Consider this for a moment. Collagen is defined as the major insoluble fibrous protein naturally produced in the bodies of animals, especially vertebrates (e.g., humans). The keyword here: "animals”. Now, given that veganism is all about steering clear of animal and animal byproduct consumption, the term "vegan collagen" would seem to be an oxymoron – or just downright impossible. And yet, a quick Google search turns up thousands of "plant-based collagen" supplements. So what's up with that? Let’s explore.
What is “vegan collagen” made of?
Sorry to burst your bubble, but there’s no natural vegan source of collagen. All naturally-derived collagen is 100% animal-based. So this begs the question, “What’s inside vegan collagen, then?” Well, let’s start with what their formula doesn’t contain for sure: a direct source of collagen. What they do have, however, is simply a blend of ingredients that help promote your body’s natural collagen production – including amino acids,vitamin C,zinc, andhyaluronic acid. Ultimately, you can think about it this way. “Vegan collagen” supplements merely give your body the raw ingredients (i.e., necessary building blocks) it needs to produce collagen instead of actual collagen per se.
Knowing this … honestly, it is pretty hard to justify shelling out money for “vegan collagen”; you can easily find these ‘collagen-boosting’ ingredients readily available in the foods you eat, after all. For example, foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, broccoli, and strawberries, while foods rich in zinc include pumpkin seeds, lentils, and sunflower seeds. As for amino acids? Get them through plant-based protein sources, like quinoa, tofu, and even peanut butter.
“Vegan collagen” vs. animal-derived collagen: which is better?
“Vegan collagen” supplements do not contain any actual collagen. That means its efficacy ultimately hinges upon your body's ability to take the collagen-stimulating ingredients, like vitamin C and produce collagen with them. And that, in turn, depends on factors like individual metabolism and age. Many real collagen products available in the market already feature a blend of collagen-boosting ingredients such as vitamin C and hyaluronic acid, in addition to a direct dose of collagen. Considering all these factors and that you’re not strictly vegan, then an animal derived collagen supplement is the best and currently the only option to achieve the amazing benefits collagen.
Truly ‘vegan collagen’ is in the works
Unimpressed with “vegan collagen”? Then you’d be glad to know that truly vegan collagen is currently in the works. Researchers have now developed techniques to use genetically engineered micro-organisms – such as bacteria and yeast – tomake recombinant human collagen (i.e., true vegan collagen).
Here’s how the process works: scientists add 4 human genes that code for collagen to the genetic structure of either yeast or bacteria. This enables the microbes to start producing building blocks of human collagen. Then, a digestive enzyme called pepsin is added to help structure these building blocks into collagen molecules with the exact structure of human collagen. So, there you have it, truly vegan collagen!
Of course, it’s still too early to celebrate. More research still needs to be done on real vegan collagen – so it’s not available for purchase on the market yet. Also, because vegan collagen will come from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the same safety concerns surrounding the consumption of GMO foods would apply.
Animal-derived collagen is your best bet for now
Bottom line? The "vegan collagen" supplement you see in the grocery store – either in Australia or anywhere else in the world – is not actual collagen but a collection of vegan ingredients (including vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and a medley of antioxidants) designed to help boost your body's own collagen production. Thanks to genetic engineering, we do have actual vegan collagen in progress; but it's still unavailable to the mass market. That's why animal-derived collagen supplements,like the ones at The Collagen Co, are still currently your best bet.