Surely one of the best things about winter is winter food. And it’s not just the heartiness of it. It’s that it provides terrific nutrients for older bodies.
As much as I’m a fan of root vegies, stewed fruit and hot crumble desserts — winter wouldn’t seem right without those — I’m referring to collagenous meats such as beef cheeks, lamb shoulder, lamb shanks, osso bucco, ox tail, and so on, i.e. the slow-cooking cuts we’re less likely to eat when it’s hot.
Collagen makes up close to 30% of our body’s protein and most of our skin. It’s like the glue or the scaffolding that holds us together.
It keeps skin elastic and helps to maintain the integrity of our muscle, bone, tendon, ligament and cartilage.
A big question has been whether eating collagen finds its way to our own collagenous bits, and the research has been patchy.
Much of it seems to have been sponsored by the cosmetic industry with a view to demonstrating that daily collagen supplements (i.e. pulverised animal or fish collagen) reduce wrinkles.
For example, one study using it for 12 weeks claimed a 76% decrease in dryness and a 13% reduction in wrinkles. While it’s possible to measure the amount of collagen in the dermis of the skin, you do have to wonder about the specificity of a 13% reduction in wrinkles.
We do know, however, that eating collagen gives us a dose of the amino acids that our body needs to produce its own, namely glycine, proline and lysine.
While the body can produce some of its own glycine and proline, it’s unlikely to be enough to match our needs, especially as we get older.
(Bear in mind that vitamin C is also needed as a co-factor to build collagen, so make sure you’re eating vitamin C-rich fruit and veg such as kiwi fruit, berries, tomatoes, citrus, capsicum and parsley.)
Since muscle meat has a different balance of amino acids from collagenous meat — e.g. more methionine, less glycine — there’s merit in eating a range of types of meat.
While I wouldn’t get too hung up on collagen being a fountain of youth, I think it’s sensible to include collagenous cuts in your diet as often as you can. It’s an easy way to support your muscle, skin and joints.
Glycine also has a reputation for promoting gut health, sleep and tissue repair. So if you’re recovering from injury make sure you’re including regular collagen in your diet.
Other sources of collagen include the bones in canned fish and, of course, bone broth. Winter’s a good time to make your own from bones and meaty offcuts, but it’s also easy, if more expensive, to buy.
Coming back to collagen supplements, some people might prefer that option even though, again, it’s more expensive. You just add it to a smoothie.
Find a quality product though. Great Lakes is well-regarded, but you’ll probably need to buy it online. Alternatively, Cyndi O’Meara sells a good gelatin powder. Gelatin is made by boiling down collagen.