You have an idea why taking care of the collagen in your connective tissue is so important for looking good and feeling great. (If you missed it click here.) Now you might be thinking, “Collagen is important, now how do I do something about it?”
Like any aspect of your health, the choices that lead to better collagen health are all about diet and lifestyle.
We’ll break down the healthy diet guidelines for collagen. Then you can take the steps to try these science backed tips. If you’re looking for great looking skin, strong hair, and clear nails, here’s how!
- Center in on what your healthy diet looks like
- Eat collagen protein to make better collagen proteins.
- Get your omega-3s.
- Get enough of the right vitamins and minerals.
1. Center In On What Your Healthy Diet Looks Like
It seems everybody on the internet has an opinion on what “healthy” means.
Whether it’s a low-carb, vegetarian, low-fat, or any other diet, there’s plenty of research to show that it has the potential to help a lot of people.
One question though: are you “a lot of people”?
Didn’t think so. You’re an individual with your own unique levels of digestive enzymes, your own microbiome, and your own genes and environment. I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret insider tip: there’s only one “healthy” diet, and that’s the one that works best for you.
Now, just knowing that every person has a perfect diet for them isn’t all that helpful. I’d eat a plateful of cookies every day if I could convince myself that that was the diet for me.
Fortunately, different healthy diets have more similarities than differences. Each of them often come down to the same principles and decorate them up by coming at it from a different approach.
For example, most diets mention the three macronutrients in some way. But that’s really just a piece of the puzzle. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins can be healthy or unhealthy.
Instead of counting your macros we’ll show you how to count quality. What makes the difference between a carb that’s good for your health or bad for your health. Which proteins should be eaten in which ways for your best body? What’s a healthy fat, anyways?
Unrefined carbohydrates are grains and seeds that haven’t been overly processed.
Hulling, degerming, pulverizing, extracting, fortificiation, and extruding might make you think of some industrial material making process.
That’s because they are. Those are the steps to refine grains into your everyday breakfast cereal or “energy” (read: “sugar”) bar.
Processing cereal grains is so damaging to the natural nutrients that companies actually have to add back in (“fortify”) some of the vitamins and minerals that were lost so that people don’t get micronutrient deficiencies.
This is why “whole grains” and extra fiber belong in virtually all healthy diets. Since unrefined grains are closer to their natural state, they have more of the nutrients your body needs to burn fat, feel full, stabilize blood sugar, and promote overall energy levels.
Want to take the next step for ultimate carbohydrate health? Go beyond unrefined carbs and grab the lowest carb options with the highest nutritional payload: clean, green, inflammation-fighting veggies.
Vegetables - especially green leafy veggies like spinach, kale, cabbage, and the like - are not only “unrefined”, but they have the very highest amounts of fiber. Getting enough fiber can translate into a healthier gut, better immune function, lower inflammation, more antioxidants, and long-lasting, clean energy.
Healthy fat was the buzzword of 2018, and for good reason. Fat was unilaterally marked “bad” in the low-fat diet crazes of past decades, and when the leftover calories started coming from sugar instead of natural fats, at least one culprit in the obesity epidemic was identified.
Apparently, cutting out an essential macronutrient that can help you burn fat, stay full and energized, keep you cognitively alert, and help regulate your hormone levels could somehow also be the cure for those kind of issues.
Largely thanks to the epic-scale Mediterranean diet studies of the last ten or more years, fat is back. I’m glad we’re moving past that misunderstood period of food-political history.
But what does “good fat” mean? Can you just eat whatever you want now?
Generally speaking, if you want to keep some of the pleasures in life (Sunday morning almond croissant, anybody?) it is probably best to limit saturated fats to a reasonable level and get more of your fats from “unsaturated” sources.
Saturated vs. Unsaturated
Good thing there’s an easy way to tell if a fat is saturated or unsaturated! If it’s liquid at room temperature, it’s probably safe to eat it, maybe a lot of it. In fact, if it’s olive oil you’d have to eat a liter a week to get the same health benefits proven in studies!
All that fat will make you feel full on less food, so listen to your hunger and fullness cues. It might be tempting to eat more fillers when you try out more olive oil just because that’s a habit that might have taken a long time to form.
What the PUFA?
Besides whether a fat is saturated or unsaturated, you’ve also got to pay attention to what kinds of “unsaturated” fats there are. They come in a few more than two kinds, but omega-6 and omega-3 are the most important ones.
