Sticking to a vegan diet can come with its own challenges - especially when it comes to getting sufficient vitamins and nutrients.
It's undeniable that as a vegan, you need to pay a bit more attention to your diet than the average meat-eater.
One particular substance that is readily available in animal products but more difficult to obtain on a plant-based diet is collagen.
Collagen is a protein that accounts for about ⅓ of your body’s protein composition and is essential for healthy skin, hair & nails as well as cell function and muscle health.
But... I thought collagen only came from animals?
- What Is Vegan Collagen?
- How Do Vegans Get Collagen?
- So, Hang On ... Is There Any Plant-Based Collagen?
- Does Vegan Collagen Work?
- Benefits of Vegan Collagen
- How Is Vegan Collagen Made?
- Where Does Vegan Collagen Come From?
- Where To Buy Vegan Collagen Supplements?
- In Summary
What Is Vegan Collagen?
In short - there’s actually no such thing as vegan collagen ... yet. There is some fascinating research into genetically engineering vegan collagen from yeast and other micro-organisms, however, this is a way off yet.
At this stage - collagen can only be made in the connective tissue of animals (or humans) bodies. It doesn't occur naturally within any form of plant matter.
The products often marketed as vegan collagen come in two different forms; a topical ointment and an ingestible supplement.
Both of these styles of supplement contain ingredients designed to aid and boost collagen production in your own body - they don't actually contain any form of collagen themselves.
How Do Vegans Get Collagen?
The only way for vegans to get collagen is by producing it themselves.
However, there are certain types of foods and compounds that are scientifically-proven to greatly assist the body in creating enough collagen protein.
In the video below, Rachelle Robinette from Well+Good does a fantastic job of running through some of the key elements to stimulating collagen production for vegans (including an excellent vegan collagen-boosting recipe!)
Here are some of the key components and considerations for increasing your collagen production as a vegan:
Many fruits, vegetables and plants are rich in anti-inflammatories.
Eating foods such as almonds, beans, avocados, olive oil, and cruciferous vegetables to name just a few, will help ensure you have a high-level of anti-inflammatories in the body.
As most inflammation occurs in the joints and tendons collagen synthesis occurs, less inflammation in these areas helps collagen production.
We all know that humans require a range of different nutrients to stay healthy, but we specifically require Vitamin A and Vitamin C to produce collagen.
Many plant-based foods will give you a nice concentration of these vitamins - including papaya, almonds, kale, mushrooms, carrots, citrus fruit, and much more.
If you have a wide-ranging diet, you should have no issues getting these vitamins.
Cellular decay occurs naturally over time (i.e. aging), however, is sped up by oxidation due to free radicals.
Free radicals are really just unstable atoms and all around us (in the oxygen we breathe). The effect they have on ageing and human health, in general, is thought to be worsened by poor lifestyle and environmental factors such as alcohol, deep-fried food, tobacco smoke and polluted air.
Free radicals are thought to interfere with health collagen synthesis, however, antioxidants have been shown to reduce the impact of free radicals on the body.
A diet rich in antioxidants is generally a colourful diet (i.e. leafy greens, berries, sweet potato etc.) and helps protect your bodies collagen production.
So, Hang On ... Is There Any Plant-Based Collagen?
There are several plant-based collagen supplements available, but as we discussed earlier, the reality is that collagen cannot be produced by anything in nature except the connective tissues of animals.
The amino acids that protein collagen contains have never been found in any form of plant life.
What you actually find in plant-based collagen supplements is not collagen itself, but a range of ingredients and compounds designed to boost collagen production in your own body.
A good 'vegan collagen supplement' will have many different plant-based ingredients but most importantly, will have Vitamin C as the primary ingredient as this is the main vitamin required to produce collagen.
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Does Vegan Collagen Work?
Again - if we are talking about vegan supplements that enhance and promote your own body's collagen naturally - then yes!
