COLLAGEN: HEALTH OR HYPE?

COLLAGEN: HEALTH OR HYPE?

One of the biggest emerging trends in the social media world of health is collagen peptides, yet most of us don’t really know what collagen is. After recently posting a smoothie with collagen peptides, I thought it would be a good idea to break down the claims and help you better understand this craze. 

WHAT IS COLLAGEN?

In simple terms, collagen is a protein. It is built of chains of amino acids and is a major structural component of connective tissues in our bodies (think skin, muscles, tendons, etc.). Collagen peptides are components of broken down collagen molecules, which, in theory, makes the collagen more bioavailable and easier for our bodies to digest.  

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF COLLAGEN?

There are two types of collagen sources on the market: bovine collagen (from cows) and marine collagen (from fish). Marine collagen tends to be slightly more bioavailable (aka easier to absorb nutrients from) due to its smaller particle size. It is also more eco-friendly than bovine collagen. On the other hand, bovine collagen is more widespread and affordable due to large cattle industry

HOW DO WE ABSORB COLLAGEN?

Because we cannot absorb longer chained molecules like collagen or collagen peptides, our body breaks them down into amino acids that we can absorb. Once absorbed, we use the amino acids as building blocks to synthesize protein throughout the body, including collagen. However, from a dietary perspective, the body does not care if you ingested collagen or any other protein source— all protein sources are indistinguishable by the time we absorb them. The body does not treat amino acids from collagen differently from any other protein source.

WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SHOW?

There is some emerging research that shows that collagen peptides may be beneficial for our skin elasticity and hydration. A 2013 study found a significant reduction in wrinkles after 4 and 8 weeks of supplementation. Additionally, in 2015 a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology that found supplementation reduced typical effects of aging skin.  While these findings are exciting, there are not enough high-quality scientific studies supporting the often-stated health benefits of consuming collagen peptides.  

WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE?

In general, I believe that protein supplements, including any form of protein powder or collagen, are not usually necessary. I prefer to consume real, whole foods in their natural form. When you ingest high-protein plant-based foods you receive additional benefits from the other nutrients that naturally occur in these foods (think vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc.). These nutrients are not necessarily present in protein supplements (and, if they are present, are generally not naturally occurring).  

If someone has specific protein goals and needs extra protein, collagen peptides might fit into his or her diet. Additionally, if someone is looking to supplement with protein, there may be additional benefits from choosing a collagen peptide supplement rather than another form. 

HERE’S WHERE I STAND ON THIS: 

Sometimes (maybe 3 times a month) I am having a meal that I think could benefit from additional protein (whether it be a smoothie or my morning oatmeal). When I do choose a protein powder, I am a fan of collagen. Most collagen powders are clean (meaning they don’t contain other additives or artificial sweeteners) and there is research that they may help my skin. 

But, for most of us, eating a well-balanced diet including whole food, plant-based protein will be better than any supplement. 

If you are looking to maintain your skin’s appearance, stick to what we know: don’t smoke, wear sunblock, eat your antioxidants and drink water.

Vitamin C is needed for Collagen Production

So if you are looking to eat for better skin, try upping your citrus intake :)

The Celery Craze

Before writing this post I did a quick Google search on celery juice to see just what I am up against.

Honestly, the results are a little laughable. My personal favorites are the articles/youtube videos with titles like “I drank celery juice for a week straight and this is what happened”. My slightly cynical self cannot imagine that anything newsworthy occurred, but hey, who knows!

Although some articles are comical, there are also sources who say that celery juice will do things such as “fight inflammation”, “starve pathogens”, “cure your acne forever” and even “regulate your thyroid hormone” to just name a few. Most people will tell you that drinking celery juice in the AM will best benefit your health vs. drinking it later in the day.

So, it is natural to ask. Is this true?

Is celery juice my one-stop-shop to health and wellness?

If you’ve read any of this website, you are probably familiar with the idea that I’m quick to question health trends and firmly believe that there is no one food so powerful that we all need to consume it whether we enjoy it or not. Food patterns and food behaviors (the way we are eating) are more what I like to focus on.

Celery juice, friends, is no different.

