Good Nutrition for the Summer by Dr. Sarah Schenker

watermelom summer drink

With  the summer holidays just around the corner, this is usually the time that many of would be thinking about getting in shape for imminent beach holidays or the prospect of showing off a trim body in a favourite sundress or pair of shorts. Of course, this year is likely to be a very different experience for all of us, but that is not a reason that we shouldn’t aim to look and feel our best by making some healthy changes to our usual diet and exercise habits.

Here are some simple yet effective tips to get rid of those unwanted winter pounds, tone loose muscles and get your skin glowing ready to be on show as soon as the sun comes out.

Eat seasonally

Each season’s produce is designed by nature to support out bodies in making the transition from one season to another. During colder months when we may need more energy, so the available vegetables are heavier in carbs, but as we move into summer, we are able to stay hydrated and cool by eating water dense berries, cucumbers and leafy salads.

Eating fruit and veg which is in season tastes better so it’s more likely to satisfy that sweet craving that usually has you reaching for the chocolate. Because it has been allowed to ripen naturally and been picked at the right time it is packed with freshness and flavour. Think of the perfect bowl of summer strawberries – juicy, sweet and vibrant in colour!

Seasonal foods are picked at the peak of freshness and have a higher nutritional content than produce which is out of season. This will provide your body with a whole host of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to benefit your health and wellbeing.

Eating seasonally also has the feel good factor as it promotes mindful eating and really gets you thinking about what you are putting into your body. As well as that it helps to support your local producers and smaller shops and businesses that need our help in these difficult times.

Go low GI

While it goes without saying that sugar is a no no, there is no need to ditch all carbs, just choose more carefully. Foods with a low GI (glycaemic index) are more slowly digested and absorbed causing a slower and smaller rise in blood sugar levels compared to higher GI foods such as sugar and white bread. This can help to control your appetite and prevent hunger pangs between meals. A low Gi diet can also help to balance your mood as you feel more in control and energised throughout the day.

Aim to include the following low GI foods in your diet

  • chickpeas and beans
  • nuts and seeds
  • quinoa, buckwheat, brown Basmati rice, oats and barley
  • summer berries, apricots, peaches and nectarines

Big up the protein

Make sure you include a good portion of protein in all your meals (not just dinner). This might mean an egg or yogurt at breakfast, fish or hummus for lunch and chicken or tofu for dinner. A higher protein intake can help regulate appetite and aid weight loss by increasing satiety, in other words help to keep you feel fuller for longer.

A higher protein intake may also help to maintain or increase the body’s fat-free mass as protein has a stimulatory effect on muscle protein growth, favouring the retention of lean muscle mass and improving metabolic rate.

Avoid anything low fat

Healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids are essential for good health. Foods such as olive oil, avocados, oily fish and nuts and seeds are packed full of healthy oils and should be a staple part of our diets. Don’t be put off by the calorie content on the label, research shows people who include healthy fats in their diets are more successful that those who adopt low fat diets, probably because they enjoy their food more and are more satisfied. Foods rich in healthy fats provide beta carotene, vitamin E, vitamin K and substances that have powerful anti-inflammatory properties all of which can benefit skin and achieve that glow factor.

Boost your gut health

Research is increasing showing that a healthy gut is linked to healthy weight and good mental health. The gut is connected to the brain via the vegas nerve and therefore could influence factors such as mood and appetite. While it’s very early days, it does seem that boosting a diverse and healthy range of bacteria in your gut could have real benefits. Rather than focus on probiotics (foods, drinks and supplements containing friendly bacteria) put your efforts into eating foods that stimulate the good bacteria you already have. These foods are known as prebiotics and include kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha.

Stay hydrated

Hopefully, we will see the temperature rise this summer, but with that comes the need for maintaining optimum hydration. Good hydration keeps skin looking and feeling smooth and plumped. When we are hydrated we lose water through the skin surface which creates a dewy appearance, once you become dehydrated the body conserves water reducing the amount that is lost through the skin, this leads to skin looking dry, rough and wrinkly. Staying hydrated can also help regulate appetite. It is a common mistake to confuse feelings of mild hunger with mild thirst. This can lead to unnecessary snacking and taking in unwanted calories instead of taking in more water.

