What Your Nails and Skin Say About Your Diet

Whether you’re male or female, healthy nails and hands are typically seen as signs of physical beauty. According to Dr. Ariel Ostad, a Manhattan Board Certified Dermatologist, changes in skin and nails can signify health problems, some of which can be helped or prevented by eating a healthy diet.

“Skin and nail changes should be given the same level of attention and scrutiny as other physical symptoms men and women experience within their body,” said Ostad. “All too often, we only see a doctor for symptoms we can feel such as stomach or back pain. Visible changes to nails and skin can be indicative of conditions such as skin cancer or other systemic issues.”

While a perfectly manicured hand is one where the nails are strong and smooth, with no discoloration or jagged cuticle, most people have less-than-perfect hands. While regular visits to the dermatologist, proper moisturizing and protecting your skin from UV rays are all good practice, what you eat can also help prevent the issues that cause skin damage – and help improve damage that has already been done.

Look at your skin and nails for cues that it’s time to change up your diet. If you suspect there is an underlying issue, be sure to see your doctor or health care professional.

Spoon-Shaped Nails. A healthy nail has a specific shape—slightly raised in the middle, then curving down a bit at the tip. “Flat, spoon-shaped nails are a sign of iron deficiency anemia,” said Ostad.  “As with many health problems, it can take months of iron deficiency before the problem shows up in the nails. And when the anemia is corrected, it will take awhile for normal-shaped nails to re-grow.” In the meantime, add plenty of iron-rich foods to your diet.  Dark leafy greens, legumes and fresh or canned pumpkin are all great options. Try: Pumpkin Walnut Snack Muffins.

Peeling, Dry Nails and Skin. The nail is made up of several layers of keratin (a protein). Ideally, those layers seal together to form a unified, strong nail. But when nails aren’t protected—your hands are in water a lot, or exposed to cold, dry air—those layers tend to deteriorate, resulting in peeling nails. “Besides being an indication that you need to take better care of your nails, peeling nails can mean a diet that’s lacking in linoleic acid,” said Ostad. “The easiest way to up your intake is to increase your use of vegetable oils.” Opt for plenty of healthy olive oil, rich in monounsaturated fats. Try: Italian Salad Dressing or Tunisian Spiced California Raisin Hummus.

Brittle Nails According to Dr. Ostad, experts estimate that 20 percent of women suffer from a condition called “brittle nail syndrome.” Brittle nails can’t hold onto moisture, so the layers of the nail plate dry out and crack. Nutritionally, a diet low in iron can cause nails to become thin, brittle and easily broken. Ostad recommends increasing your vitamin B and iron intake, starting with dark leafy green vegetables and eggs, beef or seafood. Try: Cottage Scrambled Eggs or Kale Chips.

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