We’ve all heard the incredible success stories: Over the past several years, the keto diet has emerged as the surest, tastiest, most popular path to slimming down and boosting overall health — and fast. “After just a few days, you start incinerating the stubborn love handles and belly fat you’ve tried to get rid of for years,” promises clinical nutritionist Josh Axe, DNM, author of Keto Diet. But for far too many people, sticking to the plan is easier said than done: Women feel hungry, tired, achy, and generally blah after just a few days on the popular plan. So what gives?
A big part of the struggle, Dr. Axe asserts, is that most women simply don’t get enough of what he calls “the most under-appreciated nutrient out there.” That nutrient is called collagen. About 30 percent of the human body — including the bones, muscles, skin, and tendons — is made of this protein-rich compound.
“Collagen plays a major structural role in building skin and connective tissues,” explains Taz Bhatia, MD, an integrative medicine physician and author of Super Woman Rx. It’s also crucial for repairing cellular damage and building healthy new cells to keep metabolism humming. “You need it to help you keep feeling strong, healthy and youthful,” says Dr. Axe. But the body’s production of collagen declines as we age. “Once you’re 30, your body’s collagen production drops by as much as eight percent every year.” As a result, we begin to develop wrinkles, sagging skin, and creaky joints — and it’s harder for our cells to make the switch from burning sugar as their main source of fuel to burning protein and fat, as they do on a keto diet. This puts stress on the body and leads to the “hangry,” headachy side effects that cause many women to give up on keto before seeing the results they deserve.
The good news: adding collagen to your keto diet will help you get the slim-quick benefits and feel your best. It provides the body’s cells with the building blocks it needs to switch into fat-burning mode without causing aches and energy drain. “Combining keto with collagen is like turning your body into a hybrid car so it can burn fat with maximum efficiency,” Dr. Axe says. And the change comes effortlessly and without any hunger pangs. Research published in the journal Clinical Nutrition showed that a daily dose of collagen increases feelings of fullness by 40 percent and reduces calorie intake at lunch by 20 percent.
Adding collagen to a keto plan makes the diet work even better because it helps the body build lean muscle mass. Women lose about one percent of their muscle tissue each year, and that loss accelerates after age 40— by age 60, most women have lost 20 percent of their total muscle mass.
“The more muscle you have, the more you rev up your metabolism since muscle burns more calories than fat,” explains Dr. Axe. Indeed, in a British Journal of Nutrition study, adults given two tablespoons of collagen daily lost a staggering 155 percent more fat and built 45 percent more lean muscle than those who didn’t consume collagen. “I have tried pretty much every diet known to man, but the pounds just come off quicker with this collagen-rich plan,” shares Nevada realtor Meghan Jorgenson, 36, who lost up to 12 pounds each week. “The scale started moving and the plan gave me noticeable energy.” And the results go beyond slimming.
“Your brain benefits too — and the effects are tangible: improved memory and mental clarity, as well as less frequent headaches,” says Dr. Axe. Indeed, researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that consuming collagen regularly cuts headaches by 80 percent. Collagen has also been shown to suppress the inflammatory compounds that cause joint pain. In a study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 63 percent of arthritis patients who consumed collagen daily reported improvements in quality of life. Studies also show that collagen can help women get thicker, more lustrous hair, as well as stronger nails and teeth. “It not only slowed the aging process, it reversed it. My fine lines disappeared,” raves Meghan. “I feel and look about 10 years younger.”
Adding collagen to a keto diet helps the body sidestep uncomfortable symptoms like aches and cravings, and promotes increased muscle mass to fire up metabolism.
Dr. Axe suggests aiming to get about 30 percent of your daily protein from collagen — about three servings a day. For our more modern diets, a serving consists of one cup of bone broth (like Swanson brand bone broths, available in supermarkets) or two tablespoons of collagen protein powder. He recommends selecting a keto-friendly collagen product that contains no added sugars and has at least three grams of fat from sources like medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) or bone broth.
One good option: Dr. Axe’s own Ancient Nutrition Multi Collagen Protein powder ($43.95, Amazon).
A Sample Meal Plan to Get You Started
Breakfast — Veggie frittata: In small oven-safe dish, whisk 2 eggs. Add 1⁄2 cup each chopped onions and zucchini and 5 quartered cherry tomatoes. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 min. or until set.
Lunch — Lettuce-cup tacos: Sauté 4 oz. each grass-fed beef and shiitake mushrooms and 1⁄2 cup sliced cabbage in olive oil and taco seasoning. Serve in lettuce cups; top with full-fat sour cream.
Dinner — Beef and broccoli Sauté 4 oz. beef loin with 2 Tbsp. stir-fry sauce, 1 cup broccoli, 1⁄4 cup sliced carrots and a pinch of minced garlic. Serve with cauliflower rice.
Dessert — No-bake cookies Combine 1 1⁄2 cups almond butter, 1⁄4 cup honey, 1 1⁄2 Tbsp. collagen powder, 1⁄4 cup dark chocolate chips, and 1⁄4 cup peanut butter chips. Refrigerate, then form into balls.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.