Exercise outside

The long summer days are the perfect time to start exercising outside. You may miss the atmosphere of a class or feel limited in what you can achieve, but there are proven health benefits to exercising in the fresh air compared with an artificially lit and stuffy studio.  You can keep your vitamin D levels topped up, as just 20 minutes exposure each day of the arms or legs to the sun during the summer months is enough to build up your stores. If you are going out for a longer run or cycle think about going earlier or later in the day when the sun is weaker.

Training outside (especially in parks and forests) may benefit your immune system as research has found that breathing in small amounts of airborne plant chemicals improves your immune responses by 50%.

Training outside also allows you to find somewhere quiet to maintain social distancing rules, as well as vary your surroundings to keep you motivated. For instance, you are more likely to run for longer if you are exploring a new route than you would on a treadmill.


Chargrilled asparagus and goat’s cheese

Serves 4

300g asparagus tips
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
250g goat’s cheese
Handful of fresh Basil leaves
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp Balsamic vinegar

Make the dressing by placing 3 tbsp of the olive oil into a bowl and add the cider vinegar, whisk together and season with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside.

Place the asparagus tips in a bowl and drizzle with the remaining olive oiland season well. Toss to coat. Meanwhile heat a griddle pan and when hot add the asparagus and leave for a few minutes until they start to char, turn and gently char on the other side.

Transfer the asparagus onto a serving dish, crumble on the cheese, drizzle with the dressing and scatter with the Basil leaves.

Broadbean and artichoke salad

Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side

250g jar of artichoke hearts
150g broad beans
50g green pitted olives
1 cucumber, diced
Juice from a lemon
Large handful of mint, roughly torn
Large handful of parsley leaves
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp of honey

Prepare your broad beans by shelling and adding to a pan of boiling water. Cook for 5 minutes and then drain and set aside.

Roughly chop the artichokes and place them on a serving dish along with the broad beans, cucumber and olives.

Place the oil, lemon juice, half the mint and parsley and the honey in a jar and shake well. Drizzle over the salad and scatter on the remaining mint and parsley leaves.

Vine tomatoes with chicken and spicy chickpeas

Serves 4

3 tbsp harissa paste
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
4 skinless chicken breasts, diced
500g cherry tomatoes on the vine, halved
400g chickpeas, drained and rinsed
50g feta cheese
100g green beans

Place the paste, oil and honey in a bow, season with a pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Then add the chicken, chickpeas and half the tomatoes. Allow to marinate overnight or for 2-3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5 and place the marinated mixture in to a roasting dish and bake for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the green beans in a pan of boiling water and cook for 5 minutes, drain and set aside.

Serve everything together with the rest of the tomatoes and the crumble the feta on top.



5 minute jog to warm up
25 jumping squats
10 burpees
8 minute run, at the end of each minute do 5 burpees
2 minute walk
4 minute run, for each minute, jog the first 30 seconds and increase the pace the remaining 30 seconds
Finish with 25 jumping squats and 10 burpees
2 minute jog to cool down


Warm up with a 5 minute jog, do 20 jumping jacks at the end of each minute
25 squats
1 minute wall sit
15 press ups
1 minute press up hold
30 lunges
1 minute lunge hold each leg
25 sit ups
1 minute plank

Repeat twice

Stretch to finish

Your Summer Skin!

The start of summer welcomes in the longer days and some much needed sunshine. While most of us love the warmth and light of the sun, too much sun exposure can significantly damage our skin. The heat of the sun can dry out areas of unprotected skin and deplete the skin’s supply of natural lubricating oils. In addition, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause burning and long-term changes in the skin’s structure. As the temperature rises, we may become dehydrated or find it difficult to sleep at night, further impacting the skin’s ability to stay healthy and repair itself.

