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What to eat for healthy hair & nails

By By Olivia Putnal

No doubt you know that eating healthy is good for you in a plethora of ways—it can decrease your risk of disease, improve your immune system, increase your energy levels and even affect your sleeping habits. But did you know certain foods can improve the way you look, too? Read on to find out which nutrients will give your hair and nails extra lustre, strength and shine.

Biotin/Vitamin H

Biotin (a.k.a. vitamin H) can improve hair that is splitting or thinning as well as strengthen weakened nails. Taken with zinc and the corticosteroid clobetasol propionate, biotin has even been used to treat alopecia, an autoimmune skin disease marked by the loss of hair. Nina DiBona, RD, dietitian and nutritionist at the Sports Club/LA in Boston, agrees. "A deficiency in biotin may result in brittle hair or even hair loss." An easy way to remember: The H in vitamin H stands for "haar and haut," which means "hair and nails" in German, DiBona notes.

Foods to Try: Bananas, beans, cauliflower, eggs, lentils, peanuts and salmon.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

To get shinier hair, introduce more omega-3s into your diet, which "help support scalp health and may give your locks extra lustre and shine," according to DiBona. The three active ingredients—alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid—are all essential fatty acids and "are important components of the stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of the epidermis that contains keratin and has water-holding capabilities. Deficiency in essential fatty acids can result in dry scalp or dandruff," she says.

Foods to Try: Eggs, flaxseed, fish oil, mackerel, salmon, sardines, spinach, tuna and walnuts.

Protein

Protein intake is important for many reasons, notably when it comes to hair and nails. Both "are made of structural proteins known as keratin, so adequate dietary protein is important for providing the building blocks for growing strong hair and nails," explains DiBona. Lean meats are the easiest way to pack protein into your diet—just make sure to steer clear of any that are overly fatty.

Foods to Try: Chicken, eggs, lean red meats, lowfat dairy, nuts, seafood, soybeans and whole grains.

Vitamin A

"Vitamin A helps produce a conditioning substance for the scalp known as sebum, which keeps hair looking and feeling healthy," says DiBona. In addition to these beauty benefits, this vitamin contributes to better eye health and immune system function, which keeps you vital and strong from head to toe.

Foods to Try: Apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, Cheddar cheese, egg yolks, mangoes, oatmeal, spinach and sweet potatoes.

Zinc

Zinc is another nutrient active in helping the immune system function properly, and DiBona also notes that it plays an important role in the formation of your connective tissues. "Zinc is a component of hundreds of enzymes in the body, some of which regulate the body's ability to make new proteins that will become building blocks of healthy hair and nails," she says. "Alopecia, hair dryness and brittleness can be signs of zinc deficiency."

Foods to Try: Cashews, green beans, lean beef, lobster, oysters and soybeans.

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