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Nutrition + Diet

Internal Affairs: The Collagen-Boosting Diet

The foundation of youthful skin hinges upon one key factor: collagen. It is what gives elasticity, firmness, resiliency, and suppleness to the skin, which is the body’s largest organ. As we age, however, production of this essential protein decreases and sagging, thinning skin is the result. To maximize stimulation of collagen production and guard it from breakdown, slathering your skin with the usual anti-aging creams and serums isn’t enough.

Great skin starts on the plate. “Just as your other organs react to the consequences of what you eat, so does your skin,” says Jessica Katz RD, a nutritionist based in New York City. “When my clients look totally radiant, I look at their food diaries, and I see a high consumption of plant-based, healthy foods.” Fruits and vegetables make the most impact. “The high water content of fruits and veggies is very hydrating and prevents your skin from looking dull and slack,” Jessica explains. What kinds of food should we avoid? “Refined sugars and refined carbs, as well as fried foods,” she advises. Sugar has been cited in a recent study as causing collagen to become almost irreparable by cross-linking fibers. Prevention is key, and thus a diet low in sugars and high in colorful fruits and vegetables helps protect the skin. Here are the foods to eat for a collagen-boosting diet:

Vitamin C-Rich Fruits + Veggies

Besides its well known immune boosting benefits, vitamin C also has beauty benefits. “It neutralizes skin-damaging free radicals which cause collagen breakdown and aging,” Jessica explains. Most importantly, it facilitates the production of amino acids that are the major components of collagen. Dark greens like kale, spinach, asparagus, and broccoli, as well as citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, and lemons are all rich in vitamin C.

Lean Organic Protein

Just like our muscles, collagen needs protein to stay strong. Integral to the production of strong fibrous tissue, collagen and elastin require protein for their production. Lean meats, nuts, and fish are all great sources of protein.  For a food that does double duty, egg whites not only contain protein, but are also rich in those crucial collagen building blocks, lysine and proline.

Lots of Lycopene

Seeing red doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Red vegetables such as beets, red peppers, and tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that acts as a natural sun blocker, protecting skin from the sun and increasing collagen production.  While beet soup may not replace your go-to SPF, meals peppered with crimson colored ingredients can help shield you from sagging, sunburned skin. (P.S. Watermelon is a great sweet choice.)

Don’t Forget Zinc

Eating chocolate can firm your skin. Sounds like a dream, right? Fortunately, it’s not a complete fantasy. Cocoa, particularly dark baking chocolate, is high in zinc. This mineral repairs damaged cells, protects collagen and elastin, and reduces inflammation, aiding in the collagen production process. Non-dessert foods rich in zinc include wheat germ, pumpkin and squash seeds, spinach, white mushrooms, and oysters.

If plates laden with collagen-boosting foods seems like a lot to digest, a supplement may be for you. These pills claim to work from the inside out to support increased collagen production, however Jessica stresses a focus on a natural diet as opposed to relying on pills for glowing skin. “With supplements, you are missing the synergistic effect of consuming whole foods: the synergy of the various nutrients, fiber, water content, antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, proteins etc. It’s hard to derive comparable benefits from a supplement, but they can be a powerful combination when consumed together,” says Jessica. Here are a few formulas that are causing some buzz in nutritional beauty:

THE BAR by the SKINny experts, $27 for a box of 12

Jessica recently collaborated with fellow Princeton alum and esteemed cosmetic dermatologist, as well as Charlotte’s Book advisor Dr. Gervaise Gerstner to create The SKINny Experts. This is a nutritionist and dermatologist-designed line of edible beauty products to enhance skin from the inside out. Their first product is this satiating, sweet-tasting, vegan, and gluten-free energy bar comprised of plant-based sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants necessary for a radiant complexion. The bar is filling, but low in calories and sugar, and excludes inflammatory foods such as dairy and added sugar. It’s also free of soy, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives.

Reserveage Nutrition Collagen Booster, $30

These capsules contain a couple of collagen ceramides (lipids that help retain hydration), hyaluronic acid (natural fluid that adds moisture and volume to the skin), resveratrol (a powerful antioxidant), and chondroitin (a molecule found in connective tissue).

East West Essentials’ Optimal Beauty, $64

Choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid is quite the mouthful, but it’s shortened to its more popular name, “ch-OSA,” and is one of the most interesting scientific breakthroughs in aesthetics. Clinically proven to activate the biological pathways that generate collagen, ch-OSA is generating buzz and gaining steam in the beauty world.

Sparkle Collagen Peptide Supplement, $43

Don’t like to pop pills? Add a scoop of this tangy powder to your breakfast smoothie. It contains bioactive collagen peptides along with vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, stevia extract, and natural flavors.

READ THIS NEXT

Find out more about how diet affects skin (and your mood!).
Plus, take a look at our definitive guide to collagen supplements.

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