Once considered a “beauty buzzword,” collagen has come a long way from being an ingredient added to costly creams that promise youthful looking skin. Instead, collagen has taken the health industry by storm, and is even referred to as the world’s next superfood.
As the most abundant protein found in animals and the human body, collagen offers much more than a “natural alternative” to Botox (as stated by some celebrities) (1).
When taken as a nutritional supplement, collagen protein has also been shown to relieve digestive issues, build lean muscle mass, boost the immune system and relieve joint pain (2). And yes: taking collagen protein has also been shown to significantly improve skin elasticity (3).
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is a protein that provides the framework for our bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. It’s also found in the skin, gums, cartilage and gut. Having a body without collagen would be like building a house without nails. In other words, we’d just be a pile of skin and bones if it weren’t for collagen holding our musculoskeletal system together.
As a protein, collagen is a rich source of several essential amino acids. Amino acids are needed by our bodies for nearly every biological function, including digestion and absorption of nutrients, building muscle, transporting oxygen, and producing neurotransmitters (4). These amino acids are called essential because our bodies cannot produce them. Instead, we must obtain them from dietary sources (5).
The amino acid profile of collagen is why it’s so beneficial when taken as a nutritional supplement. By providing your body with several of the amino acids it requires to function optimally, you’ll be supporting your health on a foundational level. And as a result of consistently receiving several essential nutrients from your diet, you’ll feel a positive difference in your health and be able to perform at your best.
Collagen Protein vs. Collagen Peptides
When it comes to taking collagen as a nutritional supplement, there are two different forms of collagen you can take: collagen peptides and collagen protein.
While both varieties of collagen offer similar amino acid profiles and health benefits, there are subtle differences between the two—mostly in terms of digestibility and how to add it to your diet.
Collagen protein is also called gelatin. Collagen protein is made by cooking, and then drying, collagen before processing it into a powder.
The main factor that sets collagen protein apart from collagen peptides is that it gels when mixed with a cold liquid. For this reason, collagen protein is an ingredient for replacing glutenous thickeners in soups, broths and gravies. Based on the gel-like consistency of collagen protein, it can also be used to add extra protein to omelets and Paleo desserts such as mousses and coconut milk ice cream.
Collagen protein also takes longer to digest than collagen peptides. For this reason, collagen protein has been studied for its therapeutic use in specialty diets (such as the GAPS diet), which aim to reduce intestinal inflammation and heal leaky gut (6).
Collagen peptides are processed differently than collagen protein, or gelatin. Instead of just being cooked, dried, and ground into a powder, the amino acids in collagen peptides also get broken down during processing and are said to help enhance digestibility.
Collagen peptides have a different consistency than collagen protein. Since the amino acids are broken down during processing, collagen peptides do not gel when mixed with liquids. Therefore, they blend well with beverages, hot and cold alike. Collagen peptides can be added to your favorite juice or smoothie recipes and make a mean Paleo protein pancake batter. You can even add collagen peptides to your hot, frothy butter coffee.
Both collagen peptides and collagen protein contain very similar amino acid profiles, so you don’t have to worry about receiving fewer nutrients by choosing one variety over the other. Instead, the type of collagen you use will depend more on your current state of health (i.e., a compromised digestive system) and the preferences in temperature and texture of your recipes.
6 Health Benefits of Collagen
Now that you understand the difference between collagen protein and collagen peptides, let’s take a look at the other ways collagen can help improve your health.
1. Curbs Cravings
If you suffer from sweet cravings, it’s not your fault. Whether they’re mild, intense, frequent or rare, cravings for sugary foods are often the result of blood sugar fluctuations.
You see, protein is the macronutrient our bodies require to keep blood sugar levels stabilized (7). So, when we don’t receive an adequate supply of high quality protein in our diets, our blood sugar levels are at a greater risk of becoming imbalanced.
Blood sugar is directly related to your energy levels. Therefore, when blood sugar levels spike and crash—which is often due to eating excess sugar, going long periods of time without eating, mental stress and a lack of protein—our bodies will crave fast digesting carbs to get our blood sugar and energy levels back up.
As you can see, balancing blood sugar levels can be extremely helpful when it comes to kicking sugar cravings (not to mention preventing future blood sugar conditions down the road, such as type 2 diabetes). The best way to balance your blood sugar levels is by adding more protein to your diet—and collagen is an ideal way to do so.
2. Easy Way to Increase Protein Intake
Could there be an easier and more delicious way to increase your protein than by eating Paleo pancakes or chocolate mousse? Didn’t think so.
Making your favorite Paleo recipes with the addition of collagen is not only an easy way to improve the texture of your recipes, but also a convenient way to increase the nutritional value with minimal effort.
