There's been a lot of interest lately in adding collagen to our diets to promote health and a youthful appearance. The typical recommendation is to consume collagen powders or bone broth from animal sources.
But there's actually another path to enhancing beauty from the inside out that is inexpensive, safe, and completely free of animal products. It all starts with understanding a few basics of nutrition and how to eat for healthy collagen production.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the protein that forms connective fibers in tissues such as skin, ligaments, cartilage, bones, and teeth. Collagen also acts as a kind of intracellular “glue” that gives support, shape, and bulk to blood vessels, bones, and organs such as the heart, kidneys, and liver. Collagen fibers keep bones and blood vessels strong and help to anchor our teeth to our gums. As the most abundant protein in the body, collagen accounts for more mass than all the other proteins put together.
To make strong collagen for healthy, glowing skin and clean arteries, it's necessary to have ample supplies of vitamin C and two amino acids, lysine and proline. Proline can be made from other amino acids, so the two key components are really vitamin C and lysine. If you have enough C and lysine, you can make ample amounts of procollagen that then gets converted to the different types of collagen to help enhance your skin and appearance.
Few people know that humans are one of only four animals that cannot manufacture large amounts of vitamin C on their own. Many millions of years ago, we lost all ability to convert glucose to vitamin C (along with subhuman primates, guinea pigs, and fruit bats).
Now, our dietary vitamin C is the only source we have to make healthy collagen for our skin and heart health. Today, government guidelines recommend that we ingest 75 to 90 mg of vitamin C daily. Why? The experience hundreds of years ago with sailors dying of scurvy demonstrated that only a small amount of vitamin C was required to prevent full-blown scurvy. But is it enough to achieve optimal health and glowing skin? Indeed, it is not.
There's ample evidence that adequate natural components of making collagen, vitamin C and lysine, can protect the skin from damage and slow aging. Research also suggests that vitamin C protects the skin from damage from solar radiation.
Plus, there's new and exciting medical evidence that damage to arteries resulting in plaque and blockage is due to deficient vitamin C intake, combined with a genetic excess of a cholesterol subparticle called lipoprotein(a).
How to Eat for Beautiful Skin & a Healthy Heart
By making sure you get enough lysine and vitamin C every day, you can enjoy abundant collagen for a healthy heart and glowing skin.
The typically recommended amount of lysine is in the range of 2 to 3 grams a day. Thankfully, there are quite a few plant-based sources. Legumes, such as peas and lentils are the best vegetarian sources of lysine. For example, 1 cup of cooked lentils contains 1,200 milligrams of lysine. Soy products, such as tofu, tempeh, and soybean flour are also good options for vegetarians. One-half cup of firm tofu provides 582 milligrams of lysine. And ½ cup of dry roasted almonds contains 821 milligrams of lysine.
Vitamin C is easy to find in plant-based sources. I recommend a goal of getting around 2 grams, or 2,000 mg a day. Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, limes, and lemons are excellent sources of vitamin C. Many non-citrus fruits are highly rated sources as well, such as papaya, strawberries, pineapple, kiwifruit, cantaloupe, and raspberries. Cranberries, blueberries, and watermelon are examples of very good sources, while apples, pears, and bananas are in the good category.
Greens are also excellent sources of vitamin C. And summer and winter squash, green beans, carrots, and some herbs and spices also contain vitamin C. Finally, I choose to add 2 to 3 grams a day of buffered ascorbic acid as a powder in my morning smoothie to ensure I have adequate components for abundant collagen and a healthy body.