I am insatiably curious. Especially when it comes to seeking natural beauty traditions from around the globe. So when I first traveled to China 15 years ago, I couldn’t say no to exploring their culture of beauty—even if it meant eating a fried duck’s head.
Now that takes real curiosity!
Don’t worry, you can still be an explorer like me without having to down a duck’s head. I’ll share some alternatives later.
But first, I want to confess that I absolutely adore the supple skin Chinese women enjoy. I always have. I had always thought that it must be because of the collagen in their native foods but I had no idea the extent to which it was being consumed. That is, until I arrived in the Hutongs of Beijing and saw for myself the abundance and variety of collagen being offered. Hutongs are little alleys and narrow streets in the city that have the most exquisite markets rich in local character. It was here where I tasted that unforgettable fried duck’s head, held collagen-rich fish, smelled nutrient-dense algae and sipped on a broth made from donkey hide (more on that later). The culture here celebrates collagen and it became so easy to understand why the women, who have extremely collagen-dense diets, also have such beautiful skin.
In fact, I sat down with a local Chinese model to ask her about her favorite beauty rituals, hoping she’d share some secrets with me that I could pass along to you. As she sat there telling me about the Chinese belief that both your chi (vitality) and quality of blood impact your skin’s beauty, I couldn’t help but notice how smooth, youthful and soft her skin was. She radiated beauty from the inside out.
It comes down to this: you are what you eat.
Immediately I thought, “Okay Naomi, we must find alternatives to eating fried duck head and donkey hide.” I wanted to find simple ways to make enjoying these beauty foods realistic for women back home in the US.
Immediately upon arriving stateside, I dove into the science of collagen. What is it about collagen that makes it a beauty powerhouse? What traditional foods do we have here in the US that naturally offer a healthy dose of collagen? And how can we enjoy it in supplement form or in ways that are quick and tasty—but not necessarily the duck’s head version of quick and tasty…
My research led me to Europe to visit the world’s authority in producing the highest quality collagen. Oh my goodness! There is so much to understand about this incredible beauty food. Here are the topmost valuable things I want to share with you from my visit to Germany:
- Collagen is a long-chain amino acid (protein) and is the most abundant protein in the body (30% of the protein in the body). Because it’s naturally a part of us, it makes sense that our bodies would respond so beautifully to it.
- It’s found in muscles, tendons, bones, skin, blood vessels, the digestive system and of course, our skin. Collagen is the glue that makes our skin strong, yet elastic. It’s what makes us feel vibrant and youthful when we look in the mirror.
- There are more than 15 amino acids that make up collagen, and each of them imparts medicinal benefits aside from their role in collagen. For example, the amino acid glycine helps your body efficiently use antioxidants, which in turn help maintain your vitality. (Remember the chi our Chinese model talked about? Here it is popping up again!) Another amino acid, glutamate, is one of my personal favorites. Studies have shown that it promotes mental calm and serenity and it has been proven to improve sleep.
- Your beauty aisle may be filled with shampoos and lotions with labels promoting the collagen inside, but don’t be fooled. My scientist friends in Germany explained that the only form of collagen we should be using is hydrolyzed collagen. Hydrolyzed simply means that the collagen peptides are small enough to be easily digested and absorbed.
- I was fascinated to learn that there are more than a dozen different types of collagen! The ones that interested me the most are types 1, 2 and 3 because they are the most prevalent in the body and specifically play an important role in the elasticity of our skin.
- Of course, the amino acids in type 1, 2 and 3 collagens also play roles in the health of our joints, tendons, ligaments, bones and digestion as well. It is safe to say that different parts of the body rely on different types of collagen!
- The variety of collagen available to us is incredible! We can source collagen from eggs, chicken, beef (bovine), pig (porcine) and fish. Each has a different amount of the various types of collagen. For example, fish and beef collagen are high in type 1 while chicken collagen is rich in type 2.
- A good quality collagen is hard to find. Look for purity in processing and manufacturing. Not all collagen is created equal so be selective in your purchasing. Look for collagen manufactured in Germany for the highest quality products on the market. A double-blind placebo study published in the Journal of Skin Pharmacology and Physiology reported that the body only needs 2.5 grams to be effective so you don’t have to take more than necessary (and it only takes about eight weeks for results to appear!).
- Good quality collagen should be odorless and tasteless. It will dissolve easily in room temperature water or a little juice. I enjoy collagen in my morning tea, smoothies and I even mix it with food or sprinkle it on a salad. Collagen is best absorbed with Vitamin C so enjoying it with fresh vegetables and fruits are a wonderful way to take it.
- Other ways of enjoying collagen allow you to indulge in your own family’s rituals. Think about grandmother’s chicken soup made from real bones. You can make your own bone soup easily by using the bones from your fish, chicken or beef.
I think women all over the world share the same definition of beauty. It is that connection between what we do on the inside and how it is revealed on the outside—where we have the knowledge and confidence to practice the habits that optimize our inner and outer beauty.
Asian women are very connected to nature and if there is one thing that rings true in my travels around the world it’s this: the more connected to nature we are, the easier it is to naturally attain and maintain beauty from within.