Collagen is the hottest topic in the health sphere right now—for good reason. Collagen is more than just a pretty face (and skin), it can also help support your joint health and just about every area you want assistance with:
Better yet, it comes in different flavors and since it mixes easily, you can add it to just about anything. Naturally, this means there are a lot of products for you to choose from and the potential for a lot of confusion — or worse, just grabbing the first one you see.
This article will help you keep on top of collagen’s future and give you the keys to help you find the perfect collagen for your needs.
How would you like your collagen? Bars vs Powders vs Liquids
Collagen is so popular it’s been added and made into everything you could possibly imagine. Noodles, powders, protein bars, gelatinous liquids, candy… Of course, there are also skincare products, but we’re only comparing the edible versions.
The 3 most common forms you’ll see are powders, bars, and liquids (for the sake of this article, capsules are being left out).
Despite arguably being the most convenient, liquids are the least popular of the 3. The advantage to ready-to-drink liquid collagen supplements is they’re portable and provide a quick, highly bioavailable way to get collagen. However, the taste isn’t always desirable and neither is the slight, gel-like texture. Plus, it’s by far the most expensive option at several dollars per serving.
The benefit of collagen bars over liquids is they’re something you can sink your teeth into, but caveat emptor (latin for “let the buyer beware”). Collagen bars often include whey protein AND collagen (also protein). So simply looking at the Nutrition Facts panel will not give you the full details. For example, collagen accounts for ~57% of the protein in one company’s bar.
Though there are only a few companies selling these right now, Instagram and Pinterest are full of recipes that use collagen powder.
Powder is the most versatile. Since higher quality collagen peptides don’t have much of a taste, dozens of flavors are available (as well as a flavorless option). It mixes easily into hot and cold, and collagen peptides are more heat stable than whey protein. That’s partly why recipes exist all over social media.
An easy trick to find a good source of collagen is to smell it. The best collagen products are odorless. If you’ve got a cranberry cherry, chocolate, or vanilla flavored collagen, how it smells is still a factor. If you catch a whiff of something that doesn’t smell like chocolate, for instance, it’s best to return it.
Whether tasteless or full of flavor, a high quality collagen powder can easily be transformed beyond a glass of water or milk.
Get your oven ready: Tips for cooking and baking with collagen
First, there are a few definitions that need to be made.
You don’t always have to drink your collagen. You now have the perfect excuse to dig up some healthy desserts, soups, and whatever else you can imagine. And you can easily kick their benefits up a notch.
But, the type of collagen you have is integral to what you’re making. Choose the wrong one and you risk healthy marshmallow fluff instead of cute little puffs. This is what you need to know before you start gathering your mixing bowls.
Collagen: The building blocks of skin, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and bones.
Gelatin: Cooked collagen. This is what causes bone broth to gel when cooled.
Hydrolyzed collagen / Collagen hydrolysate / Collagen peptides: They are all the same thing, though you might see all of them on different labels—probably not at the same time though. You can add collagen peptides to cold recipes without it solidifying.
Hydrolyzed collagen is gelatin that has been further processed to allow your body to absorb it easier. This process of hydrolyzing collagen turns it into peptides (smaller, more digestible pieces of collagen), hence the different names. Hydrolyzed collagen vs collagen peptides is like referring to ice as frozen water.
When you are making recipes with collagen, it is vital you understand the difference between gelatin and collagen peptides. One will help everything stick together as a gel, the other won’t. Here’s an easy way to remember: Gel = gelatin and hydrolyzed = water.
Gelatin is perfect if you’re trying to make marshmallows, a gelled dessert (including mousse), gummies, or whatever else your imagination can dream up. It can also be used as a thickener. As with any thickener, mix it with hot water and allow it to cool before adding.
If you’re baking brownies, cookies, bars, lemon squares, or making a shake, opt for collagen peptides.
Collagen comes from three different protein sources. In some cases, a collagen supplement might have more than one animal source. They all work more or less the same, but here’s some information that can help you decide if you’d like one over another.
What’ll it be: Chicken, Beef, Pork…or Fish?
Different protein sources provide different types of collagen:
- Marine (fish) = Type I
- Chicken = Type II
- Bovine (beef) = Type I and III
- Porcine (pork) = Type I and III
Collagen from beef, chicken, and pork come from their connective tissues and bones. Chicken feet have the highest concentration. *TIP* If your bone broth isn’t gelling in the fridge, add a few chicken feet to the next batch. This will add additional collagen to help your broth solidify.
The newest trend right now is marine sources of collagen. While this form of collagen is pescetarian-friendly and seemingly eco-friendly, it’s important not to blindly buy marine collagen supplements.
Marine collagen sources range from sea sponges to the nasal cartilage of salmon. Jellyfish, cod, haddock, and tilapia have also found a home on the list.
Beware of farmed fish. Tilapia, for instance, are typically grown in giant tanks with very little room to swim, eat, or excrete waste. They’re fed corn-based or soy-based feed that’s “nutritionally complete”, but certainly not anywhere along the lines of the varied diet fish would eat in the wild.
Your best bet is to find a marine collagen supplement that uses eco-friendly (sustainably-fished) and wild caught fish.
The highest quality collagen sources
You want the highest quality collagen possible, regardless of the source. Quality beef and chicken sources require much less scrutiny because you don’t need to verify the species, GMO status, sustainability, or how it was caught/raised.
For beef sources, grass-fed and pasture-raised are the terms you’re looking for. Chicken should be free-range.
Pork made the list (above) because it’s commonly used in collagen supplements. But it should be avoided as it’s difficult to find a high quality source without some serious research on your part. Pigs can be pasture-raised, but it’s extremely expensive and beef and chicken are easier to come by anyway.
What about plant-based collagen?
As you’re well-aware, collagen comes from the connective tissue in animals as well as their skin and scales. This leaves vegetarians out in the cold. Plant-based collagen does not exist in nature.
Vegetarians and vegans can get around this by helping their bodies produce collagen. If you want plant-based “collagen”, focus on ingesting collagen’s building blocks: glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, lysine, vitamin C, manganese, zinc, copper, and vitamin A.
The best sources of collagen-boosting ingredients, unsurprisingly, are the best sources of nearly everything else in the plant kingdom: legumes and dark, leafy greens.
Is collagen here to stay?
Collagen is more than a here-today, gone-tomorrow trend. Unlike the superfoods of yesteryear and TV-featured supplements that didn’t have scientific backing, collagen has a well-defined purpose and presence in the body.
It has studies that show its efficacy and there are many ways to enjoy it—whether you’re putting it into a shake, drinking it, baking brownies, or thickening your favorite sauce.
The trick to getting the most out of your collagen supplement is to make sure you incorporate it into a healthy diet and exercise regimen. As good as collagen is, it can’t fix what you’re still breaking. For example, be sure to moisturize properly, don’t smoke, and get appropriate sun exposure (UV rays can damage collagen).