How to boost your collagen through diet, and whether it's worth it

Collagen foods. (Getty Images)
Want to boost your collagen through diet? (Getty Images)

The buzz around collagen doesn't appear to be dying out anytime soon, whether we're hearing about the benefits on TikTok or are hit with endless options for supplements or drinks.

But is it actually worth it? And for those wanting to get their collagen boost naturally (there's been a 123% increase in Google searches for 'collagen-rich foods' over the past month), how can we make sure we're adding it to our diets effectively?

Here, Kyle Crowley, nutrition expert at Protein Works explains everything we know about collagen and its effects so far, and how to give your levels a boost across different diets.

Is boosting collagen worth it?

Young woman with long curly hair in bathrobe enjoys daily routine applying moisturizing cream on face in bedroom at home closeup mirror reflection
Skin benefits are often associated with collagen. (Getty Images)

"Collagen is a type of protein that is the most abundant in the human body. It is a major component in skin, bones, muscles, tendons, and cartilage, helping to make tissues strong and more resilient," Crowley explains.

"While collagen has been trending on social media recently, the scientific research behind it has been steadily exploring the potential benefits for many years. Studies suggest it can improve skin elasticity and hydration, and even shows promise in increasing bone density for older women."

But how do these benefits across the body actually work?

Senior Asian woman rubbing her hands in discomfort, suffering from arthritis in her hand while sitting on sofa at home. Elderly and health issues concept
Research has looked into the benefits of collagen for bones and joints. (Getty Images)

"The protein has become particularly popular for women looking to improve their skin health because as you age, the body produces less collagen, which can lead to wrinkles forming. Studies have shown that collagen may help to slow down the ageing of the skin by reducing dryness and, in turn, the wrinkles it causes," Crowley explains in more detail.

"Collagen can be beneficial for both bones and joints as it is found within the bones, cartilage and muscles surrounding our joints — it seems natural that taking supplements [or consuming more of it through diet] may help with joint pain or protect bone density."

The nutrition expert acknowledges, "Though a lot of research has been done on the benefits of collagen for bones and joints, the majority of these studies look at the benefits in older women with low bone mineral density. Further research is needed to highlight the benefits of collagen on the rest of the body."

So, while more clinical evidence is needed to support some claims and explore potential side effects in more depth, particularly of supplements (with them not considered a medical treatment), supporting natural collagen production through a healthy and balanced diet seems worth a try (with advice from your doctor).

Collagen through diet over supplements

Collagen diet v supplements. (Getty Images)
'Getting collagen through your diet offers some advantages over taking supplements.' (Getty Images)

While Crowley points out there are currently no official guidelines on the recommended amount of collagen that should be consumed per day, he adds, "studies have suggested that adults can safely consume between 2.5 and 15 grams of collagen a day."

While many are increasingly reaching for powders or pills, are there benefits to opting for collagen-rich foods instead? "Getting collagen through your diet offers some advantages over taking supplements. While supplements can be a good option for those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet where collagen intake can be limited, food provides a more well-rounded approach and increases overall nutrient intake," he explains.

"Often collagen-rich foods don't just contain collagen, but are also full of essential nutrients the body needs, including vitamins, minerals, proteins and healthy fats."

So, here's what you need to know about incorporating it in your diet.

Collagen-rich foods

1. Bone broth

High angle view of a cooking pan filled with homemade bone broth shot on rustic wooden table. Ingredients for cooking bone broth are all around the pan. High resolution 42Mp studio digital capture taken with Sony A7rII and Sony FE 90mm f2.8 macro G OSS lens
Do your research on whether bone broth is right for you. (Getty Images)

This one definitely isn't for the vegans or veggies among us, but might be something to consider if it's right for you.

"The popularity of bone broth as a health remedy has continued to grow throughout the past year, becoming one of the biggest wellness trends. Bone broth is one of the easiest and most effective ways for people looking to increase their protein intake and add probiotics to their diet, with one of the main proteins in the broth being collagen," says Crowley.

With collagen the protein found in bones, tendons and ligaments, as the broth is cooking, Crowley explains, "These parts break down into collagen-derived gelatin, which helps with overall bone health. Another benefit of broth is its gut health benefits as it contains probiotics that help rebuild the gut lining with beneficial bacteria left behind from the gelatin in the boiled bones."

2. Chicken

Man eating potato gnocchi, tomatoes and grilled chicken breast on a wooden table. Dinner plate, Italian food concept
You may already be boosting your collagen through chicken. (Getty Images)

"Chicken is a great source of collagen as both the skin and connective tissues contain a lot of the protein. Poultry is a rich source of dietary collagen and an easy way to get the protein into your diet as it’s a common meat already eaten by many," Crowley explains.

"As chicken is a good source of protein, it is also beneficial for helping to promote muscle growth, and as it is low in calories but high in protein, it’s a popular choice for those looking to improve their overall health."

3. Fish

"Fish is a great source of collagen, but in contrast to other foods, it contains marine collagen. Marine collagen has been in the spotlight, in particular, for its anti-ageing properties as fish collagen is absorbed up to 1.5 times more efficiently into the body than bovine, cow-derived, collagen.”

Google searches for 'Why is marine collagen better than bovine' have increased 150% in the past month.

"For a collagen-rich diet that includes fish-derived marine collagen, sardines are a perfect choice. The small fish are low on the food chain, meaning you don't have to worry about high mercury levels. Sardines are packed full of omega-3 fatty acids, giving benefits to your brain and heart alongside the collagen benefits," Crowley adds.

"Unlike larger fish like salmon, sardines can be eaten mostly whole and since collagen is concentrated in the bones, skin, and scales, consuming the entire fish maximises your collagen intake."

Collagen in vegetarian and vegan diets

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More people are looking into collagen-rich food for veggies and vegans. (Getty Images)

Over the past month, searches for 'collagen-rich foods for vegetarians' increased by 100% and 'vegan food with collagen' by 143%.

"Many collagen food sources aren’t vegetarian or vegan friendly, however, if you do eat a meat and fish-free diet there are things you can do to boost your body’s ability to naturally produce more collagen," says Crowley.

"Foods rich in vitamin C like berries, garlic, leafy greens, citrus fruits, beans, oranges, tomatoes, whole grains and nuts are key to helping the body better produce collagen. These foods can help to boost the production of collagen as vitamin C promotes collagen synthesis."

As mentioned, this is when you might also want to consider supplements – but again, adding to a healthy balanced diet. While there isn't any risk associated with collagen in general, make sure you are only taking products that are safe and don't contain ingredients you're allergic to.

Consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet.