As a follow up to my original post on what collagen is and what research says about collagen benefits and side effects, this post will address all the frequently asked collagen questions. We'll address how much collagen you need (if you even need collagen!), dietary sources, how to choose a quality supplement, and I'll even share my personal take on collagen as a dietitian!
First, a reminder: While I am a registered dietitian, all blog posts I author, including this one, are for informational purposes and are never to be substituted for individual medical or nutritional advice. Please see your personal physician, dietitian, and/ or other members of your healthcare team for questions or concerns regarding your unique care.
How Much Collagen Should I Take?
If you remember from my first post analyzing the research on collagen benefits and collagen side effects, remember first that supplementation with collagen peptides is not essential.
There's no real daily recommended intake for collagen, and that's because collagen is something our bodies produce and repair on their own. While there are amino acids that your body can derive from consuming collagen peptides that may be used to support your body's collagen production and repair, your body doesn't take the amino acids from consumed collagen peptides and use them strictly for collagen production in your body. They may be used in collagen production, but your body will use those amino acids anywhere they're needed.
Additionally, it's not just the amino acids that can help collagen production - for example, vitamin C is important to concurrently consume as it aids endogenous collagen production and repair.
I will say that when consulting currently available research, when it comes to collagen dietary supplements I did see one study suggest consuming less than 30.8 mg collagen peptides daily reduces potential health benefits (1).
Dietary Sources of Collagen
From a diet perspective, your best bet is to include a variety of foods rich in protein (for amino acids for collagen production), vitamin C (to aid collagen production and repair), and omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant-rich foods (to decrease inflammation which can break down collagen).
Additionally, be conscientious of lifestyle and other environmental factors that can impact collagen, from increasing the break down of collagen to inhibiting production and repair. Lifestyle recommendations include adequate sun protection (wear sunscreen!), not smoking, decreasing exposure to pollution, and more.
How to Find a Quality Collagen Supplement
When choosing a quality collagen supplement, choose one with as simple ingredients as possible and one that will fit your dietary lifestyle (i.e. marine collagen peptides or bovine collagen peptides, capsules vs. powder). Look for an independent third-party certification to see if a group like NSF, USP, or UL has tested it for safety. See if the manufacturer themselves test each lot for heavy metals. Investigate the quality of the animal sources and look for pasture-raised and grass-fed animals treated ethically.
I personally prefer and trust Vital Proteins collagen peptides. Vital Proteins collagen peptides produce their gelatin and collagen peptides in Brazil, where the cattle industry has tighter regulations than in the United States. They use Nelore breed cattle (non-dairy producing) and between no rBGH injected for more milk (no need for more milk with non-dairy producing cattle!) and a Brazilian law that prevents the addition of hormones to feed, they strive to ensure their cattle is hormone and rBGH-free (2). The pasture size for each animal is one animal per 2.67 acres and their animal standards are in alignment with the Global Animal Partnership 5-step animal welfare rating standards. Their Marine Collagen is sourced from wild-caught, non-GMO red snapper off the Hawaiian coast.
Updated to add: since originally writing this post, I've tried a couple additional brands of unflavored collagen peptides and like them all. I've linked Amazon affiliate links for them below - all this means is I get a (verrrrry) small commission from Amazon at no additional cost to you if you purchase using my link.
- Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides Powder
- Orgain Collagen Peptides Powder
- Zint Collagen Peptides Powder
Frequently Asked Collagen Questions
I’ve heard of people adding collagen to coffee...what’s that all about? Does collagen coffee have a different taste?
Many who use unflavored, powdered collagen peptides choose to add them to things like coffee, tea, smoothies, soups, and more. Many report no taste difference and find these methods an easy way to add collagen to their day.
Is collagen vegan?
Collagen is not vegan. All sources I’ve seen in research include collagen derived from beef, pork, chicken, deer, and marine sources.
With the continued popularity of collagen supplements, several brands are promoting "vegan collagen" supplements but PLEASE note - these are NOT vegan collagen, but supplements of vegan ingredients of things designed to enhance your body's collagen production (like vitamin C). If you do see a company trying to sell you "vegan collagen," just run far, far away - huge red flag!
That said, as a vegan you can still consume a diet rich in amino acids and other nutrients to support your body’s natural collagen production.
Is collagen an acceptable replacement/ use for protein?
