Collagen has long been the superhero of the beauty and health industries. It’s what gives your skin its youthful appearance, keeps your hair and nails strong, and improves your joint and digestive health.
There’s no question that collagen is important to your health, but is this a supplement that will forever be off-limits to vegans?
Can collagen ever be vegan?
Let’s explore the vegan collagen world and what it really means when a collagen supplement is labeled as vegan-friendly.
What is Collagen Made Of?
Collagen is a protein that consists of amino acids. These amino acids are made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Specifically, the amino acids in collagen are Proline, Glycine, Arginine and Hydroxyproline. This unique blend of amino acids can’t be found anywhere else and is the reason why collagen creates a youthful glow.
Collagen accounts for about 30% of the proteins in your body. It’s found all over the body, including your ligaments, tendons, skin, bones, cartilage, blood vessels, digestive tract and intervertebral discs.
Our bodies produce collagen, but as we age, production slows down. This slowdown in collagen production is the reason why our skin starts to sag and our joints break down.
The body needs both vitamin C and protein to produce collagen. Vitamin C and protein create what’s called procollagen, a molecule. As the body produces procollagen, these molecules begin winding together to create fibrils. These fibrils build up to form collagenous fibers that bundle together and create the structural element for your hair, skin, nails and connective tissues.
Collagen synthesis is a complex process that requires a variety of nutrients and compounds, including protein, vitamin C, copper, silica, polysaccharides and zinc. All of these nutrients work together to help your body create its own collagen.
Where is Collagen Sourced?
In nature, collagen is found almost exclusively in animals. Like in humans, collagen is found in abundance in the connective tissues and flesh of mammals.
When you purchase collagen online or from a health food store, there’s a good chance that it’s sourced from:
Cattle (bovine-based; from the hide)
Fish (marine collagen; from fish scales)
Conventional collagen products are not vegan. Unless the product explicitly states that it contains vegan collagen, you can assume that the collagen is sourced from either cattle or fish.
What are Sources of Vegan Collagen?
Vegan collagen is still a relatively new concept, and it’s not readily available to the public. If collagen is found in the connective tissue and bones of animals, is it even possible to find plant based collagen?
Technically, not yet. There’s really no such thing as vegan collagen on the market as of today.
But there are plant-based supplements that can boost collagen production naturally in the body.
There’s also a start-up – Geltor – that’s working on developing a vegan collagen peptide that’s identical to the animal-based collagen. How is Geltor able to produce this type of vegan collagen? Through microbial fermentation.
The start-up’s vegan collagen received the “Innovation of the Year” award in 2018 for its beauty product N-Collage. They expect to release a vegan collagen for the food industry in 2020.
For now, vegans don’t have a true collagen supplement they can rely on simply because collagen is animal-based. But there are supplements you can take that will boost your body’s ability to produce collagen naturally.
In fact, studies have shown that many plants can boost collagen synthesis in the body. It’s the next-best thing to a true collagen supplement.
Plants that Naturally Boost Collagen Production
When it comes to collagen production, one of the most important things is to make sure that you’re getting enough protein from grains, vegetables and beans. If you’re getting enough protein, you’re getting all of the amino acids that you need for the body to form collagen naturally.
Look for plant-based proteins that contain lysine, glycine and proline. These amino acids are the most abundant in collagen.
Soy is a staple in most vegan diets, and it’s also great for boosting collagen production in the body. Soy contains genistein, which is a phytoestrogen and isoflavone. Genistein is what gives soy its collagen-boosting properties, and it also blocks enzymes that break down elasticity in the skin.
Vegans have a variety of soy foods to choose from, including: tempeh, tofu, soybeans, soy protein powder and soy milk.
Beans are a great source of fiber and protein. Protein, as you know, consists of amino acids, which are necessary for collagen production. Specifically, beans contain the following amino acids:
Both of these amino acids are the building blocks of collagen protein.
Beans that have glycine and/or lysine include:
Black turtle beans
Dark leafy greens are rich in chlorophyll, which has antioxidant properties. Antioxidants neutralize damaging free radicals, which can disrupt collagen production.
Leafy greens that can help in the collagen synthesis process include:
Chlorophyll is what gives many plants their green color, so you can find this compound in other green vegetables that you eat, including green bell peppers, green beans, peas and even green olives.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are great sources of healthy fats, plant protein and other nutrients that specifically boost collagen production, like zinc and copper. They’re also rich in glycine, an amino acid that’s necessary for collagen synthesis.
Nuts and seeds that can boost collagen production include:
Peanuts (peanuts are technically a legume)
Along with being rich in fiber, fruits are also rich in antioxidants that help boost collagen synthesis. Many fruits contain vitamin C, which is necessary to produce procollagens.
Berries, citrus fruits and tropical fruits in particular have collagen-boosting properties.
Incorporate a variety of fruits into your diet to boost your collagen production, including:
Tomatoes and Bell Peppers
Vitamin C, as you know, helps create procollagens. Tomatoes and bell peppers are rich in this essential vitamin, but they also offer other nutritional benefits. Bell peppers, for example, contain capsaicin, which is a potent anti-inflammatory. Tomatoes contain lycopene, which is an antioxidant that fights free radical damage and protects the skin.
We’ve discussed collagen synthesis and the nutritional components that aid in the production of this protein. But there’s one compound that we haven’t talked about: sulfur.
Sulfur is a trace mineral that helps synthesize collagen and prevent the breakdown of this protein.
Garlic is a great source of sulfur, but allium vegetables in general contain this collagen-boosting compound. Alliums include onions, chives, leeks and scallions.
Aloe vera can do more than just soothe a sunburn. It can also boost collagen production when ingested.
Aloe is rich in polysaccharides, which are necessary to assemble amino acids in collagen synthesis.
Mushrooms, Cabbage and Asparagus
Proline is another essential amino acid needed to produce collagen, and many vegetables are great sources of proline, including:
What are the Best Vegan Collagen Supplements?
If you follow a balanced, healthy vegan diet, you probably consume a fair amount of the foods that boost collagen production in the body. But if you want a bigger collagen boost or just don’t want to deal with the complication of figuring out how many of which foods to eat, a collagen-boosting supplement is a great option.
There aren’t many vegan options out there, but Ora Organic Vegan Collagen-Boosting powder tops our list for the best supplement.
Ora Organic’s vegan collagen powder is formulated with everything your body needs to boost collagen production, including
Pea Protein: Contains all nine essential amino acids. Peas are a great source of protein and fiber.
Aloe Vera Gel Powder: A great source of polysaccharides, which are necessary to assemble amino acids in collagen synthesis. Aloe may also help improve the absorption of vitamins C, E and B12.
Acerola Cherry Extract: An excellent source of vitamin C, antioxidants and B vitamins.
Sunflower Whole Plant Extract: A great source of vitamin E, healthy fats and beneficial plant compounds.
Bamboo Whole Plant Extract: One of the richest sources of silica of any plant. It’s also rich in proteins, minerals, vitamins and fiber.
Coconut Milk: Contains Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs), which are fatty acids that help in the metabolic process.
Ora Organic uses coconut sugar and vanilla to sweeten and flavor their supplement.
This supplement is:
Just add one scoop of the supplement to your water, smoothie, dairy-free milk or coffee.
Ora Organic’s collagen-boosting powder gives your body all of the tools it needs to create collagen, and because it’s free of animal products, it’s easier on the environment. This supplement is 100% vegan and the next best thing to a real collagen supplement.