Strong, shiny, smooth nails—pretty enough to show off without polish and sturdy enough to pop open a can of seltzer without cracking—start in the kitchen.
“Your body has to constantly regenerate the cells that make up your nails, and it needs a healthy supply of certain nutrients to do so,” says Megan Wolf, a registered dietitian based in New York City.
Make these foods a regular part of your diet, and your nails will have the nutrients they need to grow thick and strong.
Edamame (for cysteine and folate)
The edamame appetizer before sushi is a smart choice. Soybeans provide cysteine, an amino acid necessary for the production of the protein keratin, which is one of your nails’ major building blocks, says Libby Mills, a registered dietitian based in West Chester, Pennsylvania. What’s more, edamame is a good source of folate, needed for the production of new nail cells.
✔Try this: Make your own salsa by tossing together cooked, shelled edamame; chopped white onion; diced tomatoes, sweet corn; and lime juice. Or season steamed edamame with chili powder for a zesty snack.
Eggs (for biotin)
Break an egg instead of your nails! Eggs are one of the best food sources of, a B vitamin that promotes protein production in the nail matrix, the tissue underlying your nails that generates nail cells. “Biotin has been shown to increase the thickness of your nails, and it can also prevent them from becoming brittle,” says Mills. It’s best to get your biotin from food, if possible: The high levels in many supplements can interfere with certain medical tests.
✔Try this: Make scrambled eggs with sliced smoked salmon and chopped broccoli, two other good sources of biotin.
Cashews (for zinc)
Zinc, which is abundant in cashews, is needed for cell division and protein synthesis— both very important for your always-growing nails. And you need it every day, because your body can’t store it long-term. Getting enough in your diet can keep your nails shiny and strong. “But if they’re dry or weak, it may be a sign that you’re low in zinc,” Wolf says.
✔Try this: Soak cashews overnight in the fridge and blend them into a smoothie with banana slices, chopped dates, and almond milk.
Sweet Potatoes (for vitamin A)
Something extra sweet about these spuds: Just one provides a whopping 561 percent of your daily dose of vitamin A, which helps your nail cells reproduce properly. “When you don’t get enough vitamin A in your diet, your nails may be brittle and develop vertical ridges that split and crack,” Mills says.
✔Try this: Mix mashed sweet potatoes into hummus for a spin on the classic dip. For earthy flavor, add chopped sage; for a sweet taste, add cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup.
Yellow Peppers (for vitamin C)
Sorry, oranges—yellow bell peppers win when it comes to vitamin C, which your body needs to produce collagen, a structural protein in your nails. “Collagen production diminishes as you age, which can result in thinner, weaker nails, so it’s very important to eat foods rich in vitamin C to keep them strong and healthy,” Wolf says. One large yellow pepper provides four times your recommended daily amount of C.
✔Try this: Marinate sliced yellow bell peppers in a mixture of olive oil, red wine vinegar, minced garlic, and chopped rosemary for 2 hours (keep chilled in the fridge) before grilling.