Skin is our largest organ; it is designed to protect us against the external world and harmful microbes, yet it is also fragile and sensitive to internal factors including nutrition, stress, sleep and hormones, and external factors like pollution and sun exposure.

Spending more time outside in the summer exposes skin to polluted air and the sun’s UV rays, which can increase the risk of premature skin aging, wrinkles, lines and uneven pigmentation.

The most common types of sun damage to the skin are:

  • Dry skin- sun-exposed skin can gradually lose moisture and essential oils, making it appear dry, flaky and prematurely wrinkled.
  • Sunburn – sunburn is the common name for the skin injury that appears immediately after the skin is exposed to UV radiation. Mild sunburn causes only painful reddening of the skin, but more severe cases can produce tiny fluid-filled bumps or larger blisters.
  • Actinic keratosis – this is a small, scaly patch of sun-damaged skin that has a pink, red, yellow or brownish tint. Unlike suntan markings or sunburns, an actinic keratosis does not usually go away unless it is frozen, chemically treated or removed by a doctor. An actinic keratosis develops in areas of skin that have undergone repeated or long-term exposure to the sun’s UV light, and it may be a warning sign of increased risk of skin cancer.
  • Long-term changes in the skin’s collagen – these changes include premature aging and bleeding from fragile blood vessels beneath the skin surface.

To understand how skin is impacted by these different factors, we should consider the three separate layers: the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis.

The epidermis is the outermost layer from which there is a small but continuous loss of moisture.

This loss of water makes skin look moist and dewy and depends on the body maintaining good hydration throughout the day. However, if the body starts to get dehydrated, water is preserved in the body meaning less water is lost through the skin. Eventually, the skin will start to appear dry and wrinkly. Therefore, maintaining a good hydration status by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, allows the skin to stay moist.

The middle section, known as the dermis, contains elastin, collagen, and hyaluronic acid and connective tissue, all the components that gives skin flexibility and strength.

UV radiation can cause collagen to break down at a higher rate than normal aging. It does this by penetrating the dermis and causing the abnormal build up of elastin. As elastin accumulates, enzymes are produced which inadvertently break down collagen and create dry scaly patches of skin. Continued exposure accelerates the process, leading to further wrinkling and sagging.

In addition, UV radiation creates free radicals that also increase the number of enzymes breaking down collagen. UV exposure ultimately causes the uneven thickening and thinning of the skin, resulting in coarse wrinkling and a yellow discolouration. It can also cause the walls of blood vessels to become thinner, leading to easy bruising and spider veining on the face.

The bottom layer of our skin is called the hypodermis and it consists of subcutaneous fat that houses larger blood vessels and nerve endings responsible for skin cell replacement and repair.

Sleep is the time when your body repairs itself and this is particularly important for skin. During sleep, the skin’s blood flow increases, and rebuilds its collagen and repairs damage from UV exposure, reducing wrinkles and age spots. Many people find their sleep is affected during the summer months, and poor sleep can impact the skin through diminished skin barrier function, poor stem cell activity and an increase in trans-epidermal water loss. These factors collectively contribute towards premature signs of ageing such as fine lines and loss of skin elasticity.

Prevention of skin sun damage

The most important action you can take to help prevent sun-damaged skin is regularly using a sunscreen appropriate for your skin type and the climate and avoiding very hot sun by limiting time outside or covering up. However, there are other important ways to protect your skin:

  • Ensure your diet is rich in antioxidants

Antioxidants prevent the breakdown of collagen and elastin, reduce inflammation, help repair cell damage and strengthen and protect skin cells. Antioxidants are found in colourful fruit and vegetables, beans, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, cocoa beans, coffee beans and tea.

  • Take a collagen supplement

Scientific research has shown that taking a collagen supplement can reduce wrinkles and improve skin elasticity. Collagen supplements contain collagen peptides that can directly stimulate the metabolism of skin cells involved in collagen synthesis. This leads to an increased production of new collagen, balancing what is lost through UV exposure.

