The 5 Best Foods for Healthy Hair and Skin
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Health

The 5 Top Foods for Healthy Hair, Skin and Nails

After all, beauty on the outside requires smart choices for the inside.

Hemp seeds, salmon, red peppers, eggs, and walnuts
Mari Juliano

Changes in our hair, skin and nails are a normal part of the aging process, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to slow down what we see happening in the mirror. And while we certainly can spend a lot of time and money (especially money) on trying to fix up our outside looks, a more long-lasting solution is to work on improving our health from the inside with the foods we eat.

This is really important, as more research indicates a link between our gut biome — the beneficial microbes in our stomach and intestines — and the microbes that make up our skin’s biome. As Houston dermatologist and author Rajani Katta explains in her recent book, Glow: The Dermatologist’s Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet, “certain good microbes that live in your gastrointestinal tract can produce substances that actually strengthen the skin barrier. The right foods can promote the growth of these good microbes.” 

For women age 50 and beyond, this means eating nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and adequate protein that help support the production of collagen, elastin and keratin, the three major proteins found in hair, skin and nails.

Just be cautious before turning to the ever-growing number of skin, hair and nail supplements — sometimes referred to as “beauty supplements” or “ingestible skin care” — without talking to your doctor first, warn researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and University of Texas Health Sciences Center in a study published in 2020. In some cases, taking too much of a nutrient can cause more damage, including cases of hair loss from too much selenium in some hair supplements. And high levels of biotin in the blood from supplements can skew lab test results, causing doctors to misdiagnose their patients.

Supplements may not be necessary if you eat foods with the nutrients needed for healthier, more beautiful skin, hair and nails. Here are five of the best:

Red bell peppers

Vitamin C is not only an important antioxidant for overall health, it plays a major role in skin health through the production of collagen (for fighting the sag) and by helping skin heal.  Diets high in vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables, in particular, have been positively linked to better skin appearance and health, a 2017 review of vitamin C research found, as well as fewer wrinkles in middle-aged and older women, according to a 2007 study of diet’s effect on skin-aging in American women.

Which brings us to red bell peppers. Did you know these shiny beauties have three times more vitamin C than oranges? And that the red ones have 50 percent more of the vitamin than the green ones? Get your C by adding bell peppers of all colors to your salad, stir-fries, pasta dishes or omelets. Or eat them on their own.

Other high-C foods: Strawberries, oranges, broccoli, tomatoes and spinach.

Walnuts

Think of walnuts as your skin’s internal moisturizer. That’s because walnuts are stuffed with healthy fats, including linoleic acid, which strengthens the skin’s outer barrier against water loss. In other words, it helps keep skin plump and hydrated, instead of dry and rough. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of more than 4,000 women ages 40 to 74 found those with diets high in linoleic acid were less likely to have dry or thinning skin.

Walnuts aren’t the only healthy source of linoleic acid, of course. Linoleic acid is made up of two essential fatty acids found primarily in plant oils, like sunflower, safflower and flaxseed oils, but also in a variety of seeds, like chia seeds, flaxseed and nuts. Compared to other nuts, walnuts contain the most linoleic acid, but almonds, cashews and Brazil nuts are also good sources.

Other healthy foods with linoleic acid: Vegetable oils, nuts and seeds are top sources, but if you’re not a nut lover, tofu, eggs and avocado are also good choices.

Salmon

Eating salmon, either wild-caught or farmed, is like getting a trifecta of good stuff for building strong nails. This fatty fish is packed with protein, biotin (plus other B vitamins) and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, all of which help prevent splitting, brittle or weak nails. Just a three-ounce serving of salmon provides 17 grams of protein, about 37 percent of a woman’s recommended daily amount. If you’re trying to decide between wild and farmed, wild-caught salmon does have more nail-building calcium and iron than the farmed kind.

Other foods to help your nails: Eggs, for biotin and protein; tofu, for calcium and protein; leafy green vegetables, for iron, folate and calcium.

Eggs

Eggs are a rich source of protein, needed for hair growth, and the yolk is a treasure trove of vitamins like A, E and biotin, as well as zinc, selenium and other nutrients important for healthy hair and nails. A whole cooked egg provides about 10 mcg of biotin, or about a third of your recommended daily value. Biotin also plays an important role in the production of keratin, a tough protein that makes the cells in hair, skin, nails and other internal tissues stronger and more resilient.

Other good sources for biotin: Peanuts, whole soybeans and edamame, salmon, avocado, sweet potato and sunflower seeds.

Hemp seeds

All seeds are like teeny packages of healthy fats, protein and various minerals, but hemp seeds take the prize for their high amounts of essential nutrients, including protein.

Technically a nut, these tiny seeds have a pleasantly mild, nutty flavor, making them delicious added to oatmeal or yogurt, or mixed in a pilaf. They’re sold hulled, so you get the soft inner ivory-colored seed, also called “hemp hearts.”

Just three tablespoons provide about 9.5 grams of protein, plus linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acid. They also pack in a nice dose of vitamin E and various minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc — all helpful for healthy skin, hair and nails.

Other seeds to try: If you’re looking for more plant-based nutrients, pumpkin seeds come close to hemp seeds in protein (8.5 grams in three tablespoons); chia seeds have 4.7 mg protein, but are high in calcium, essential for nail and bone health.

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