Your nails are more than just another part of your body to pamper with a beauty treatment (though you should also do that). The health and appearance of your nails can be a greater indicator of your full-body health, like being in short supply of certain essential vitamins or minerals. That’s why you need to nourish your nails from the inside out.
Health and nutrition experts share how to keep your manicure strong and intact by ensuring your body has the best vitamins for fingernails.
Best Vitamins and Minerals for Nails
Keep an eye on the physical quality of your nails for indicators of your overall nutrition. If you have weak and brittle nails, it might be due to a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Here are some of the best vitamins and minerals for healthy nails that HUM experts recommend.
Biotin is one of the most popular vitamins for strong nails. According to Dr. Shilpi Agarwal, an integrative medical physician, “Biotin, or B7, works by acting as an enzyme or catalyst to help the reaction of producing amino acids. When these are produced, proteins can be created and ultimately this helps to generate new, healthy hair and nails.”
B7 isn’t the only B vitamin that is important for healthy nails. Vitamin B12 helps create red blood cells and support the process of iron absorption (it’s mostly found in beef, chicken, shellfish, and eggs). “Both processes are required to deliver oxygen to nail cells and maintain a healthy nail appearance,” says Gaby Vaca-Flores, RDN, CLE, a registered dietitian nutritionist and education specialist at HUM. And if you have low B12 and iron levels, your nails might look brittle and misshaped, she adds.
Essentially all your B vitamins are vitamins for strong nails. Vitamin B9, aka folate, promotes cell growth and function, according to Vaca-Flores. “Given that nails have a quick cell turnover, it’s important to prioritize nutrients that support cell health,” she says. You can find folate in many dark green leafy veggies, and legumes like beans and peanuts.
A lack of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D is a common cause of cracked nails. Unfortunately, an estimated billion people across the world deal with a vitamin-D deficiency. Thus, ensuring you get enough of this sunshine vitamin can be helpful for maintaining your manicure. Aside from spending some time in the sun, registered dietitian Jess Nelson, RDN recommends choosing food products fortified with vitamin D like eggs, milk, yogurt, and fatty fish.
Another reason vitamin D is one of the key vitamins for healthy nails is that it’s an essential mineral for your body’s ability to absorb and monitor calcium in the blood. This mineral is also beneficial for healthy nails, so Nelson suggests looking for foods rich in calcium such as cow’s milk, fortified dairy-free milk beverages, low-fat Greek yogurt, and low-fat natural cheeses.
Fingernails are made up of a protein called keratin, which protects the underlying tissue. An iron deficiency can cause inadequate blood flow that deprives your nail beds of oxygen. As a result, this scenario can lead to brittle nails and cracked cuticles, a sign of a vitamin deficiency. For iron levels to support the growth of healthy strong nails, Nelson recommends good-quality protein sources that offer a good amount of iron. Opt for soy milk, lean beef, oatmeal, fortified cereals, and legumes.
Magnesium is another mineral you need for healthy nails. “It helps the body create protein molecules, which subsequently encourages nail growth,” Vaca-Flores says. That makes it just as important as iron to get in your diet, in whole grains, leafy greens, almonds, beans, and peanuts.
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient to nourish and hydrate your body from within. According to Nelson, “Your nails are just an extension of your skin. Choose foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids to help keep the nail bed moisturized.” For omega-3s, incorporate fish, vegetable oils, flaxseeds, and walnuts into your diet.
Vitamin C indirectly benefits your nail health. “This antioxidant functions as a primer for collagen, an important protein for maintaining nail strength and shape,” Vaca-Flores says. So get plenty of citrus fruits in your diet; you don’t want your nails to be deficient. “Poor nail growth can sometimes be related to low vitamin C levels,” adds Vaca-Flores.
Zinc and vitamin C are partners in helping your nail health in an indirect way: It also supports cell health for strong and healthy nails. “The body counts on a regular supply of zinc to help maintain cell growth and development,” Vaca-Flores says. Find it in plant-based foods including chickpeas, nuts, and seeds.
How Do You know When to Rely On Supplements for Nails vs. Food Sources?
If you eat an overall balanced diet with plenty of plant-based foods, there’s a chance your nail health will be all set. “If you have visibly weak nails, it may be a good idea to start taking a supplement, especially if your nails have breakage, thinness, or changes in texture,” says Vaca-Flores. It may not definitely be your diet that’s deficient—if you typically get acrylic or gel nails, you might have weaker nails in general. “In either case, it can be a good idea to lend your nails a helping hand by taking a targeted supplement,” Vaca-Flores says.