  • Maintain good hydration

Get into the habit of drinking enough water on a daily basis – that means on average about two litres a day, taken in small regular amounts throughout the day. Requirements will go up if the weather is hot or if you are exerting yourself through hard physical work or exercise.  Don’t rely on thirst as it is not a good indicator, we do not register sensations of thirst until the body is already around two to three per cent dehydrated.

  • Establish a good bedtime routine

Establishing a good bedtime routine can help to achieve the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep needed each night. A good routine may involve winding down an hour before bedtime, turning off electronic devises, relaxing with a warm bath or a hot drink and taking a herbal supplement.

Carb Cycling by Dr. Sarah Schenker

low carb foods

You want to lose weight and you know going low carb will get results, but a long term keto diet is just not for you – you just can’t live without your sourdough/rice/pasta, sound familiar? There is a solution that lets you enjoy your carbs and still lose weight – it’s known as carb cycling. It has been the secret of bodybuilders and endurance athletes for ages, but now carb cycling is making it into the mainstream.

In a nutshell, carb cycling is all about taking a flexible approach to a low-carb way of eating, to achieve weight loss and other health benefits while avoiding the downsides of gong too low carb such as constipation.

What is carb cycling?

Carb cycling involves swapping between days when you’re eating carbohydrates in normal quantities and days when you’re eating not very much or none at all. A normal quantity might mean you include a source of carbohydrate at each meal, such as porridge for breakfast, a wrap for lunch and rice for dinner. A low carb day might mean you eat no more than a couple of crackers, so eggs for breakfast, a lettuce wrap for lunch and cauliflower rice for dinner.  You can alternate the days or you can have a run of low-carb days followed by a run of higher-carb days. Carb cycling gives you the best of both worlds – you can satisfy carb cravings while still getting the benefits of a low carb lifestyle.

Why try carb cycling?

Restricting carbs has been shown to be beneficial to health. A low carb diet has been proven to help you lose weight, improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure and improve heart health.

It all hinges on the way your body uses carbs. Once digested, the body breaks down carbohydrates into blood sugar (glucose) to burn as fuel. By drastically cutting down on carbs your body turns to fat for fuel instead, burning off your fat stores more easily. This aids weight loss, lowers insulin levels and may even help to reverse type 2 diabetes. However, a long-term low carb diet is too restrictive and unsustainable which is why carb cycling becomes an attractive option.

Does carb cycling actually work?

There is strong evidence around the benefits of low carb eating and emerging evidence for the benefits of carb cycling. The main advantage seems to be that it may have some benefits of very low carbohydrate diets but is easier to stick to..

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition reported the benefits of carb cycling. It compared women put on diets with the same calorie restriction each week. One group had two very low-calorie and low-carb days so they could have a bigger allowance on the other five days. This group lost more body weight and body fat than the women who had to stick to a smaller calorie restriction seven days a week. Researchers also found that carb cycling group had improved insulin sensitivity, reducing their risk of diabetes.

How to do carb cycling

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to carb cycling, you can choose a schedule that suits you. Many people follow the so-called classic approach of alternating low and high carb days over six days, ending with a reward day on day seven. Keep your protein intake constant but on low carb days you’ll need more fat than on higher carb days. This could mean substituting your cereals and breads for foods like avocados, nuts and seeds, nut butters, hummus and coconut.

Low carb might mean eating 1g of carbs for every kilo of your body weight, so a woman of an average weight and build would be looking at around 60-70g per day, equivalent to a serving of pasta. In the BJN study, the carb cycling participants had only 40 grams of carbs on their low-carb days, which is equivalent to a plain bagel.

It’s still best to prioritise healthy carbs on your high-carb days. While carb cycling gives you the chance to be flexible with occasional treat, it’s not a green light to down a doughnut.

Some of the healthiest carbs are:

  • wholegrains, such as brown rice, oats, and brown breads
  • high-fibre vegetables
  • fresh, unprocessed fruit
  • legumes, such as beans, lentils and chickpeas

Does carb cycling have side-effects?

