The 4 Foods that Contain Collagen
Goodness, there’s a lot of confusion around this.
Everyone seems to be saying the same thing about where and how to get collagen from food. Everything from bone broth (the easy choice) to…berries? Um.
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.Mark Twain
Pause and reflect we will, Mr. Twain. And also consult with our M.D. and biochemist, Dr. Cate.
So what foods contain collagen? Let’s not make this harder than it should be.
You can only find collagen in these 4 foods:
- Bone Broth
- Organ Meats (including nose to tail bits such as cartilage, skin, joint material, and more)
- Meat on the Bone
No, you can’t get collagen from green leafy veggies (more on that soon).
Food is Medicine (thanks Hippocrates)
We tend to forget this in our pro-medicine, give me a pill society we live in today. But Hippocrates, a famous Greek physician often called the ‘Father of Medicine’, had it all figured out 2,400 years ago.
Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.
Yes, there is some controversy around whether or not Hippocrates actually said this and many have interpreted his writings to say something different, but I think you get my point.
In today’s world, we look at food in two ways:
- fuel (to get us through the next 2-4 hours before we can eat again)
- an indulgence
We have reduced food to a glob of calories solely consumed for our pleasure because it tastes good (indulgence) or to give us fuel to operate through the day (because we feel we’ll die by skipping a meal).
We already debunked the idea that fasting is bad for you (see Does Collagen Break a Fast?) , so you now know you really don’t “need” food for fuel since we have a lot stored on our bodies.
And if you don’t think it matters what we eat, I dare you to eat Doritos, Oreo’s and french fries, drink Coke, and top it off with a McDonald’s apple pie or Sour Patch Kids every day and see what happens to your health. (Actually, please don’t — just keep reading.)
So, now that we all agree that food is a huge contributor to our overall health and not just fuel (thank you for seeing my point), let’s touch on a detail before we get into the list of foods that contain collagen.
Point of Clarity: Contains Collagen vs Boosts Collagen Production
These 4 foods contain collagen.
As in, if your only mission in the next 12 hours was to eat or drink 12+ grams of collagen, then these are the foods you’d need to grab at your local grocery store or find in nature to consume that collagen.
This is NOT a listing of foods that help your body:
- Produce…collagen production
- Increase…collagen production
- Boost…collagen production
- Synthesize…collagen production
If you’re looking for those types of foods, Heathline has a great list.
There is a huge distinction and significant difference here. This is important.
The foods listed below actually contain collagen. They’re not foods that ‘may’ (and that is a strong ‘may’) help you produce/increase/boost/synthesize collagen.
So if a source (like this one) says a red pepper is a “collagen-rich food”, what they’re really saying is that a red pepper helps with the production and/or digestion of collagen because it contains lots of Vitamin C — and you need that particular vitamin to synthesize collagen.
Though these sources may mean well, they’re not saying it well or clearly. But, we’re here to clear it up with the real science and nutrition behind the foods that contain collagen protein.
1. Bone Broth
Bones are a matrix of collagen with calcium and phosphorus making up the hard middle areas.
Think of collagen as the spider web and calcium/phosphorous fill in the holes of the web — now you have an impenetrable web. That’s your bones.
So what could be better than stewing down pastured animal bones for hours (or days) to suck out all the awesome nutrients? Yes, you get lots of collagen, calcium and phosphorous from the bones, but you also get, magnesium, glucosamine, chondroitin, amino acids, glycosaminoglycans, and proteoglycans.
Hey Doctor Cate, what are glycosaminoglycans and proteoglycans?
They’re quite possibly the world’s best lubricants, which is very important in a joint–since joints are all about movement. These compounds can glide over each other, cushioned by magnetic charge clouds, and they have a very powerful ability to hold water. This property comes from their unique molecular structure: amino acids complexed with sugar molecules.Dr. Cate
I should never say what I am about to say, especially since we make our living selling multi-collagen at CB Supplements, but here it goes.
I would always recommend someone eat the whole food product over taking a supplement.
Meaning, I would much rather you (potentially a customer of CB Supplements multi-collagen) to drink 8-16oz of bone broth every day than take our supplement. However, bone broth is expensive to buy, is a labor of love to make yourself, and has a very particular taste.
Here are some great brands of bone broth:
2. Organ Meats
Who doesn’t love heart, kidney, eyeballs, and tripe?
(For you organ meats newbies, tripe is the first or second stomach of a cow or other ruminant used as food. It’s LOADED with collagen!)
These foods have fallen out of favor in America over the past hundred years or so, but did you know they were staples of our ancestors’ diet for hundreds of thousands of years of evolution? Do you think when we were hunter-gatherers and made a kill, we’d utter these words:
Hey Frank, all I want is the muscle meat — throw away the rest.
