Is Plant-Based Collagen Really Collagen?
Plant-based products are all the rave right now. More and more plant-based foods, beauty supplements, and protein are on the shelves at your local supermarket. You might have seen plant-based collagen on the shelves at your local health food store. However, is it really collagen? Well, it depends.
Your body creates collagen daily. It combines amino acids from the high-protein food you eat, like cage-free chicken, grass-fed beef, and fatty fish, and turns them into collagen protein. It’s also found in animal bones and eggshell membranes. Still, some plants do contain the amino acids needed to create collagen. However, true collagen is not found in plants, and your body may have a more challenging time making collagen from plant-based collagen.
If this all sounds confusing to you, don’t worry! I will explain how your body builds collagen protein, what amino acids are needed to make collagen, why animal-based collagen is the best source, and why you need a collagen supplement. First, let’s talk more about whether or not plant-based collagen is really collagen.
Can Collagen Come From Plants?
Our ancestors relied on animal protein for survival. As humans, we’ve relied on animal protein throughout history. However, there are environmental factors that have not done our planet any favors. Industrial animal and fish farming, antibiotics and GMOs, and the prevalence of chronic illness have led many people to turn to a plant-based diet. This has increased the market for plant-based products, including plant-based collagen.
At first glance, you might believe these plant-based collagen products are really collagen, and I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. Collagen protein contains 19 amino acids. However, the complete combination of amino acids needed to make collagen cannot be found in plants, such as animals.
Take, for example, “vegan” bone broth. Bone broth is made by boiling the bones of an animal, such as a cow or chicken. The bones’ vitamins, minerals, and amino acids get transferred into the broth. So, how do you make “vegan” bone broth without animal bones? You can’t. “Vegan” bone broth is made with ingredients that promote the production of the nutrients found in bone broth from animals. It’s the same process used to make plant-based collagen.
Instead of getting the collagen from animals or eggshells, plant-based collagen is typically composed of a lot of vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that facilitates the natural production of collagen in your body. Unfortunately, as we get older, our bodies slow natural collagen production. I’ll talk more about that in just a minute. Moreover, many plant-based collagen builders rely on rice bran solubles, which can prevent the absorption of other amino acids needed to make collagen. Thus, you’re not getting what you pay for in a plant-based collagen product. To help you better understand why, let’s talk about how collagen is made.
How Your Body Makes Collagen
As I mentioned, collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. You can find collagen in your bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and cartilage.
Your body produces collagen naturally. However, at about age 35, your body’s collagen production begins to slow. By age 40, collagen begins to deplete faster than your body can produce. Moreover, over half of your body’s collagen has been depleted by age 60.1
Since collagen is a protein, it is made from amino acids. The amino acids needed to make collagen are proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline, nonessential amino acids. Nonessential amino acids are ones your body produces on its own. Glycine is the primary amino acid in collagen production.2
Glycine is made by modifying the amino acids serine, hydroxyproline, and threonine. Threonine is an essential amino acid, meaning it can only be found in food. However, the best food sources for threonine include dairy and grains, two foods I suggest everyone remove from their diet because they cause inflammation.
These amino acids bond together to form protein in a triple helix structure. Your body needs optimal amounts of vitamin C, zinc, copper, and manganese to facilitate this process and give the triple helix its structure.3
There are food sources for each of the amino acids needed to make collagen, including in plants. The issue is no one food source contains all three amino acids required to produce collagen. Let’s talk more about these food sources.
Important Nutrients for Collagen Production
Both animal and plant sources produce the amino acids needed to create collagen. However, plant-based collagen relies on your body’s ability to turn the amino acids into collagen and does not contain natural collagen. Whereas animal-based collagen is actual collagen that your body breaks down into amino acids during the digestive process by utilizing the digestive enzyme protease, sending them to the bloodstream, and rebuilding the collagen where it is needed.
While it may sound a little more of an involved process, it’s much easier to rebuild collagen than to build it from scratch. The other issue, as I mentioned, is that there’s no one plant-based food source that contains all of the amino acids needed for collagen. Let’s dive deeper into the sources of these amino acids.
Food Sources of Glycine
Glycine is readily available in many foods, including wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, wild turkey, and free-range chicken. These meats range from 1.5 to 1.8 grams of glycine per 100 grams, making them the best sources of glycine.
Tree nuts and quinoa are other sources, yet they do not contain an abundant amount of glycine. Quinoa contains 0.7g of glycine per 100g. Meat is the best source of glycine. Remember, your body needs threonine to make glycine.
Food Sources of Threonine
I mentioned that threonine is typically found in grains and dairy foods. If you have celiac disease or gluten or dairy sensitivity, you want to avoid those foods. However, there are plenty of other foods that contain threonine.
Lamb is the best source of threonine. For every 100g of lean lamb, your body is getting about 165% of the recommended daily intake of threonine. Pork, lean beef, and gelatin are also excellent sources of threonine. There are plant sources of threonine, such as tofu, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, nuts, and grains. However, you could eat those foods for every meal and still not get the amount of threonine found in lamb.
Food Sources of Proline
Proline is abundant in many animal foods, including red meat, fish, eggs, pork, chicken, and bone broth. Your body uses proline to make hydroxyproline, which is also needed for collagen production.
Vitamin C is needed to make proline, so you’d want to be sure to eat vitamin C-rich foods as well. Plant-based food options containing proline include cabbage, soy, asparagus, and chickpeas. However, they aren’t as good sources as meat products and have less of this amino acid.
