It's been a while since we've had a good ol' superfood craze, hasn't it?
Sure, there's been buzz about lifestyle adjustments like plant-based diets and intermittent fasting, but it has been too long since we've had a craze of the chia seed, kale or turmeric variety; an ingredient every inner city cafe must figure out how to somehow insert into a muffin, bonus points if it's gluten-free.
Is collagen the new superfood?
So it was with interest that I read health food company Locako has released Australia's first collagen snack bar.
The nut butter-based bars contain 11 per cent grass-fed collagen ("grass-fed" refers to the cows the collagen is sourced from: trendy collagen may be, but vegetarian-friendly it ain't).
Collagen is a protein naturally produced by mammals, found mainly in connective tissue. Hydrolised collagen (collagen that has reacted with water) has been used in cosmetics for a while, and collagen supplements are also on the market, touting benefits including increasing skin plumpness, as well as improving joint and gut health.
"We're used to hearing about people putting collagen in their lips, but putting it past your lips is actually a healthier and more natural way to make the most of its anti-aging benefits," says Locako owner Ally Mellor.
But, of course, the question remains: even if collagen the provides these benefits when naturally produced by the body, is there any use eating it?
Simone Austin, an accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, is wary of the claims made about consuming collagen, saying there is a lack of comprehensive research on its effectiveness.
"As collagen is a protein, it is broken down and digested into individual amino acids," she explains. "It may then stimulate collagen production and healing, particularly if consumed with vitamin C – according to some research. But we need more research."
In 2016, a small study by Australian and US researchers published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplements could increase collagen production.
"If collagen in a bar works the same as gelatin it is unknown and it is all preliminary research," Austin says.
Moreover, Austin says that the broader claims made about collagen improving gut health also requires further investigation.
"In theory, as collagen is involved in repair of joints, it may assist in repair of the gut – but we need more research in this area."
As for the suggestion that collagen will make you pretty (sure, maybe I've paraphrased there) a spokesperson from the Australasian College of Dermatologists tells Fairfax Media consumers should be wary of consumable collagen products, saying there is no concrete evidence eating collagen can improve skin's plumpness.
"Such products have existed for a time in Asia with no definite long-term scientific benefit shown."
The spokesperson warns there could even be health risks in consuming collagen.
"Any protein-containing product may draw out sensitivities or allergies in those who ingest them and any included active ingredients may also have unexpected effects."
If you do want to boost your collagen production, Austin says boosting your intake of amino acids and eating a diet with adequate protein – i.e. eating a diet which contains foods such as meat, fish, dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes, lentils and tofu – was a good start. Ensuring you are eating enough Vitamin A (found in carrots) and Vitamin C (found in citrus fruits) should also assist.
"Anthocyanins, a group of plant compounds which give berries and other fruit and vegetables their red, purple or blue pigment are also important in collagen repair and synthesis," she says.
"The bottom line is to eat a varied, healthy diet, as this will provide enough nutrients to naturally boost collagen production – plus give us a myriad of other health benefits."
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