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Food for great nails

By
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Your fingernails can be a barometer of your overall health. There are many reasons for changes in your nails like fungal infection, injury and underlying health conditions. So if you are worried, get them checked out by your GP.

However, what you eat can also have an effect on your nail health. Dry, brittle and discoloured nails can be a result of nutritional deficiencies.

Here are some great things to put on the menu to keep your nails strong and healthy:

Eggs

Eggs are rich in biotin (also known as vitamin B7) and are "great sources of protein for nails," according to consultant dietitian and British Dietetic Association spokesperson Abigail Wilson.

You can also find biotin in breakfast cereals, liver, cheese, yoghurt and chicken.

Several studies have shown that supplements of 1-3mg of biotin daily increase nail thickness and prevent splitting and breaking. One small study evaluated 35 people with severe nail problems and found a daily dose of biotin for several months improved nail health in almost two thirds of those who took supplements.

Chicken, turkey, red meat

As nails are made up mainly of the protein keratin, making sure you have enough protein in your diet will help maintain their health.

Red meat is a great source of iron as well as protein, and a lack of iron leading to anaemia causes paler pink nail beds. Longstanding iron deficiency anaemia can cause nails to become spoon-shaped - instead of nails curving over the tip of the finger, they start to bend upwards, creating a spoon shaped nail.

Non-meat protein sources

Milk, cheese and yoghurt are all good sources of protein and calcium, too. Peas, beans and lentils are also useful sources of protein. "Legumes as well as being a good source of protein also contain iron. If you don’t have enough iron your nails may become dull and brittle," says Abigail.

Salmon

Fish is another great protein source and also contains omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamin D. " Vitamin D helps absorption of calcium which aids in building stronger nails," says Abigail. "The omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation in the nail bed, supporting healthy nails."

Zinc and selenium

"Nutrients that are particularly important for nails are zinc and selenium," says nutrition scientist Dr Rosalind Miller from the British Nutrition Foundation. "Good sources of zinc are meat, poultry, shellfish, nuts and wholegrains, and selenium can be found in Brazil nuts, fish, eggs and mushrooms."

Selenium helps support healthy nails, however, don’t overdo it with very high dose supplements, Rosalind warns. "A deficiency in nutrients may impact nail health, but once we have an adequate status more may not necessarily be better. Indeed taking too much selenium can be harmful and cause a condition known as selenosis which can cause loss of nails."

Kiwi, orange and grapefruit

Include all fruits, but these are particularly high in vitamin C which is good for nail health.

"Vitamin C helps in the production of collagen which keeps nails naturally beautiful and youthful looking and avoids those hang nails," says Abigail.

Jelly cubes

It’s an old wives tale that eating a couple of jelly cubes a day will keep nails strong as they contain gelatin. Although preliminary studies at the University of Michigan found gelatin can make nails less brittle, most experts dismiss the notion. "Gelatin is made of processed collagen and your nails aren’t made of collagen but of a different protein called keratin so jelly cubes have no nutritional value for nails," says Abigail.

Dietitian reviewed by Catherine Collins RD

Reviewed on April 21, 2016

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