If you’re vegetarian and you’re looking for a plant-based alternative to collagen protein, we’ve got good news for you. There are lots of easy, nutritious, and delicious foods you can eat that will naturally boost your collagen production and help support and maintain the collagen you’ve already got in your system. Learn about the foods you can eat, the nutrients they deliver, and the recipes we love to promote collagen for vegetarians.
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Everyone and their dog is supplementing with collagen protein these days. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve seen your friends mixing it into smoothies, coffee, protein bars, and more.
It seems like magical stuff, and with people touting benefits for their skin, joints, gut health, muscle growth, and weight regulation.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, providing our connective tissues, skin, joints, muscles, bones, and digestive tract with both structure and stability. Essentially, it’s the scaffolding that holds our bodies together.
Our cells produce collagen protein, mainly in our connective tissues. As we age, collagen production declines, resulting in a loss of elasticity in our skin (this is why wrinkles occur), and a weakening of joint cartilage.
The idea is that by taking dietary collagen supplements we can replace or slow down the loss of collagen from our skin and joints.
Is collagen protein worth the hype?
I’m going to give you a definite maybe.
There is some justification for the excitement, with early research suggesting that collagen may provide relief from joint pain, reduce wrinkles, and have some benefits with regards to weight maintenance. However, it’s possible that they hype has gotten ahead of the research, as some studies look more promising than others.
Still, anecdotal evidence for the benefits of collagen supplementation are strong, so you may be wondering how to add it to your diet or wellness routine.
Is collagen vegetarian?
Unfortunately for those of us who follow vegetarian diets, there are no vegetarian sources of collagen protein.
Collagen supplements come in two forms; either marine collagen, sourced from fish scales and skin, or bovine collagen, made from cow hide. So where does that leave vegetarians and those who stick to a plant-based diet?
Without a collagen supplement, unfortunately.
Are there vegan collagen supplements?
If you’re vegetarian or vegan and you’re not down with taking bovine or marine collagen (I know I’m not) you’re not totally out of luck.
While there isn’t such a thing as true collagen for vegetarians, you can find vegan protein powders or protein supplements that support collagen formation, such as these Plant-Based Collagen Building protein peptides from Sun Warrior.
That’s one way to go, but before you go dropping your hard earned dollars on designer protein powders, remember that YOU CAN MAKE IT YOURSELF.
Even cooler? You already are.
So let’s jump into the nutrients you can be mindful of adding into your diet to help support your body’s own collagen production, while protecting and maintaining the collagen that’s already in our systems.
Collagen for Vegetarians
Glycine is the most abundant amino acid in collagen. It’s “conditionally essential,” which means that your body is mostly able to synthesize it on its own.
For example, during pregnancy a dietary source of glycine is important to support your growing body and stretching skin, while you do the important work of growing your baby’s entirely new skeletal system, skin, and teeth.
By taking a glycine supplement or eating foods that are rich in glycine, you’ll help support collagen production in your body.
Food sources of glycine include: sesame seeds, spirulina, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, nori, watercress, beans, and spinach.
Like all proteins, collagen is made up of amino acids. Collagen contains many amino acids, but glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline are the most abundant.
It stands to reason that if you include good sources of protein in your diet, that will help support collagen formation and maintain the collagen in your body. Check out our Guide to Protein for Vegetarians and Vegans for more details on plant-based protein.
We’ve also got a couple of High Protein Vegetarian Meal Plans if you want to know more.
Vegetarian sources of protein include: beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, and nutritional yeast, plus eggs, yogurt, and cheese for those tho eat them.
Zinc is an incredibly important mineral for skin health. It plays a role in wound healing, prevents acne, reduces inflammation, and stimulates the enzymes that are necessary for collagen formation.
Zinc also works to protect the skin from UV rays, which contribute to collagen deterioration.
Vegetarian sources of zinc include: pumpkin seeds, cashews, pecans, oats, beans and legumes, and whole grains.
4. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is busy doing much more than helping to prevent the common cold. The antioxidant also helps prevent collagen breakdown due to free radical damage.
Vitamin C also helps transform the amino acid proline into hydroxyproline, which in turn stimulates collagen synthesis. Hydroxyproline also works to stabilize the structure of the collagen protein itself.
Vegetarian sources of vitamin C include: citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruit, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, parsley, kale, kiwi fruit, bell peppers, and beet greens.
Catechins are a type of phenolic (plant) compound that are thought to help protect our skin from damage caused by the sun. In other words, they are photo-protective to the skin.
Catechin compounds also work to prevent improper cross-linking of collagen to elastin – the other primary protein on our skin – in skin as it ages. This helps maintain the skin’s elasticity and prevents wrinkles.
Vegetarian sources of catechins include: green tea (especially matcha), berries, cocoa
You may not think of copper as being an important nutrient, but it plays several roles in the support and formation of healthy skin. When it comes to collagen specifically, copper supports fibroblast generation, which in turn supports the production of collagen.
(Fibroblasts are the most common cells in our connective tissues, so this is important!)
Copper also helps to stimulate collagen production and acts as a catalyst for building collagen fibrils. Did you know that we store about 15% of the body’s copper in our skin?
Vegetarian sources of copper include: nuts, seeds, leafy greens, shiitake mushrooms, and spirulina.
Chlorophyll is the compound responsible for the green color in dark leafy greens and some types of algae. Early research is pointing towards chlorophyll helping to stimulate collagen production – it will be exciting to see how this develops!
Vegetarian sources of chlorophyll include: leafy green vegetables such as kale, collards, broccoli, arugula, and spinach.