The benefits of eating right don’t stop at your immune system — after all, we know good nutrition is vital to helping our body work as best it can, but did you know that what you eat also plays a role in how healthy your hair, skin and nails are?
Here are ten of the most nutrient-packed foods that can make a big impact on improving gloss, moisture and structure.
1. Whey Protein
Your hair is made of a protein called keratin, which your body gets from the food you eat. If you are not consuming enough protein from the foods you eat, you could add a whey protein supplement to help support your hair growth and strength. A high quality undenatured whey protein supplement is a source of a complete protein, along with other vitamins and antioxidants that are beneficial for your general health.
Berries are loaded with antioxidants and vitamins that help to neutralise harmful free radical molecules in the body, protecting your cells from oxidative damage. Free radicals can break down collagen in the skin, leading to sagging skin and wrinkles. (1) (2)
Spinach is a great source of vitamin A, which helps you cells produce something called sebum. Sebum is an oil, secreted by glands on your scalp, that helps keep hair moisturised.
Spinach also provides a plant-based source of iron, which is vital for hair growth as iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen to cells and repair damage and encourage growth. (3)
4. Fatty fish
Fatty fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna and sardines are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which our bodies are unable to produce themselves and are extremely beneficial for your whole body, including your hair, nails and skin. They help moisturise your hair, skin and nails, maintaining their glossy appearance and helping ward off dry skin and cracked and dry nail beds. (4)
Diets high in omega-3s have also been associated with reduced inflammation, which could be beneficial for those struggling with acne and other inflammatory conditions. (5)
5. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are an extremely nutritious food, packed full of vitamins A, C and almost all of our necessary B vitamins, along with iron, calcium and selenium.
A single sweet potato can contain enough beta-carotene to provide more than four times your RDA of vitamin A, which increases production of sebum, a moisturising agent in the scalp. They are also rich in antioxidants that can help prevent oxidative damage from free radicals, which can protect your skin from the visible effects of aging.
Walnuts are also rich in antioxidants, and are a great source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, protecting your skin from oxidative damage, keeping skin, hair and nails moistened and glossy and reducing inflammation with polyphenols. (6) (7)
Walnuts are easy to include in a balanced diet, either as a topping on salads, yogurt or oatmeal, as a mid-morning snack or even an add-in when baking cookies or cakes.
Adding seeds to your everyday meals is a great way to increase your levels of vitamin E, selenium and zinc, which have all been shown to promote healthy hair and nails.
Some seeds, such as flax seeds, can also provide a good source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids that support hair growth, moisture and thickness, and they are also a good source of protein. Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, which can prevent hair loss, and sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E that can protect hair from environmental toxins.
Broccoli is great for supporting skin health, as it is high in zinc, vitamin A and vitamin C, and lutein, a nutrient that protects your skin from oxidative damage. Broccoli florets are also a source of sulforaphane, a compound that has been shown to protect against general sun damage, as well as protect against several types of skin cancer. (8)
9. Beans and lentils
Beans and lentils are rich in folate, a B vitamin that is necessary for supporting red blood cells that carry oxygen to the skin and scalp. Folate is also responsible for healthy cell growth, meaning the cells in your hair, skin and nails all rely on it to function and grow properly.
10. Whole grains
Whole grains are a great source of several vital nutrients, including B vitamins, minerals, protein and antioxidants. Specifically, whole grains are high in magnesium, a mineral that is widely used by your body, especially in nail-essential protein synthesis. Vertical ridges on your nails may be a sign of magnesium deficiency, which the World Health Organisation reports is extremely common. (9)
Whole grains are fairly easy to add to a balanced diet, however, with countless options available in supermarkets as breakfast cereals and breads. Dark green leafy vegetables, quinoa, almonds and black beans are also good sources of magnesium.
What’s the takeaway?
What you eat can have a huge impact on the health and look of your hair, skin and nails, so adding these nutrient-rich foods to a balanced diet could benefit you from the inside out!
If you don’t have time to cook, but still want to push your healthy routine, consider taking a food supplement to boost your antioxidant status. Read more about how antioxidants affect your hair, skin and nails in this article from our Science section.