Because our bodies are so used to carbohydrates some side-effects of cutting down are expected.You might experience headaches and low energy levels, or an upset tummy,but these side-effects won’t last as you get used to a lower carb intake. You can help yourself by drinking lots of water and taking it easy for a few days.

Temporary side-effects may include:

  • sleep disturbance
  • tiredness or lack of energy
  • constipation
  • headache
  • bloating
  • mood swings or bad temper
  • bad breath

Who shouldn’t you carb cycle?

Carb cycling can be an extreme change to your diet, so it won’t suit or be safe for everyone. Check with your doctor or dietitian if you’re not sure you should try it. You shouldn’t carb cycle if you:

  • are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • are underweight
  • have problems with your adrenal gland
  • have, or have had an eating disorder

The bottom line

Carb cycling may be a useful tool for those trying to lose weight and may also have additional health benefits such as lowering insulin levels.

The individual mechanisms behind carb cycling are supported by research. However, the long-term effects still need investigation.

Rather than chronic low or high-carb diets, a balance between the two may be beneficial from both a physiological and psychological perspective.


Bueno NB, de Melo IS, de Oliveira SL, et al. 2013. Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Nutr 110(7):1178-87.

Want to lose weight? Embrace the cold!

The temperature has dropped and winter is looming but it’s time to turn down the central heating and leave your coat at home. Research into brown adipose tissue (BAT) is growing as a means of managing weight and preventing weight related disorders such as type 2 diabetes. There is a growing understanding that BAT is an important endocrine organ with multiple metabolic functions. Brown adipose tissue, in contrast to white fat, can dissipate significant amounts of energy through heat production (thermogenesis). This process can be activated by certain stimuli, such as cold exposure and stress hormones.

What is BAT?

The function of brown adipose tissue is to transfer energy from the food we eat into heat. This helps burn calories and aids weight loss in two ways: it takes energy to produce heat and takes away energy from other fat cells stopping fat accumulation.

In addition, brown fat activation seems to have positive effects on metabolic processes, such as balancing blood sugar and controlling appetite-boosting hormones.

When we are born, we have a large amount of BAT, which has the ability to burn more energy (calories) to be used for body heat. During this process, the body’s internal temperature increases and helps reduce other fat deposits made of white fat. Studies have shown that brown fat can burn up to five times more calories than other types of body fat.

One of the reasons babies have such a high percentage of BAT is because they can’t shiver in response to being cold to regulate their body temperature, instead they must rely on brown fat to turn up their body heat. Young children retain their BAT, but as we get older levels begin to decline. The extent of the decline is influenced by genes and changes in hormones, with some lucky individuals holding on to more of their BAT well into adulthood.

 How do brown fat and white fat differ?

  • White fat:White fat is the type of fat that most of us try to avoid accumulating. White fat cells store energy in the form of a single large, oily droplet. White fat does help us to regulate our temperature by insulating organs, but it does little to burn calories like brown fat does. White fat is found below the skin (subcutaneous) and around the organs (visceral fat, which can be especially dangerous) and accumulates from a surplus of calories. White fat has an effect on hormone production and hunger levels, and in healthy, non-overweight humans, it can comprise up to 20 percent of body weight in men and 25 percent in women.
  • Brown fat:Brown fat cells contain mitochondria and are made of a larger number of oily droplets, which are also smaller than those that make up white fat. Brown fat seems to act similarly to muscle tissue in many ways, and actually uses white fat for fuel at times. Within brown fat’s mitochondria (which are often nicknamed the “power house” of cells), heat is able to be generated that helps regulate the body’s internal temperature in response to the changing environment outside.

Benefits of BAT

The creation of body heat takes a lot of energy and this calls upon using the body’s excess fat stores for fuel. Brown fat is responsible for “thermoregulatory thermogenesis,” in other words regulation of temperature without shivering (or nonshivering thermogenesis). It also helps release the hormone norepinephrine when we are very cold in order to let us know we are uncomfortable and potentially in danger, so we need more heat.