There are a number of great plant-based products available that have collagen-boosting properties giving your body exactly what it needs to produce it.
That being said - if you have digestion issues or very low-levels of natural collagen, this style of supplement may not be enough for your individual needs.
Benefits of Vegan Collagen
Lets quickly go through the key benefits of using vegan collagen vs animal-based collagen:
- Lower Allergy Risk - while not extremely common, certain allergies and illnesses can be triggered in people from ingesting animal products such as animal-based collagen. Because vegan collagen is manufactured in a controlled environment, there’s much less risk of any unwanted compounds being included. Common allergens can easily be removed if they are found during the process.
- Cruelty-Free - many products in the beauty industry that are designed to help with wrinkles or aging skin are tested on animals or even created from animal products. As animal collagen is taken directly from bones and connective tissue, those living a committed vegan lifestyle will obviously want to avoid any part of this process.
- Lower Cost - vegan collagen supplements are typically cheaper and more sustainable than their animal counterparts. Even though 'true' vegan collagen is still in the earlier stages of development and production, the process itself is leading up to be extremely cost-effective. The ingredients used to create true vegan collagen (specified below in the how is vegan collagen made section) are easy to procure and can be scaled up with very little cost.
How Is Vegan Collagen Made?
First of all - we are now talking about lab-made and engineered vegan collagen in this section, not plant extracts that are 'collagen boosters'.
True vegan collagen is a relatively new concept and comes from the genetic manipulation of yeast and bacteria to create collagen peptides.
It sounds a bit gross, but the science behind it adds the human genomes responsible for collagen production to the yeast/bacteria so that it begins producing it instead.
A digestive enzyme called pepsin is then added to convert it into human collagen that perfectly matches what we would naturally produce.
Voila! 'True' vegan collagen!
Where Does Vegan Collagen Come From?
Remember - vegan collagen currently comes from ... YOU!
But, to boost your own human collagen, you'll want to take supplements and eat a diet rich in the following:
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein in your body and are essential for many healthy processes in the human body.
They are also one of the primary elements required for your body to create collagen.
While it’s true that it’s easy and fast to obtain protein from animal sources, that doesn’t mean plant-based diets are missing out.
Silica is another compound that has been proven to be an excellent collagen-boosting ingredient.
Most foods in a plant-based diet will naturally contain silica, so there’s not a huge need to go out and seek more.
Silica plays a direct role in the resilience and appearance of your hair, skin health and nails. If your nails are soft, hair brittle, and skin in bad shape, then a silica deficiency is something to look at.
Vitamin C is considered one of, if not the most, important component that your body needs for natural collagen production.
If you drop below a certain amount of Vitamin C, it’s actually impossible to form or store more collagen.
Vitamin C is necessary to alter amino acids so that the structure of collagen is stabilised.
Without this stabilisation, the brittle collagen structure begins to show throughout the rest of your body. Symptoms often show as brittle hair, bad skin, and even joints pain and tenderness.
No one is ever surprised when they get very-low on Vitamin C - your body will let you know quickly.
Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, helping to fight free radical damage that consumes your natural collagen stores.
If Vitamin C is a superhero, then think of Vitamin E as the sidekick.
The superhero can get the job done on its own, but the sidekick can provide a solid amount of help.
Vitamin E can greatly increase Vitamin C’s ability to reduce oxidative damage on the skin due to free radicals.
It’s also a great anti-aging proponent as it helps keep the collagen your body produces in pristine condition.
Zinc, Copper & Sulphur
These are all key nutrients required for the synthesis and production of human collagen.
Most are readily available through a healthy and diverse vegan diet, but if you are lacking at all you should consider natural supplements rich in these minerals such as chaga, MSM & a high-quality greens powder.
Aloe vera is famous for being a great skin treatment for sunburn, but it’s capable of so much more.
When eaten, it’s a fantastic way to promote collagen growth and can even help improve the health of your hair, nails, and skin.