Celery itself is a wonderfully healthy food. As far as I (and pretty much every health professional) is concerned, just about every vegetable is going to have health benefits. Celery specifically has some beneficial fiber and antioxidants, and is also a good source of vitamin K, vitamin A, potassium and folate.

Celery has gotten notoriety in the media for years being reported as a “negative-calorie food”. The truth is, celery is a very very low calorie food (1 medium stalk has about 6 calories), but negative-calorie insinuates that it takes more energy for your body to burn celery than there are in the actual food, which is likely not true. Nonetheless, there is absolutely no reason to worry about calories in celery. Be my guest and eat as much as you would like.

Why I’m not sold on the juicing

As I just discussed, celery on it’s own is a wonderfully healthy food. However, when fruits/vegetables are processed into juice, all of the beneficial fiber is stripped away. What you are left with is a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals (which can be great), but fiber is so great for us in so many ways, that the thought of throwing it out seems silly to me.

A green juice once and a while is fine, but I prefer to eat my foods. This way you get all of the wonderful fiber AND research suggest that we actual get more satisfied from eating vs. drinking our foods (check out this study if you want to find out more on this). It makes sense if you think about it— you are much more full after eating and chewing an apple than you are after 1/2 a cup of apple juice.

So, where are all these claims coming from?

With any dietary change, it is important to think about not just what food you are now eating, but also what food it is replacing. Let me give you my Grandma as an example. For years, she went around claiming that Cheerio’s were a magic food that lowered her cholesterol. Her logic was simple: she started having Cheerio’s for breakfast and poof! Her cholesterol subsequently dropped.

What is missing from this story? If you knew my Grandma, you would know that before she turned to Cheerio’s, her typical breakfast was some form of dessert item, high in sugar and not so great fats (both of which can cause cholesterol problems). So, when she started eating Cheerio’s and stopped eating cookies and cake for breakfast, of course her cholesterol lowered!

See where I am going with this? Celery juice is the new Cheerio’s. You can read blogs about people claiming they feel lightyears better by adding celery juice to their morning routine. To all of those people I wonder, is the celery juice replacing a light n sweet Dunkin Donuts iced coffee or a Starbucks frappuchino?

This is not to say that there aren’t people who are already practicing a healthy diet and have incorporated the juice and felt better. Adding vegetables to your day, no matter the form, will benefit you!

Are these claims backed by research?

Right now, the answer is no. The gold standard of nutrition research is randomized control trials done on humans. As of now, there are none of these that have looked at celery juice. However, nutrition is a relatively young science, and given all the hype, I anticipate there will be some future studies examining this.

For now, these claims are all anecdotal, meaning they are based upon personal stories. As I said, we are just beginning to really understand nutrition, so I do not think we have to throw out every idea because it has not been fully backed by science (in the field we call this evidenced-based research). Evidence-based research takes a lot of time and money to develop, so sometimes the research is behind the trends.

We do know that food is and can be used as medicine. We know that turmeric can fight inflammation and that cinnamon can lower blood sugar. There is good, solid evidence on both! There is a chance that future research will show celery juice to have its own place in medicine, but for now, we just can’t say that to be true.

I practice a lot of self-experimentation. What we do know is that we are all VERY individual: what works for one person does not necessarily work for another. If there is a new idea with a lot of hype and it is nutritionally sound, then I am game to try it! The danger is that a lot of trends (looking at you cabbage soup diet) can be extreme—so if you have any questions, please talk to a health professional before starting something.

So, Should I have the celery juice or no?

As always, I am sure you are reading this looking for a simple answer. Here’s where I stand: If you enjoy celery juice and find that incorporating it into your morning makes you feel better, than be my guest! There are no dangers to drinking a glass of celery juice in the morning, and if you find this works for you, then I am all for it. After all, we eat better to feel and ultimately live better, so if celery is getting you there, then that’s great!

Personally, I am going to stick to celery stalks (probably topped with nut butter or hummus) or use it as a nice base for my curry chicken salad (below). If I wake up one morning and am craving a green juice, celery will probably be a component. But until then, I’m good with the whole food :)

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