 Studies have shown that by increasing brown fat purposefully in obese or overweight adults, excess stores of white fat might be reduced naturally. Brown fat has also been shown to be one of the tissues in the adult body that can be stimulated to use the highest amounts of glucose, helping to control blood sugar levels.

Rather than slavishly dieting, it’s time to consider how your lifestyle habits play a role in building brown fat and controlling your weight.

5 tips to increase brown fat

Many experts believe that holding onto the existing brown fat we had during our younger years, as opposed to building up higher stores once we are older, is likely the best way to get the most benefits from brown fat. This means that the following good habits are important to develop in childhood. However, it’s still not too late to make some changes:

 Turn down the temperature

Keep your home at a lower temperature, go outside as much as possible, especially when it’s cold and consider taking a cold shower every day. This will activate brown fat and help burn hundreds of calories every day.

One Japanese study found that when adult men with low brown fat stores sat in a room chilled to 17C for two hours a day over the course of six weeks, they burned between 108–289 extra calories in the cold compared with sitting in normal indoor temperatures.

Even more interesting is that at first they were burning on the lower end (around 108 extra calories) during the two hours, but after six weeks they were up to burning 289 extra calories on average in the cold, suggesting that a build-up of cold tolerance can activate certain genes which boosts brown fat.


Exercising outside and activities like cold water swimming have been shown to increase activity of brown fat and have a positive effect on the release of hormones that control body fat and lean muscle development.

  1. Follow your body’s hunger and fullness signals

The neurons in our brain that regulate levels of hunger hormones play a part in maintaining brown fat. These neurons that control our appetite can also help encourage white fat to act more like brown fat. However, the extent to which this happens depends on how we respond to their signals — specifically if we eat enough to feel satisfied, but don’t overeat and consume more than we really need.

Eating enough to feel comfortably satisfied prompts actions of these neurons and boosts brown fat effects. Over-consumption of calories confuses neurons that control hunger hormones and leads to extra white fat storage. Conversely, undereating can slow down brown fat activation.

 Get a good night’s sleep

Research shows that melatonin can activate brown fat. One study showed that higher levels of melatonin from having deeper and longer sleep, lowered weight independently of food intake and activity.

Instead of relying on melatonin supplements to boost these effects, try to improve your ability to produce more melatonin naturally by focusing on regulating your circadian rhythm. The best way to do this is to avoid “blue light” exposure from electronic devices before bed, try to go to sleep and wake up around the same times every day, and to get more sunlight exposure during the daytime.

 Learn to manage stress

Stress promotes the storage of dangerous fat (like visceral fat that surrounds our internal organs) and also makes it hard to eat according to your body’s hunger signals.

Learning to manage stress can help you sleep better, motivate you to exercise regularly, eat well and help prevent comfort eating. These are all factors that have the biggest impact on your ability to activate brown fat.

Understanding collagen

You’ve probably noticed that the word collagen is everywhere! Promoted on social media and endorsed by big name celebrities. In recent years, collagen has gained popularity as a nutritional supplement and an ingredient in beauty products. But what is it and do you really need it? To fully understand collagen, how it works and the best type to choose, we take an in depth look at this important protein and why we can believe in the science.

What is collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, accounting for about one-third of its protein composition. It’s one of the major building blocks of skin, bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. In relation to skin health, collagen is the largest structural component, comprising around 80% of its dry weight.

Collagen is also found in many other body parts, including blood vessels, corneas, and teeth. It can be thought of as the “glue” that holds all these things together as the word comes from the Greek word “kólla,” which means glue.

What is the role of collagen in the body?

There are at least 16 types of collagen. The four main types are type I, II, III, and IV.

Type I – accounts for 90% of your body’s collagen and is made of densely packed fibres. It provides structure to skin, bones, tendons, fibrous cartilage, connective tissue, and teeth.

Type II – is made of more loosely packed fibres and found in elastic cartilage, which cushions your joints. It is also important for spinal and eye health.

Type III – supports the structure of muscles, organs, and arteries.

Type IV – helps with filtration and is found in the layers of your skin.