The primary reason aloe vera is so effective is due to its high levels of polysaccharides.
These help amino acids to assemble into collagen and makes them strong.
Better formations lead to increased effectiveness and much healthier skin, hair, and nails as well as helping to reverse the ageing process to an extent.
NOTE: You should also consider tremella in your collagen-boosting stack due to its super high-levels of polysaccharides and other skin-boosting benefits.
Where To Buy Vegan Collagen Supplements?
There are 3 producers of vegan collagen boosters that I believe are of excellent quality and produce some of the best supplements on the market.
All 3 take a slightly different approach with their ingredients but address the main factors you need for collagen synthesis.
Most importantly - they all provide your body with the right suite of vitamins, minerals and nutrients to support collagen production.
Click the links below find out more about them:
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Here are some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding vegan collagen supplements:
Does Vegan Collagen Cause Acne?
High-quality vegan collagen does NOT cause acne, but there are a few exceptions that you need to look for when selecting your product.
If you look through the list of ingredients and see anything resembling sulphites, then it’s time to find a new product.
Sulphites can congest your skin and are a quick way to having a bad breakout when you least expect it.
Does Vegan Collagen Help Hair Growth?
Yes - vegan collagen can help hair growth! Not only does collagen help hair growth, but collagen is absolutely necessary for healthy growing hair.
Increasing the amount of collagen you produce has been linked to the increased growth of healthier hair for many people.
It can help your hair improve in strength, elasticity, and growth thanks to the amino acids responsible for these factors - as well as help repair your hair follicles.
Is Vegan Collagen Safe During Pregnancy?
Vegan collagen supplements are generally considered safe during pregnancy, however, we are not medical professionals and we insist you get advice from your GP or medical practitioner about this.
On the fundamental level, collagen shouldn’t negatively affect pregnancy. In fact, being pregnant is the perfect time to want to increase your collagen levels. If your healthcare professional gives you the green light and necessary health information to continue taking collagen, then there are multiple benefits to doing so.
Some of these benefits are:
- Skin elasticity - perfect for that pregnancy belly. Keeping your skin healthy during and after the pregnancy vastly speeds up the recovery process and reduces the risk and intensity of stretch marks
- Joints and ligaments - carrying a baby during pregnancy and afterwards can take a powerful physical toll that your body. Collagen will keep your connective tissues renewed and strong so that you won’t have to deal with the sore back, neck, or arms typically found in new mothers.
- Postpartum hair - during pregnancy, your hair may be feeling particularly thick because your hair is shedding at a much slower rate. However, in some cases, women experience postpartum hair loss, sometimes months after giving birth. Vegan collagen can help combat this and promote consistent hair growth.
What Vegan Food Has Collagen?
There is no vegan food that contains collagen.
Vegans need to focus on eating whole foods that will help increase their own production of collagen instead of consuming it from animals directly.
Finding vegan food that helps you produce collagen, on the other hand, is a pretty simple task.
There are vast amounts of options available to you, some of the best include:
- Beans and other legumes
- Oranges, lemons, and other citrus fruits
- Seeds like pumpkin, sunflower, or squash
- Almonds, peanuts, cashews, pistachios, and other nuts
- Soy products like tofu
- Rice, corn, wheat, and other whole grains
- Most vegetables ranging anywhere from tomatoes to broccoli to potatoes
Currently, there’s no such thing as a 'true vegan collagen' that is widely available and ready to take.
That being said, by eating a healthy and diverse vegan diet and taking a high-quality vegan collagen supplement, you should have everything you need to help your body produce the healthy collagen it needs to keep your skin, hair, and nails happy and healthy.
There is plenty of delicious whole foods 'collagen-boosting' options you can focus on in your diet to ensure you’re getting good amounts of Vitamin C, amino acids and all of the other necessary ingredients.
With these tips, it’s simple to avoid some of the pitfalls of the beauty industry, be vegan and still get all of the proteins you need!