You might scoop some collagen protein into your already healthy faves such as coffee or a smoothie, but there's no limit to the delicious and creative ways to use it.
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While I practice what I preach in the big-picture sense of good nutrition, I have some favorite indulgences and enjoy foods that may not seem "healthy." Sometimes combining a healthy thing with something considered more of a treat can be a great middle road—letting you feel like you're doing something good for yourself while actually enjoying the process. This is exactly why I'm obsessed with having a collagen hot chocolate on the regular.
Let me explain my love affair with collagen (this wasn't always the case, BTW) and why I'm a firm believer in adding it to hot cocoa instead of coffee, a smoothie, or another "healthy" drink.
What We Know About Collagen
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body (it accounts for about 30 percent) and is found in your bones, muscles, connective tissues, ligaments, and skin. It helps protect your organs, connects bones to muscles, and provides structure to joints and tendons. It also promotes skin hydration and elasticity—great for maintaining a youthful appearance. If you've ever made bone broth or chicken soup and seen that gel-like substance at the top, that's the collagen.
While your body produces collagen on its own, certain things can slow its production (age and related hormonal changes) or cause degradation (cigarette smoke and other pollutants, poor diet, and sun exposure). Research has shown that collagen supplements may help with joint and bone health, hair, skin, nails, and teeth, gut health, and building and maintaining muscle mass.
It's also a convenient way to work more protein into your diet (especially important if you're active), with about 10 to 20 grams per serving of collagen powder. While it's not technically a complete protein (meaning it doesn't contain all nine of the essential amino acids—it has eight and is especially rich in glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline), but in the context of a diet that includes a variety of protein sources, it's just a great bonus. (Related: What's the Deal with Pea Protein and Should You Give It a Try?)
Why I Started Using Collagen
Collagen powder had been on my radar for a while, but I first got into it for real when I was in the process of regrowing a thumbnail last year after a manicure gone wrong; sorry, scary TMI. During this same time, I was also in physical therapy for a back injury and debating working with a trainer. Adding some muscle to my frame would help me ward off future injuries, but I just wasn't seeing results.
On top of all that, I was navigating a lot of personal stress and getting sick quite a bit as a result. This coming from the girl who had gone years without a single dose of antibiotics, it was clear my system was totally f***ed and no amount of probiotics supplements could save me.
I felt like I was falling apart and was desperate for a solution. I was researching collagen for a client project when the lightbulb finally went on. I started experimenting with it and found that I loved the mild taste and smooth texture—it basically just melts into whatever you're adding it to. But then I discovered the absolute best way, IMO, to use collagen: collagen hot cocoa.
Why You Should Drink Collagen Hot Chocolate
I love collagen in my coffee, but I tend to cut myself off from caffeine after noon. A collagen smoothie would have been a no-brainer, but when it's cold out, that's not super appealing. Collagen is great in soup, but I need something that's easy to fit into my everyday routine.
You're probably thinking: Soup, coffee, smoothies—all healthy foods and a good vessel for a healthy additive such as collagen right? So why would you—a nutritionist—be mixing a good thing with a sweet, chocolate drink?
Well, chocolate is something that pretty much always appeals to me. You, too? Thought so. Plus, you shouldn't even consider it unhealthy. Collagen hot chocolate offers the benefits of cocoa (like those polyphenols noted for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits) along with the added collagen bonus in one drink. And besides, who doesn't love a comforting cup of hot cocoa? (Related: Polyphenol-Rich Foods to Start Eating Today)
The one caveat: You want to start with unsweetened cocoa powder or even raw cacao powder, and if you need a tiny bit of sweetness, opt for maple syrup, honey, stevia, or something similar. The packaged, sweetened, fake stuff basically negates all the previously mentioned health benefits. (Related: Healthy Baking Recipes That Use Cocoa Powder)
To make collagen hot chocolate, just boil some water and whisk in unsweetened cocoa powder, unflavored collagen powder, and a teaspoon or two of your go-to sweetener. If you want a little kick (and more anti-inflammatory benefits) add some turmeric or cayenne pepper. For a creamier cup, you can also make it with your favorite milk. And hey, if life gets too real for you to be toting raw cacao powder in your carry-on or to the office but you’re desperate for a cup, go ahead and use that packaged stuff, but toss collagen in there for good measure and sip with zero guilt. (Food guilt is worthless.) Stock up on some of the single-serving collagen packets for cases like this.
Don't worry, my thumbnail grew back just fine. But I decided to keep up my newfound collagen hot cocoa routine because I found that, for me, all that hype about collagen was more than just an empty promise. The moral of my story: Healthy eating doesn't have to be so strict. Balancing things you already love with things that will pump up the nutrition will make you actually want to routinely take those extra health steps because that means, in this case at least, more chocolate. (Oh, and don't go to nail salons that don't properly clean their tools.)