As you can see, meat is the only food that provides all of the amino acids needed to produce collagen. Whereas for plants, you’d have to eat an array of foods just to get the amino acids you need, and they would still not be at optimal levels for collagen production. Another good way to get more collagen is through supplementation. Choosing between a plant-based collagen and animal collagen comes down to the source. Here’s why animal collagen is better than plant-based collagen.
Why Animal Collagen is Better than Plant-Based
Collagen is a protein, so the source of collagen is essential for optimal benefits. I’ve established that meat contains all the amino acids needed to produce collagen, while you’d have to eat various plants to get them. However, it’s a little more complex than that.
If you see an animal-based collagen product, there’s a good chance it contains actual collagen from animals. That’s because animals are the only source of collagen. Cows, chicken, fish, and eggs are excellent sources of collagen. Let’s quickly talk about why.
Bovine collagen comes from breaking down cattle byproducts such as bones and supports skin elasticity and hydration. Collagen is highly concentrated in the bones of cows.
Bone Broth is a fantastic source of bovine collagen because it gets drawn out of bones. Bones are an excellent food source of collagen and are rich in minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Collagen from bone broth contains amino acids and peptides that help maintain and promote optimal gut lining health. The cells lining your intestinal tract love bone broth.
Marine collagen comes from the skin of fish. This type promotes skin health and cartilage. The science of marine collagen is still new. However, research suggests marine collagen may help protect your skin from harmful UV radiation damage and promote healing, bone tissue growth, and anti-wrinkling.
Chicken collagen is naturally produced in chickens, promotes a healthy inflammatory response, and is crucial for healthy joints, cartilage, and ligaments.
Remember your mother or grandmother feeding you chicken soup when you were sick? That’s because chicken soup is a nutritional powerhouse; thankfully, it’s also delicious! Drinking chicken bone broth is a great way to get chicken collagen.
Eggshell Membrane Collagen
Since collagen is in chicken, it only makes sense that it is found in eggs. Collagen-like proteins are in the eggshell membranes of the hen. This protein has essential amino acids supporting healthy tissue growth, promoting a healthy aging process and skin quality.
To fully power collagen production, your body needs vitamin C. Berries, broccoli, and leafy green vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin C. I like to use Liposomal Vitamin C for maximum absorption and an easy, tasty collagen production boost.
Plant-based collagen does not contain actual collagen, yet they contain the amino acids needed to make collagen and vitamin C. However, it depends on your body’s ability to produce collagen, which can be hindered by smoking, exposure to toxins, chronic illness, and a sedentary lifestyle. Moreover, many plant-based proteins cause more issues than provide benefits. Plant-based proteins are generally sourced from soy, hemp, grains, and legumes.
Soy is a very common source of plant-based proteins. It’s made from processed soybeans, and almost every soybean in the U.S. is genetically modified. GMOs are linked to rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and infertility. Soybeans are also legumes, which are inflammatory foods for many people.
Pea protein is also derived from legumes and is another popular choice for vegetarians and vegans. Plant proteins are digested more slowly than animal proteins due to their high fiber content. This can limit the number of amino acids bioavailable to make protein.
As you can see, there are vast differences between animal- and plant-based collagen. The good news is that supplementing with a high-quality, animal-based collagen powder is as easy as putting it in a smoothie or your morning coffee. I recommend virtually everyone supplement collagen because our body’s natural production slows as we age.
Why You Should Supplement Collagen
As a medical doctor, I can tell you that plant-based collagen powders on the market simply do not work! I have struggled with choosing a natural collagen powder from animal sources. That is why, after doing months of research, I formulated my Collagen Protein powder and Spectrum 5 Collagen™.
Both of my pharmaceutical-grade multi-collagen protein powders are hydrolyzed for easy absorption, contain multiple types of collagen, come from natural sources, are third-party tested, and contain optimal amounts of collagen in each scoop. So how do you choose which is the best collagen powder for you?
Collagen Protein contains 100% grass-fed, pasture-raised bovine collagen. It supports a healthy gut lining and intestinal permeability, promotes vibrant hair, skin, and nails, and facilitates healthy bones and joints.
This collagen powder is one of my absolute favorite supplements, and I use it every single day! Collagen Protein is the most essential supplement to get all the great benefits to your skin, bones, hair, nails, and connective tissue.
Spectrum 5 Collagen™
Spectrum 5 Collagen™ also made from 100% natural sources. However, it also contains chicken collagen, marine collagen, and eggshell membrane collagen. Spectrum 5 Collagen™ is the first-ever physician-formulated complete collagen complex on the market.
Marine collagen is essential to promote smoother and firmer skin, boosts elasticity and hydration, and facilitates rapid skin cell repair and renewal. The collagen from chickens and eggshell membranes is essential for your joints and cartilage. These two sources of collagen provide structure to your cartilage, promote flexible joints, and support bone formation.
If you’re looking for bone, cartilage, and joint support, I recommend adding Spectrum 5 Collagen™ to your morning coffee or smoothie. Since it is hydrolyzed, it makes it easier to dissolve.
The Final Word
With Collagen Protein that contains grass-fed, pasture-raised bovine collagen, you can give your hair, skin, and nails the support they need to stay hydrated and look vibrant. If you want full-range high-quality collagen to support your hair, skin, nails, joints, and cartilage, then Spectrum 5 Collagen™ is the perfect multi-collagen protein powder for you. Plant-based collagen is a trendy product that does not contain actual collagen. I believe animal sources are the only way to get high-quality collagen.
- Decreased Collagen Production in Chronologically Aged Skin. James Varani, et al. The American Journal of Pathology, vol 168. 2006.
- Top 9 Benefits and Uses of Glycine. Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD . Healthline. 2018.
- Collagen. Cleveland Clinic. 2022.
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