What you eat has a direct effect on the health of your fingernails and toenails. Since nails are continuously growing, certain nutrients are needed to ensure they are strong, appear healthy and don't become cracked, discolored or brittle. You need these nutrients not just for your nails, but also if you want strong hair and healthy skin.
Biotin is a B vitamin found in food and created by healthy bacteria in the body. The adequate intake level set by the Institute of Medicine is 30 micrograms per day for adults, and it is estimated that most adults have a daily intake of 40 to 60 micrograms per day. A large egg has 13 to 25 micrograms of biotin, and 3 ounces of cooked liver contains 13 to 25 micrograms. A 3-ounce portion of pork or salmon has 2 to 5 micrograms of biotin.
Lack of iron in the diet can cause nails to become brittle and white, and give them a spoon-shaped appearance. Meat is typically high in iron, especially liver, oysters and beef, which have 3 to 13 milligrams of iron per serving. Iron found in non-meat sources is less available to the body, and is better absorbed when combined with vitamin C sources like tomatoes, citrus fruit and broccoli. Beans contain 3 to 9 milligrams, and oatmeal has 10 milligrams per serving. Spinach and bread both contain about 2 milligrams per serving.
Keratin is a protein that provides structure to the nails, and is also a component in hair and skin. A diet low in protein can lead to soft and brittle nails. Healthy protein sources include lean meats like skinless chicken and fish, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds and legumes. Most adults, even athletes, need about 6 to 7 ounces of protein daily, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Other Nail Care Tips
Keeping fingernails and toenails clean and clipped can help to prevent infections. When you moisturize your hands, don't forget your nails and cuticles. Keep your nails short to avoid splitting or breaking. Limit use of nail polish remover, as the acetone can dry out your nails. Finish with a thin coat of nail polish to help your nails retain moisture.
Stephanie Brookshier has been a registered dietitian since 2005. She works as a weight loss counselor and nutrition educator. Brookshier holds a bachelor of science degree in nutritional science from the University of Arizona and is pursuing her master of science degree in nutrition from San Diego State University.