By Jill Levy
Collagen is quickly becoming a go-to supplement for athletic adults, women looking to support the health of their skin and hair, those who are looking to maximize their health in the normal aging process, and just about everyone in between. With a variety of collagen options now available, you might be trying to determine: plant-based collagen boosters vs. collagen protein — what’s the difference and how do the two stack up?
Technically, there isn’t such a thing as “vegan collagen,” since collagen is an animal-derived protein, found in things like bones and connective tissues. However, there are plant foods you can add to your diet that help boost your body’s natural production of collagen; we call these “plant-based collagen boosters.”
Ideally, your diet will include both collagen protein and nutrient-dense foods that support collagen retention and production, which together help to keep your body’s connective tissue and cartilage in tip-top shape.
Below you’ll find a list of the best plant-based collagen supporters to emphasize in your diet, plus more info on how plant-based collagen boosters vs. collagen protein compare.
Is Collagen Always Animal Based?
The answer to this question is: Yes, collagen is an animal-based protein. Collagen is naturally found in the connective tissues of mammals and other animals including cattle, chickens and fish, plus in eggshell membranes (in fact, these are the very sources used to make Ancient Nutrition’s Multi Collagen Protein).
In terms of getting collagen from our diets, the best sources are bone broth, organ meats and certain other cuts of meat. Overall, however, it can be hard to get collagen from your diet alone if you don’t regularly consume real bone broth, and especially if you’re a vegan.
Plant-Based Collagen Boosters vs. Collagen Protein
The human body makes collagen on its own using amino acids, which are acquired from foods containing protein. Amino acids are chained together to form collagen fibers, with help from nutrients including vitamin C, zinc, copper, polysaccharides (types of bound carbohydrates) and others.
Is plant-based collagen better? As mentioned above, collagen supplements cannot truly be plant-based — but certain nutrient-rich foods, such as vegetables and plant sources of protein, can help support collagen synthesis. This contributes to benefits including support for healthy joint comfort, gut health and skin health.
Here’s more about the primary differences between collagen protein and plant-based collagen …
- Collagen is a structural protein that is made up of 19 different amino acids, which are often called the “building blocks” of larger proteins. Amino acids that are found abundantly in collagen include proline, glycine, arginine and lysine.
- Collagen protein helps to form connective tissues throughout the body — including in the joints, tendons, skin, muscles, bones and organs.
- The human body naturally starts producing less collagen as you age (typically at an accelerated rate after your 40s) plus other “collagen diminishers” can include eating a poor diet, smoking, excessive sun exposure and high amounts of stress.
- Benefits of adding more collagen to your diet via foods like bone broth and supplements include: providing support for joint health, skin health, gut health, muscle building, exercise recovery, and the general health of the heart and arteries.
- While you can’t get collagen directly from plants, you can include a few servings of protein-rich foods and collagen-boosting foods in your diet to help optimize your levels.
- Focus on eating a variety of whole foods that provide you with plant-based protein/amino acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. These support your body’s ability to make its own collagen.
- Foods high in vitamin C and other antioxidants (such as vitamin E, beta-carotene, anthocyanins, ellagic acid and quercetin) can help to boost natural collagen production in the body to support the health of connective tissues, even during the normal aging process.
- Other minerals and nutrients to emphasize include zinc, manganese and copper.
- Additionally, a diet that includes collagen boosters can be supportive of a healthy response to oxidative stress and inflammation, which can otherwise diminish collagen.
Your Collagen Plan
What is the best form of collagen supplements to take?
If you’re willing to consume collagen that is sourced from animals (in other words, you’re not a vegan/vegetarian), then we recommend supplementing with Multi Collagen Protein.
Our exclusive formula features five types of collagen (types I, II, III, V and X) and is formulated from four different food sources (chicken, fish, eggshell membrane and bovine collagen). It contains no fillers, no added sugar, artificial flavors or artificial preservatives, ensuring you get the highest quality collagen available. And it features hydrolyzed collagen, meaning the protein molecules are broken into smaller molecules, making them easier for your body to digest, absorb and use.
In addition to taking a supplement, you can support your body’s production of collagen by adding bone broth, eggs, cod fish, spirulina, gelatin and foods high in vitamin C, zinc, manganese and copper to your regular diet.
How much should you take?
A general recommendation for adults is to consume between 1–3 servings of collagen daily, or about 10 to 30 grams. Of course, you should always consult with your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including dietary supplementation.
You can mix hydrolyzed collagen powder (such as our Multi Collagen Protein) or Bone Broth Protein into your favorite drinks, or add a scoop to the blender next time you’re whipping up a smoothie or shake.
Collagen protein powder can also help ramp up the protein content of recipes like baked goods, oatmeal, pancakes, cookies and muffins.
If you opt to use Multi Collagen Capsules, simply find a time that works for you and take alongside coffee, tea, water or juice.
How can you support collagen production if you’re a vegan?
By now it’s probably clear that while there’s technically no such thing as vegan collagen, there are ways that vegans can help boost their normal collagen production.
What type of plant-based collagen boosters should you focus on? In order to maintain healthy collagen levels, consume foods high in amino acids that form collagen and elastin (a type of protein found in connective tissue). Aim for a well-rounded diet that provides you with enough protein in general to meet your needs.
Other collagen builders include vegetables, fruits, seaweeds, nuts and seeds that are high in antioxidants and other essential nutrients. Both vegans/vegetarians and meat-eaters alike can benefit from adding these nutrient-dense foods to their diets:
- Soaked and sprouted beans and legumes, plus organic tempeh and tofu
- A plant-based protein powder, such as Ancient Nutrition’s Plant Protein+
- Nuts and seeds including flax, hemp, chia, pumpkin seeds, cashews, walnuts, almonds, etc.
- Whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, oats, etc.
- Nutritional yeast
- Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, chard, arugula, etc.
- Spirulina (also a great plant-based source of amino acids like glycine, which is a key component of collagen)
- Citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, etc.
- Kiwi, berries and cherries (such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, cranberries, acai, camu camu and goji berries)
- Other nutrient-dense veggies including broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes and bell peppers
- Tropical fruits like papaya, mango and pineapple
- Garlic, onions, leeks, chives and shallots
- Green tea and other teas
- Herbs and spices, such as turmeric, ginger, clove, cinnamon, rosemary, parsley, thyme and oregano
- Fermented foods including yogurt, kefir, apple cider vinegar, fermented pickles, sauerkraut and other cultured veggies.
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.