These so-called “essential fatty acids” are so important that sometimes they’re classified as micro-nutrients, not macro-nutrients. We’ll get to these in just a minute.
Protein comes from all kinds of sources: nuts, seeds, beans, meat and animal products like yogurt.
It hard to know whether the average person benefits more from eating more protein or from eating less protein (just another example of how your diet should be personalized to you!), but we can say that quality matters.
Protein quality is made up of how much of the protein your body can digest and how many of the individual protein building blocks (“amino acids”) that protein has.
- You get more protein from eating toasted almonds than from eating raw almonds.
- Vegetarians and vegans should pay attention to which amino acids they might not be getting enough of. Generally, mix a grain with any kind of bean to get the performance benefits of a broad spectrum of amino acids.
- Eggs, dairy, and meats have all the amino acids you need in an extremely digestible form. Theses foods are highest in the amino acids your body uses to build muscle.
Building muscle is great and all - it certainly helps you show up in the world the way you like to - but if you’ve stayed up to date with the newest research[ on collagen, you might be thinking that there are other important things to pay attention to.
If you’re feeling injury-prone or fatigued, we’ll talk more about the specific amino acids you might not be getting enough of next.
2. Eat Collagen Protein to Make Better Collagen.
The science backs up that the best way to support your body’s collagen-making machinery is by getting amino acids from a collagen supplement and other collagen sources.
The specific amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline can be made by your body, but some experts think that our bodies might not be able to make enough to keep up with the damage and renewal that our joints require.
Add to this the fact that nowadays we don’t eat nearly as much collagen-containing animal products that our ancestors did, and it makes sense to include a good supplement in your diet.
Other collagen sources include bone broth, fish scales, and bone marrow. If you’re like me though, having a good flavored product that you can get on the go might make the difference between getting enough and not getting any at all.
3. Get your omega-3 fatty acids from flax oil, fish oil, fatty fish, and nuts.
Omega-3s play a huge role in fighting inflammation but they are hard to come by in a typical diet if you’re not intentionally eating or supplementing with them regularly.
Fish is what most think of for anti-inflammatory omega-3s. Smaller fish are lower in mercury and contaminants, so taking the time to find a brand of sardines you like is well worth the effort.
Otherwise, look for wild-caught fish (which tend to be lower in continents than farm-raised[L]), and aim for a sustainably sourced form if you can for the added benefit of taking care of your oceans.
Don’t like sardines? Don’t eat meat? For vegans, omega-3’s can get complicated fast.
All natural vegan forms of omega-3s only provide half (or 2-6% ALA to EPA conversion endogenously, if you want to get technical) the benefit that animal-based omega-3’s can.
Flax oil is a stellar source of omega-3’s. Others include almonds and nuts, seeds like hemp and chia, and to some extent whole grains. These omega-3’s can still fight free-radical oxidants, but they don’t affect the deeper immune system response to the same extent.
Now, however, it’s possible to get vegan micro-algea sourced omega-3s in the form that we all need them. Look for the “EPA” and “DHA” content when your considering algal oils.
If you’re looking for other ways to knock out inflammation with omega-3s, when looking for red meat to buy, the kinds you can buy at a farmers market are hands-down the best red meats money can buy.
The omega-3 fatty acid content can be 2 times to 30 times greater in organic, grass-fed meat. So, rest at ease knowing that you’re nourishing your body and moving the planet in the right direction.
4. Get Enough Vitamins And Minerals In Your Food.
Learn more about this in our next post!
The common links for most healthy diets can be summed up with:
- More nutrient dense vegetables (greens!) and fruits (berries!).
- Wild and free-range animal products, especially fish like salmon and sardines (if you can)
- Liquid, virgin, cold-processed natural oils.
Besides adding these foods, limit the foods that will keep you from getting your beauty and energy in the shape you want them in.
Some foods sap your body’s inflammation-fighting power and leave you feeling drained yet somehow wanting more, so try to:
- Meal prep and plan for whole-foods snacks instead of processed foods with fillers and refined carbohydrates
- Eat more antioxidant-rich fruits instead of added sugar
- Go for well-cooked (not burnt) meats that are less processed
- Listen (literally, to your gut!) to how deep fried foods make your body feel and eat them as much as they make you feel great
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