No, we ate everything.
Organ meats contain the highest amount of fat, which is good for you (that is another topic for a later date) and remember what organs are made of? Yup, collagen. Organ meats typically have 1.5-3x the amount of collagen than muscle meat.
Heart also contains twice as much collagen and elastin than regular meat (which means it is rich in the amino acids glycine and proline), which are essential for connective tissue health, joint health and digestive health.Sarah Ballantyne, PhD (The Paleo Mom)
But don’t ask me how to cook a cow heart, Google it. If you are looking for the cheaters manual to eating organ meats (we are guilty too) then look to the wonderful oceans of Earth. Eat scallops, crab, shrimp, oysters and clams. That’s like eating an entire living thing, so you are kind of eating organ meats.
And for those of you who cant have shellfish, sorry. 🙂
2.1. Nose Cartilage, Ear Cartilage, Skin, Bone, Joint Material, Esophagus, Lung, entire length of Intestine…
So yeah, I’d be lying if I said I ate this stuff everyday.
But, you can actually get lots of awesome nutrients from simply eating the skin of the chicken or fish for example. And many people are eating joint material, cartilage, and connective tissue without even knowing while eating meat on the bone (more on that in #3 below).
My recommendation for eating this kind of stuff is to:
- buy it pill form (try Ancestral Supplements)
- ask your grandmother to cook it for you
- go to the local butcher and buy beef tallow or lard and fry the hell out of that ear, esophagus, or lung (It might taste like a tater tot?)
Speaking of tater tots. That makes me think of chips.
Most chips are terrible and have nothing to do with collagen, but guess what does? And is the closest thing to a chip we have in the health community.
You read that right. I crush pork rinds, they are one of God’s gifts to us mortals. What are pork rinds? Skin. I forget, does skin contain collagen? YES. Just make sure to buy pork rinds that are cooked in their own fat and not horrible vegetable oils.
Check out these brands for the real thing:
And please, do not buy pork rinds from the random gas station — those are cooked in soybean oil and will make you spontaneously combust.
3. Meat on the Bone
This includes all fish, chicken legs, bone-in ribeyes, lamb shanks, pork ribs, and dinosaurs. 🦖
So if you cook fish with the skin, bones and everything intact, what do you think will make it on your fork when you take a bite? Good guess, collagen. This is the same for chicken, beef — any animal really.
Whoever thought of the idea that we need to cut the bones off of ribeyes and eat boneless/skinless chicken breasts should be put in jail. Ok, maybe not jail, but like why in the world would you cut off and throw away the most nutritious part of the animal?
Do, um, chicken wings count? (asking for a friend)
In America, we love wings and have eating competitions for wings. Don’t roll your eyes at me. I know you have tried to eat 50 or 100 wings in one sitting, don’t lie. I ate 74 once.
Unfortunately, most chicken wings served in restaurants are cooked in soybean oil or some other vegetable/seed oil. If you buy chicken wings and grill them yourself, you rock. If you fry them in lard or tallow, we bow to you.
Anyway, back to eating.
When you take a huge bite of wing, guess what you’re going to get along with delicious collagen filled chicken meat? You’re going to be eating many joints in the wing, so you get cartilage, joint material (tendons/ligaments), and skin. So yes, chicken wings (not fried in toxic vegetable oil) are considered meat on the bone and contain collagen!
Side note, ‘meat on the bone’ is 1 of the 4 pillars of Dr. Cate Shanahan’s “Human Diet” which is detailed in her book Deep Nutrition.
Outside of sardines, eggs might be the healthiest and most complete food on the planet.
Remember my comment about shellfish and that you’re kind of eating an entire animal so it technically counts as eating organ meat? Well an egg turns into a living bird in like 21 days. That little brown/white ball filled with white matter and a yellow yolk develops a heart, a beak, feet, eyeballs, in 21 days. That is incredible! No wonder snakes eat eggs whole — talk about the ultimate nutritional powerhouse of a food.
Don’t even get me started on the documentary What the Health and its crazy claims about eggs. (Yes we link to opposing views and don’t shy away from them.)
Do Eggs Contain Collagen?
Eggs do contain collagen, but probably not in the way you’re initially thinking.
Eggs contain collagen in the shell membrane, which is the layer between the egg white and the eggshell. And to be precise, there are two membranes.
Lying between the eggshell and egg white, these two transparent protein membranes provide efficient defense against bacterial invasion. If you give these layers a tug, you’ll find they’re surprisingly strong.Exploratorium
What about the yolk?
