons why beans are good for boosting healthy collagen levels, and likely there are more to come as research continues to progress.
Click here for “The World’s Healthiest Beans!”.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are another high-protein and, therefore, collagen-boosting foods that are 100% vegan. From pumpkin to chia, pistachios to peanuts, these powerhouses of energy also naturally enhance collagen levels in our body, as our body takes advantage of the high amino acid content.
A study performed using Areca catechu nuts showed that, when chewed, an extract of this nut increased oral collagen production by 150% (10). As mentioned previously, collagen reduces fibrosis, a type of tissue scarring.
Oral submucous fibrosis is a chronic disease for which there is a sparse therapeutics but no cure. Increasing collagen locally, like chewing Areca catechu nuts, may be a solution to this debilitating condition (11).
Using nut milk may also be a good collagen booster, as evidenced by a study done in rats. Researchers induced arthritis in rats and showed that administration of Semecarpus Anacardium nut milk extract alleviated the condition and regulated collagen metabolism locally (12).
Fruits and Vegetables
A variety of vitamins and nutrients are required to maintain healthy collagen levels, particularly for wound healing of skin and tissues, as we’ve now discovered (13). Fruits and vegetables are great vegan sources of collagen because they have a variety of substances beyond Vitamin A and C that can boost collagen.
One of these is called apigenin, which is a flavonoid associated with antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects and speeding up wound healing in the skin of rats. Apigenin induces a specific pathway that stimulates collagen synthesis (14).
Tomatoes are another fruit that affects collagen. In studies done in rats, tomato juice increased the expression of type-1 collagen, which is the most abundant type of collagen in the body (15). While this study was limited to effects on vaginal walls, type-1 collagen is found throughout the body in skin, teeth, nails, and hair, and it is likely these effects go far beyond the model studied.
Carrots contain carrot glycoprotein, which is thought to be behind the anti-aging effects of carrots. When isolated, carrot glycoprotein appeared to promote the synthesis of type-1 collagen throughout the body (16). This likely translated to tighter skin, fewer wrinkles, and many anti-aging effects below the skin.
Returning to vitamin C, which increases collagen production, a study in Nigeria found that vitamin C levels of many fruit samples from oranges to watermelon were high, which can be translated to many of these fruits as collagen boosters (17). Vitamin C boosts collagen, which accelerates bone fracture healing and may, in the future, be an effective post-injury supplement (18).
Especially when your diet is limited (as it is when adhering to a vegan diet), counting your micronutrient intake is as important as counting calories and macronutrients. Making sure your collagen intake is adequate ensures healthy bones, skin, teeth, and hair, in addition to speed injury recovery.
There are so many vegan options to boost collagen production and synthesis that variety will not be a problem! Help yourself to another serving of nuts, fruit, vegetables, seeds, or soy products, and enjoy both the flavor and boost in collagen (without the need for animal products).