Collagen is the most abundant type of protein in the body, primarily tasked with keeping skin, hair, and nails strong and healthy. To ensure there’s always enough, the body uses protein from food sources as the building blocks to make more. “The protein we eat is broken down into amino acids during digestion, which is then reassembled into collagen,” says Libby Mills, MS, RDN, LDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Fill your plate with lean proteins like chicken breast, turkey, or pork.
Vegetables aren’t typically the highest sources of protein, unless you’re talking about the tiny but mighty green pea, which boasts nearly eight grams in just one cup. If you don’t like them on their own, try throwing some on a salad, adding to soup, or blending with fresh herbs to create a pesto you can toss with pasta.
Just one cup of this ancient grain delivers more than eight grams of collagen-supportive protein and a bit of zinc, a mineral that assists with the amino acid-to-collagen transformation. “Zinc and copper help those protein amino acids to become collagen,” says Mills. For whole grains on the go or in a pinch, try Ancient Harvest’s microwaveable organic quinoa pouches.
The antioxidant properties of vitamin C make it an essential component of collagen production; bell peppers, particularly the red ones, are a good source of it. Collagen helps the skin maintain hydration and elasticity, which can help fight signs of aging such as fine lines or wrinkles.
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“We want the collagen being made to be reproduced exactly as it should be, and vitamin A plays a role in that,” says Mills. Carrots are a good source—eat them on their own, add to a salad, or blend with chickpeas (another good source of protein) to make a hummus.
“Buying meats that have a little tougher cut, like chuck or rump roast, will give you a little more natural collagen breakdown in your food,” says Marisa Moore, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Whether fresh or canned, oysters are rich in copper, another mineral that plays a role in collagen production. “Over time, we may not make collagen as well or in as large of quantities, or it may break down faster than before—eating to support its production can help reduce that degradation,” says Mills.
Dark leafy greens including spinach, kale, mustard greens, and Swiss chard contain a collagen-boosting trifecta of vitamins A and C and zinc. Try salad blends or pre-made “Salad Shake Ups” from Eat Smart, which contain many of the leafy greens your body needs.
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Chia seeds are packed with protein, despite their minuscule size. Use as a yogurt topping or create a healthier dessert by making a pudding or parfait. (Jar Bar NYC makes dairy-free parfaits in flavors like Banana Bread Pudding, Cinnamon Apple Pie, or Raspberry Coconut Mousse, available for purchase online.)
This legume contains many of the components that support collagen production—protein, vitamins C and A, zinc, and thiamine. “Thiamine is a vitamin that’s very important for collagen production because it helps break down protein,” says Mills. The B-vitamin also aids in skin revitalization and wound healing. Snack your way to healthier skin by keeping chickpea hummus on hand (try Hope Foods’ organic hummus or Lantana hummus, which offers blends made with other protein-rich legumes like yellow lentils, edamame, and black beans in unique flavors).