There are very few studies (such as this one) that show collagen existing within the yolk of a chicken egg. And that’s not a good thing for our little yolk friend. Sorry, buddy. Our advice would be to not consider the yolk as a collagen-rich food source, there’s just not enough evidence to prove otherwise. But, still, eat it — the yolk contains a lot of good stuff such as the bulk of an egg’s iron, folate, and vitamins!
What about the egg white?
If you buy egg whites or order your breakfast omelet with egg whites, we have more “bad” news. I mean, it’s bad for collagen — but not for your health. Egg whites, unfortunately (like the yolk) do not contain collagen. There may be small traces leftover from the membrane, but just like its pal the yolk — it’s not the collagen-rich part of the egg.
OK, so it’s all about the eggshell membrane. But…
What if I discard the membrane while making my morning eggs?
If you’re like most, you’ve been discarding the membrane (which is that clear film lining) through the simple act of cracking the egg and using the yolk and/or egg whites in your morning eggs, baking dish, etc. This is pretty common, but you’re also sabotaging an amazing collagen opportunity. When you trash those what looks to be empty shells, most of that amazing collagen is being trashed too (insert sad face here).
Are you maybe getting a little of the membrane with the simple and traditional act of cracking and dumping? Possibly. We’re no egg scientist, but we’d estimate you’re obtaining no more than 20%. Again, just a wild guess on our part. We’ll leave the science to scientists — just trying to prove a point. 🙂
If all this membrane talk has you wanting to take action, don’t miss this 90-second video on how to harvest eggshell membrane!
Eggs & Collagen Takeaways
- Eat the whole egg — it’s one of the healthiest foods you can put in your body.
- If you’re seeking to get your collagen intake from food, egg shell membrane is really the only evidence-based way to get collagen (including Type I, Type V, and Type X) from eggs.
- If you don’t want to harvest your own membranes (we don’t blame you), supplement with a multi collagen protein (like ours!) Our premium grade supplement contains collagen from egg shell membrane.
So, throw away the breakfast cereal, bagel, muffin, oatmeal, and/or 8oz glass of OJ and fry up 6 eggs in butter (or leftover bacon grease, yum). That is the real breakfast of champs. Sorry Wheaties. Actually, no, we’re not sorry. Deal with it.
Honorable Mention: Multi Collagen Protein Powder
Yes, our product is food. Though it didn’t officially make the list, it needs to be noted.
I wish our unflavored multi collagen powder (and chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry lemonade) wasn’t considered a supplement, but alas the FDA forces us to be a supplement. And that’s fine, I guess our product is a ‘manufactured’ version of food compared to dry-aged ribeye.
Our product is made the same exact way bone broth is made — hot water, bones, and time. But, then our product is dehydrated and made into a powder (which means we are a supplement and not technically food).
However, collagen is food and our supplement is nothing but collagen made from the highest quality sources we can find. No fillers, no additives, nothing fake. Just real collagen from real animals with real collagen benefits!
See our collagen recipes for creative ways to use this food/supplement, with other food. 🙂
Foods that DO NOT contain collagen (hint: some are green & found in the produce section)
Just as it’s important to have an accurate list of foods that DO contain collagen, the same is true for foods that DON’T contain collagen.
Contrary to many sources you’ve maybe read, collagen does not (and can not) come from:
However, we do live in a super high-tech world and manipulate everything so it is worth noting that scientists do have the ability to ‘rearrange’ the amino acid profile of hemp, pea, and soy protein for example to be the same profile and sequence as animal collagen.
Genetically modified soy collagen anyone?
But back to fruit, veggies, and not animal food. They might have vitamins and minerals that are associated with our body’s manufacturing process of creating collagen, but that’s it. Plants don’t have collagen and there is no such thing as a vegan collagen. Any article that says eat berries or citrus fruit or cashews is taking a huge leap by saying they’re foods with collagen in them.
Final thought: Eat whole unprocessed foods first, supplement second
Remember what I said about bone broth? If I lost you earlier when I suggested eating kidneys and eyeballs, then here’s that statement again:
I would much rather someone drink bone broth every day than take our supplement.Charlie
Whole unprocessed foods will always dominate and be superior to manufactured supplements. They are better. Period. So, if you’re walking around asking yourself:
What foods contain collagen?
The answer is simple: Bone Broth, Organ Meats, Meat on the Bone, & Eggs. Start with food.
BUT, if you don’t want to be a strict bone-on-meat carnivore, eat cow hearts, poach eggs, or drink broth every day — that’s exactly why we have an awesome multi collagen supplement. Here’s how you can take collagen powder (you’ll find more than a dozen different ways), and yes, nearly everyone can take collagen.
Feel good about taking it, your body deserves it and you will thank us when you’re well into your ‘senior’ years still playing with grandkids and beating your kids at sports.
You’re welcome, Mom & Dad.