You might be no stranger to dropping a dime on self-care treatments like blowouts, facials, and mani-pedis. But getting (and keeping) your hair, skin, and nails healthy takes more than a few appointments. The right nutrition can go a long way toward improving the appearance of all three—and you might be able to keep some of that cash in your wallet. Instead, head to the supermarket for these 12 foods.
Foods for Hair and Nails
Both hair and nails are made up of a protein called keratin, meaning that they both need similar nutrients to thrive. The following list of foods serves up a double whammy.
Your most basic dinner go-to may not be the most thrilling thing to your taste buds, but it’s doing wonders for your hair and nails. (And hey, if you dig a little, you can find plenty of non-boring chicken recipes!) It’s packed with protein and iron. And with 7 grams of protein per ounce in chicken, it helps the keratin in hair and nails thrive.
Both also need a healthy iron-rich blood supply for continued growth—people suffering from iron deficiency may see negative side effects in their hair and nails. And while meat may be the best source of iron, chicken offers up a healthy dose.
If chicken is great for hair and nails, what’s a plant-based eater to do? Easy. A half block of tofu has nearly the same amount of protein as three ounces of chicken (22 grams), and it contains almost one-third of your daily value of iron. Plus, it’s cheaper to buy and takes on the flavor of any marinade. Even if you’re not plant-based, adding tofu to your diet is a great way to get a little protein variety in your diet.
OK, maybe the texture of tofu isn’t your thing. For a meatier plant-based protein bite, add some lentils to your plate. These multi-colored legumes are next on the list of protein and iron contenders. You’ll get that same 22-ish grams of protein in a ½ cup of uncooked lentils and one-third of your daily iron intake. Plus, they are a great meat substitute in things like burgers, meatballs, tacos, and Bolognese sauce.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the B-vitamin biotin as it pertains to hair and nails. Some research indicates the biotin may contribute to the thickness of both. Luckily biotin is in many foods, making deficiencies rare. But “egg yolks contain biotin and protein, both of which have been shown to promote strong hair and nails,” says NYC-based registered dietitian Nora Minno. Can we get another frittata, please?
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Host a sushi night and don’t skip the pre-requisite soybean appetizer. Edamame is not only rich in plant-based protein, but it also contains an amino acid called cysteine, which is the building block for keratin.
There are a good number of reasons adults should drink milk—like the fact that your bones start to deteriorate in your 20s or that cereal and milk taste so damn good. But besides that, milk also contains 8 grams of protein in each glass and ample amounts of cysteine. If lactose doesn’t agree with you, why not give Lactaid or a2 milk a try?
Foods for Great Skin
Whether it’s the sun, air pollution, or stress, your skin gets hit hard from different angles, but certain nutrients help it fight back. Luckily, since skin is an area of much concern, there is plenty of research about foods that will keep it looking great.
A recent review suggests that a combination of vitamins E and C protects the skin against UV damage. Just two tablespoons of wheat germ contain 15 percent of your daily value of vitamin E. You can add this whole grain staple to everything from smoothies to oatmeal to baked goods.
Two tablespoons of sunflower seed butter provide 45 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E, and it’s allergen friendly.
“This antioxidant vitamin can help protect cell membranes from free-radical damage, especially those brought on by UV rays,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, and (full disclosure) nutrition partner with SunButter. “Even though sunscreen helps from the outside, including vitamin E-rich foods like sunflower butter can help strengthen cells from the inside,” Amidor says.
Green and Yellow Bell Peppers
Did you know peppers have even more vitamin C than the beloved orange? “Green and yellow veggies, such as bell peppers, are especially beneficial for helping to decrease the wrinkling that can happen in the crow’s foot area, per a study of Japanese women,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition. Fajitas, anyone?
“One cup of pineapple contains 131 percent of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin C,” Minno says. “Vitamin C plays several important roles in skin health, like aiding in the production of collagen, reducing the damaging impact of UV rays on the skin, and healing and minimizing scarring,” she adds. Bonus: Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that can help reduce swelling and inflammation.
“Brazil nuts are one of the richest dietary sources of selenium, which not only protects skin against UV-induced damage but can also help promote healthy nails and hair,” Minno says.
Research pointing to the benefits of eating fatty fish keeps piling up. Besides being good for your heart and mind, omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in the prevention of non-melanoma skin cancer. For your daily dose of omega-3s, add salmon, tuna, or mackerel to one of your meals. (And do your best to avoid farm-raised varieties.)