By Cher Zavala
Fashion trends come and go, but there is one look that has always been in style: strong, sleek hair and nails. Made of the same type of cells created and organized in a different way, hair and nails require basically the same nutrients to grow healthily. Fortunately, the nutrients hair and nails need are generally easy to attain in a regular diet; unfortunately, many people still aren’t getting the right nutrition to keep their hair, nails, and body well. Dry, brittle hair and nails are some of the most off-putting indications of ill-health, so if you have these symptoms, here are the nutrients you need to get in your body ASAP.
Hair and nails are made primarily of a protein called keratin, which sprouts out of crucial skin cells called keratinocytes. Keratin is outrageously tough, which is why nails and hair feel stronger and harder than the rest of your body. However, to produce keratin, your body needs amino acids, which you can only take in by eating protein.
Consuming plenty of lean meats, like chicken and loin, sirloin, and round cuts, is the most efficient way to get protein. Vegetarians are often protein deficient due to their meatless diet; to get enough protein, they should eat extra nuts, soybeans, and whole grains.
The mineral zinc is vital to healthy cell division, which means the parts of your body that rapidly reproduce — like your hair and nails — need a constant flow of zinc in order to generate strong cells. A zinc deficiency manifests itself in many ways, but the most notable are slow-growing, splitting, discolored nails.
Seafood is a common source of zinc in everyday diets. Oysters boast by far the highest levels of zinc in any food, offering 500 percent your daily requirement in a single serving. However, if half-shells aren’t your thing, you can also find zinc in some red meats as well as legumes and whole grains, but plant-based zinc isn’t as easily absorbed by the body.
Strong bones, strong teeth, strong nails, and strong hair — calcium does it all. Calcium is one of the body’s most sought-after minerals, so when your system lacks sufficient calcium, you can see it clearly in the health of your hair and nails. However, consuming extra calcium might not be enough to get back in balance; your body needs help from other vitamins in order to absorb calcium correctly.
Most people are familiar with standard calcium-rich foods: dairy products, white beans, leafy greens, nuts, etc. However, vitamin D and other nutrients necessary for calcium absorption are less well-known. Some milks and juices are fortified with vitamin D, but researchers agree that natural sources of vitamins are easier on the body. You can try drinking a daily cup of horsetail tea or snacking on a can of tuna to make sure you get adequate vitamin D.
When you suffer prolonged periods of stress, you can probably see the effects in your nails and hair. Fortunately, magnesium is the best all-natural anti-stress mineral. It prevents hair loss and unsightly ridges on nails which can be caused by poor diet and untenable stress.
Magnesium isn’t a well-known mineral, but it is plenty of delicious and nutritious foods. Pumpkin seeds are inarguably the most magnesium-rich food, followed closely by dark chocolate. By enjoying a sweet treat, you can be on your way to healthier hair and nails.
Also called vitamin H, biotin is highly regarded as a hair-saver. Doctors prescribe biotin to sufferers of alopecia, an autoimmune disorder marked by hair loss. In fact, the H in vitamin H stands for haar and haut, or hair and nails in German.
Biotin can be found in a number of foods you likely already regularly consume. Bananas have the highest concentration, but most legumes (including peanuts and lentils) also are biotin-rich.
6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Instead of smearing yourself with oil and sitting in the sun, you should ingest some oily omega-3s to gain the naturally soft skin, sleek hair, and shiny nails you’ve always craved. Not all fats are bad for you; the essential fatty acids in omega-3s keep your keratinocytes healthy so you can grow long, strong hair and nails.
Salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are full of omega-3s, but if you aren’t feeling fishy, you can also consume walnuts, flaxseed, and even eggs to get a sufficient daily dose.