Thinking of trying collagen? Here’s what you need to know.

Collagen Vegetable and Butcher Emily Wan

Collagen had its big media debut sometime in the spring of 2018. From Youtubers promoting supplements to articles debating its youthful benefits, it seemed like wherever you looked you saw collagen, collagen, COLLAGEN. But what is collagen? Where does it come from? Where can I get it? These are all questions I’ve asked myself, so I’m excited to be on this learning journey with you!


What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body; it makes up 25-35% of the body’s total protein content and 70% of our skin. Think of collagen as the body’s scaffolding and the elastic glue that holds everything together! Collagen is in our connective tissue, hair, nails, and even contributes to gut health!

Unfortunately, collagen production in the skin decreases about 1% every year starting in your 20s, giving way to wrinkles and even achey joints. And although humans can produce their own collagen, it’s important to keep in mind that collagen production is dependent on not only adequate protein intake (it’s a protein, after all), but also vitamin C - so keep eating your oranges (and broccoli...and brussel sprouts). Zinc and copper are also involved here, so a well-rounded diet really is key.

Where does collagen come from?
You can find collagen almost everywhere! So far, scientists have found and described 28 types, but three types make up the majority of the collagen family.

Type I: By far the most common type of collagen, as well ass the most abundant protein in our body. It’s the major component of bones, teeth, skin, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons (85% to be exact). Type I and Type III are often found together and work closely to maintain the integrity of the body.

Type II: Consider this type as the wing-man (woman or gender-neutral individual) of collagen. Type II collagen supports cartilage function and maintenance, making it invaluable to joints!

Type III: Typically found with Type I, it primarily resides in stomach lining, blood vessels, and within muscles. Deficiency in Type III collagen is often linked to ruptured blood vessels.

There are so many brands and types of collagen out there! Which one is the best for me?
It can definitely be overwhelming! Many brands offer supplements with collagen peptides or gelatin, and while both originate from collagen, the difference is simply in the processing.

Gelatin, like the name suggests, can cause the liquids you mix it with to gel (this is great if you need a thickener for stews or baked goods). Collagen peptides, on the other hand, are more refined, smaller pieces of the protein and dissolve easily in both hot and cold liquids. People often find that it’s easier to digest collagen peptides than gelatin, but the health effects are about the same for both! But considering its gelling nature, gelatin is more beneficial for gut healing diets because of its ability to coat the small intestine. I personally recommend collagen peptides  given their versatility and more heat-stable nature.

There are various sources of collagen powder, depending on your personal (and dietary) preferences. Here’s a quick run-down:

Animal Collagen - Almost all collagen supplements that you see on the market are derived from cows or chickens, which mostly comes from bones, cartilage, or skin/tissues. Bovine collagen is rich in Type I and III collagen, while chicken collagen has more Type II collagen. Vital Proteins offers a great selection of grass-fed bovine collagen.

Marine Collagen - Most marine collagen comes from fish, which is smaller and more easily absorbed than animal collagen. It’s also considered a sustainable source of collagen since it uses parts of fish that are usually tossed away. Ox Nutrition stocks a sustainably sourced marine collagen (NOT from farm-raised fish)  that is free of antibiotics and hormones.

Vegetarian Collagen -  Rich in Type I and Type V collagen, vegetarian collagen is derived from egg whites and eggshells. Not a bad alternative to animal or marine collagen.

Vegan Collagen - Most vegan collagen supplements aim to protect collagen or promote production, instead of supplying actual collagen proteins. These supplements range from algae that reduce oxidative stress (and therefore skin aging) to mushrooms that boost collagen production. I recommend looking at ingredients for vegan (and vegetarian) collagen supplements to make sure that the contents are truly animal-free.

With collagen peptides, I recommend stirring them into warm liquids to quicken the dissolving process (but no worries, it also works with cold liquids). Collagen powder supplements are a quick and easy addition to any soups, sauces, or even your morning coffee or tea. As I mentioned, gelatin is great as a thickening agent, but it can also be dissolved in coffee and tea so long as you first make a gel in cold liquid.

However, collagen powder doesn’t have to be your only source of collagen. Many companies such as Kettle & Fire, Bonafide, and Epic offer a variety of tasty bone broths to meet your collagenic needs! Feel like overachieving? You can add collagen powder to your bone broths for double the impact.

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NourishEmily Smith