Have you ever heard about the benefits of collagen? No? Are you sure?
I mean you’ve probably used beauty products or shampoos to make your hair thicker. Or perhaps you’ve tried some rejuvenating facial creams.
If you still have any of these products on hand, check the label. You’ll undoubtedly find bold statements that boast the benefits of collagen in the product.
But the thing the beauty industry fails to tell you is this. If you want to truly enjoy the benefits of collagen, you need to take it internally. Collagen will not do much if you apply it externally.
So, are the benefits of collagen backed by science? And how do you consume it? Or do you need to supplement? Plus, is collagen the same thing as gelatin?
I’ll answer all these questions in this article.
What is collagen?
Did you know that collagen is the most abundant protein in the body? It is found throughout your body in your:
- Blood vessels
- Digestive system
There are 16 different types of collagen in the body. Type 1 accounts for about 90% of the collagen in our body and gives our skin its firmness. Type 2 collagen is found in our movable joints.
- ‘Collagen’ comes from the Greek word ‘kólla’ which means ‘glue’. In a way, you could picture collagen as the fibrous protein glue that holds your body in one piece!
- Gram for gram, Type 1 collagen is stronger than steel.
- Our body produces collagen. However, this production starts decreasing at about age 35.
- By age 40, our body’s collagen stores begin to diminish faster than the body can replace them. This is when ageing signs become more evident.
- As we reach 60, over 50% of the collagen in the body will be long gone.
Dietary sources of collagen
Besides containing collagen, the following foods are also rich in various nutrients that help the body produce collagen. These foods also contain nutrients that protect our body’s collagen against stressors such as UV radiation, toxins, and microbes.
1. Tougher cuts of beef that contains a lot of connective tissue.
Beef chuck or shoulder, beef round (the hind leg of the animal), and similar cuts of meats are rich in collagen. Make sure to cook the meat long enough and slowly (that is, on low heat) – this will ensure that your body can enjoy most of the collagen in the meat.
Especially the breast part. Again, you want to cook your chicken thoroughly on low to medium heat.
Research indicates that hen eggs contain collagen especially the yolks and the thick outer and thin inner membranes of the egg.
4. Bone broth
Why do you think chicken soup is a famous remedy for the common cold?
Yes, it’s warm and easy to swallow when you’re sick. But, more importantly, animal tissue, especially bones and connective tissue, are terrific sources of collagen.
Check out this video if you’re not sure how to make your own bone broth.
How can collagen help with the common cold? I’ll cover this in a bit. But first let’s talk about gelatin.
Collagen vs. Gelatin: Same thing, different names?
Although collagen powder and gelatin look and taste almost the same, they are not the same thing. Put simply, gelatin is the product you get when collagen is heated (during cooking, for instance).
Why should you care?
Simple: if a recipe calls for gelatin and you use collagen instead, you’ll have an epic (liquid) fail. Because collagen does not thicken liquids at all. However, a single tablespoon of gelatin is enough to firmly congeal two cups of liquid!
How can you tell the difference between collagen and gelatin?
Don’t worry, there’s no testing involved. You can simply check the label.
If a product mentions any of the following, know that you’re dealing with collagen powder:
- Collagen hydrosylate (most common alias)
- Collagen peptides
- Hydrolyzed collagen
- Hydrolyzed collagen protein
- Hydrolyzed collagen peptides
- Hydrolyzed gelatin(e)
- Hydrolyzed gelatin(e) collagen
What is collagen powder?
Collagen powder (hydrolyzed collagen) is made from collagen using a process known as hydrolysis. This process breaks down the collagen strands and chain of amino acids it contains into smaller pieces.
What is the difference between hydrolyzed collagen and gelatin?
While collagen and gelatin contain the same amino acids, the amino acid chains in collagen powder or hydrolyzed collagen are smaller due to the hydrolysis process. As such, the body may absorb over 90% of hydrolyzed collagen compared to about 27% or less in foods.
Moreover, pure gelatin will only dissolve in hot water whereas collagen powder will dissolve in both hot and cold water.
And as mentioned earlier, only gelatin will cause liquids to thicken – collagen will not. Just remember: only gelatin gels!
Now that you’ve been introduced to both collagen and gelatin, let’s have a look at the health benefits of collagen. Or is collagen just another food that has been over-mediatized?
Health benefits of collagen – you’ll probably be surprised
Since gelatin and collagen have the same amino acid profile, both products have similar health benefits.
1. Collagen is a helpful digestive aid.
Do you often have heartburns or feel bloated after eating? Or maybe you feel that your food just ‘sits’ in your stomach?
Well, these signs often indicate that you lack stomach acid. Taking collagen could help improve your digestion thanks to the glycine it contains. That’s because the amino acid glycine can normalize stomach acid production. In fact, supplementation with glycine was found to be therapeutic in cases of GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease).
Moreover, glycine also supports the production of bile which the body needs to digest fats and absorb fat-soluble vitamins.
But that’s not all: collagen remains hydrophilic (water-loving) even when you heat it. Since hydrophilic foods blend well with digestive juices, collagen can help your body better digest cooked food.
2. Collagen can help heal the gut.
Have you ever heard of increased intestinal permeability a.k.a. leaky gut?
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