The body makes it’s own supply of collagen but as we age, the body produces less and lower quality collagen. There is a 2% reduction in collagen every year from the age of 25 and by the age of 45, there is a 50% reduction in collagen production. This drop in collagen levels leads to the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and can also increase the risk of damage to your bones, joints, muscles and eyesight.

The visible signs of aging are due to a deficiency in type 1 collagen and directly correlates to lack of hydration and reduced skin elasticity as well as depleted nail strength and hair health. However, when type 1 is paired with type 3 it can be used to improve skin elasticity and hydration, as well as benefit gut health.

Dietary collagen

Collagen is found in the connective tissues of animal foods, in particular it is found in large amounts in chicken and pork skin. Another rich source is bone broth, which is made by boiling the bones of chicken and other animals.

However, there is debate over whether consuming collagen-rich foods actually increases the levels of this protein in your body. This is because, when you eat protein, it’s broken down into amino acids and then reassembled, so the collagen you eat may not directly translate into higher levels in your body.

It is more effective to consume the nutrients need to make collagen. All collagen starts off as procollagen. Your body makes procollagen by combining two of the essential amino acids glycine and proline. The nutrients vitamin C and copper are essential the transformation of procollagen to collagen.

Therefore, you can help your body produce collagen by making sure you get plenty of the following:

  • Proline – found in egg whites, wheat germ, dairy products, cabbage, asparagus, and mushrooms.
  • Glycine – found in pork skin, chicken skin, gelatin and pork.
  • Vitamin C – found in citrus fruits, peppers, green leafy vegetables and berries.
  • Copper – found in organ meats, sesame seeds, cocoa powder, cashews, and lentils.

A word of caution, pork and chicken skin are high in saturated fat so should not be eaten too often. Pork meat contains less glycine and you would need to eat 100g to achieve an intake of 2g of glycine. Similarly, you would need to eat 4 egg whites to achieve 2g of proline.

How to prevent collagen damage

The following dietary and lifestyle choices can lead to collagen damage:

  • Eating too much sugar and refined carbs.Consuming excessive amounts of sugar can lead the production of AGEs (advanced glycation end products), blood sugars attaching to protein to form large molecules. These AGEs interfere with collagen’s ability to repair itself, so aim to keep consumption of added sugar and refined carbohydrates to a minimum.
  • Getting too much sunshine.Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light accelerates the breakdown of collagen and damages the collagen within the dermis, which when rebuilt forms fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Smoking reduces collagen production. This can impair wound healing and lead to wrinkles.

Collagen supplements

Scientific research has shown that taking a collagen supplement can reduce wrinkles and cellulite and improve skin elasticity and nail growth. Additional research has also shown that collagen supplements can increase muscle mass and prevent the progression of arthritis.

Collagen supplements are in the form of a powder containing collagen peptides, these are small molecules derived from hydrolysed collagen proteins. Breaking down collagen into these tiny molecules not only makes a more convenient format for consumption, but also increases the bioavailability of the collagen, this is the effectiveness of your body’s ability to absorb it. Once absorbed they are then circulated in the bloodstream and transported to where they are needed.

The collagen peptides then directly stimulate new collagen synthesis. Cells known as fibroblasts in the dermal layer of the skin recognize the collagen peptides as an increase in the breakdown of the skin’s own collagen. This is the stimulus the fibroblasts need to increase their metabolic activity. The result is an increased production of new collagen, balancing what is lost through aging and environmental factors.

Collagen supplement powders should be taken daily and can be mixed with water or other liquids such as smoothies and soups. When considering a collagen supplement, you should look for a high quality bovine source. Marine collagen, which is made from fish skin, is also available however, it may be less effective for skin health.

The bottom line

Collagen is an important protein that provides structure for many parts of the body and in particular is needed for good skin health.

Consuming certain foods provide collagen and the nutrients needed to improve collagen production.

However, collagen supplements have been shown to be more beneficial in stimulating collagen production. Studies show that they are able to improve skin quality by reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and improving elasticity and hydration.

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