3. Healthy Alternative to Meat
Organic, grass-fed meat is the preferred type of protein on a Paleo diet because it has a higher omega-3 content and isn’t raised with growth hormones and antibiotics. But in some cases, grass-fed meat isn’t always affordable or easily accessible.
Unfortunately, factory-farmed meat isn’t an ideal alternative. Factory-farmed animals are typically raised with growth hormones such as rBGH and fed a diet high in corn and grains. Additionally, animals that are fed a corn and grain diet are low in omega-3’s and high in omega-6’s (8). Omega-6’s are a pro-inflammatory fatty acid, which can cause inflammation in the body when consumed in excess (9).
Therefore, a high quality collagen protein that’s been sourced from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals can provide a safe, healthy and low-cost alternative to meat when grass-fed meat isn’t available.
4. Improves Digestion
As mentioned above, collagen may be helpful for relieving the intestinal inflammation associated with food sensitivities and digestive disorders, such as leaky gut (10). For this reason, collagen peptides are recommended for those who follow anti-inflammatory diets, such as the GAPS diet.
5. Reduces Inflammation in Joints
Collagen peptides have also been shown to reduce inflammation in other areas of the body, such as the joints. Collagen has even been used therapeutically in patients with osteoarthritis and has been shown to help relieve joint pain in athletes (11).
6. Hydrates Skin
One study showed that taking collagen peptides for 8 weeks resulted in a significant improvement in skin hydration and skin collagen production. This suggests that taking collagen peptides can promote visible improvements in the skin’s appearance with only a few weeks of supplementation (12).
How to Find a Quality Collagen Supplement
As suggested above, the quality of the collagen you choose is extremely important. In fact, collagen should be chosen the exact same way you’d choose meat.
Since most collagen is sourced from cattle, a quality collagen supplement will be sourced from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows that haven’t been raised with growth hormones (such as rBGH).
If you’re looking for top-notch collagen, Vital Proteins formulates their collagen peptides and gelatin from grass-fed cows in Brazil, where it is against the law to inject cows with growth hormones.
A quality collagen supplement should be Non-GMO and free of common allergens such as soy, corn and gluten. It’s important to avoid collagen supplements that contain added sugar, sweeteners, binders, fillers and artificial colors and flavors.
Lastly, your collagen supplement should be packed in an air-tight container to help prevent moisture from entering. Collagen absorbs moisture very easily, which allows bacteria to break it down and degrade it. The container your collagen is packed in should always be BPA-free. BPA, or bisphenol-A, is a known endocrine disruptor that is commonly found in plastic containers (13).
Personally, we recommend Vital Proteins Collagen because it meets all of the above quality requirements, and then some. For example, Vital Proteins offers their consumers peace of mind when it comes to quality by posting their proof of recent analytical testing and certificates of analysis on their website.
How to Cook, Bake and Drink Collagen
As mentioned above, collagen can be added to all of your favorite recipes from Paleo gravy to decadent desserts. Since collagen’s nutritional value doesn’t change when it’s exposed to high temperatures, it’s safe to cook and bake with and may be added to a variety of beverages.
The best form of collagen to cook with is collagen protein because it gels when mixed with liquid. This makes collagen protein an ideal healthy thickener that can be used in all kinds of recipes.
Cooking with collagen protein (gelatin) is easy. All you have to do is mix the collagen protein with a hot liquid until it begins to dissolve and turn into a gel. Once it’s completely dissolved, allow it to cool for approximately 5-10 minutes. Then it’s ready to add to your favorite recipes.
The gel-like texture of collagen protein can be used in almost any gravy, soup and bone broth recipe, as well as snack recipes such as Paleo gummy bears, jello, puddings or marshmallows.
Gelatin can be used as an egg replacement in recipes by mixing 3 tablespoons of hot water with 1 tablespoon of gelatin (which replaces 1-2 eggs).
Collagen peptides are also safe to cook and bake with. Since they don’t gel when combined with a liquid, they can be easily mixed into any recipe, such as grain-free brownies and Paleo protein bars, without dramatically changing the texture.
Collagen peptides blend well and add a creamy texture to any juice, smoothie or protein shake recipe. Due to their complete amino acid profile, collagen peptides can also be used as an alternative to protein powder.
Needless to say, adding collagen protein and peptides to your diet makes it easy to provide your body with the extra boost of nutrition it’s looking for to help ensure a full and vibrant life.
(Read This Next: Chlorella: What it is & Health Benefits)
This post is sponsored by our friends at Vital Proteins. Our goal is to always bring you healthy, Paleo-friendly articles that we know you’ll love. We only feature trusted brands approved by the PaleoHacks team.