Collagen is a protein, but it only contains eight of the nine essential amino acids, meaning it is not a complete protein. Many do use collagen peptides as a protein powder, but collagen shouldn't be your sole or primary source of protein. If you are meeting your overall nutritional needs by consuming a variety of protein and other foods day-to-day, you can certainly use collagen peptides to give a boost of protein to things like coffee, smoothies, soup, and more.
Is it okay to use collagen daily?
Many collagen companies recommended daily consumption to see maximum benefits. Some research that has been done involves daily intake in the study duration. That said, there isn’t significant research as to long-term effects of collagen. Personally, with the exception of water, there is no single, one thing I consume daily, as I focus on overall variety of foods for optimal nutrition.
Is collagen safe during pregnancy or while breastfeeding?
There is insufficient research and data to definitively say whether collagen supplementation is safe in pregnancy or lactation. Please consult with your doctor.
I’ve thought about taking collagen but it is kind of expensive - how do I know if it will actually help and make a difference and if I should take it?
There are some research-supported benefits to collagen, but I’m a huge advocate in doing what works for you. If collagen peptides aren’t in your budget right now, focus on a healthy lifestyle and consuming a variety of proteins, fruits, and vegetables, and plenty of water to optimize your body’s endogenous collagen production and repair.
Also, please note that some brands of collagen supplements are significantly more expensive because you're paying for the brand name. I've personally tried other quality brands, like Orgain Collagen Peptides Powder and Zint Collagen Peptides Powder, that I first found through Amazon lightning deals and Amazon coupons.
Do we need more collagen as we get older?
There is no daily intake level recommended for collagen. When you’re in your 30s, collagen production can begin to slightly diminish annually. Focus on a varied diet including foods rich in collagen and foods that can help increase collagen production, like those rich in Vitamin C. Be sure to look at other environmental factors that can break down collagen - things like smoking, not wearing sunscreen, etc.
How I Personally Use Collagen
I do personally use collagen peptides myself. As I described above, I make sure I’m choosing a collagen whose quality I trust. At this time, I personally do not consume collagen on a daily basis, as I prefer to consume a variety of foods and I eat differently day-to-day.
When I make something like a smoothie or energy balls, I do typically add unflavored collagen peptides for a protein boost. I am very picky with protein powders and find most change the texture and/ or taste of what I’m making too much. I personally don’t think collagen changes the taste of anything I make so I can still enjoy my smoothie or whatever I'm making. Sometimes it makes a smoothie a tiny bit...fluffier? But it's barely discernible (and not something I mind!).
So basically - when I find myself needing/ wanting to increase protein with a "protein powder" I've currently been using unflavored collagen peptides as it's a flavorless, single-ingredient protein source. Additionally, I consume all types of protein in my diet and can ensure adequate overall protein and amino acid needs are met.
Be sure to check out my previous post on what collagen is and what research says on benefits and side effects. The TL;DR overview is:
- Collagen is a protein naturally produced in our bodies but can be produced from animal and marine sources as a dietary supplement.
- Collagen peptides is collagen processed into smaller, more easy to digest and absorb pieces.
- Potential research-based collagen benefits include skin, hair, and nail health, joint health, and gut health.
- Potential collagen side effects include hypersensitivities/ allergic reactions, hypercalcemia, bad taste in mouth, heart arrhythmias, fatigue, constipation, and appetite suppressant.
- More clinical research is needed to support current research and claims.
- You can optimize your body’s natural production and repair of collagen by consuming a variety of amino acids, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids through foods like different protein sources, fruits, and vegetables.
- Avoid smoking, excessive sun exposure without sun protection, pollution, and lifestyle factors that increase free radicals to avoid faster breakdown of endogenous collagen.
- If you choose to consume collagen, select a quality product from a reputable and transparent brand (I like Vital Proteins).
- Always consult with your doctor before starting any new supplements or dietary changes to ensure it’s a good fit with your individual health history.
If you enjoyed this two-part series on collagen, including these answers to common collagen questions, be sure to share on social media and pin this post to Pinterest! And as always, if there are any other nutrition trends or topics you want to get the low-down on, just leave a comment or message! Live well!
- Shigemura Y, Kubomura D, Sato Y, Sato K. (2014, September 15.) Dose-Dependent Changes in the Levels of Free and Peptide Forms of Hydroxyproline in Human Plasma After Collagen Hydrolysate Ingestion.
- Vital Proteins (2018.) FAQ.