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Beauty from the inside out: top nutrition tips for hair, skin and nails

Hair, skin and nails need nurturing and now is a great time to give yourself a beauty MOT for autumn.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shows you how.

What happens on the inside is as important as the outside

One of things that we may have missed during lockdown is a visit to our hairdresser or beauty therapist.  While many of us managed to master some kind of make do routines at home, for most of us it’s still work in progress. And despite the lifting of restrictions many of us are not rushing back to the salons as quickly as we might have been imagined.

Hair that needs a cut, nails in poor condition, not to mention skin that has lost its glow can affect self-esteem, which in turn can can lead to low mood and lack of confidence. However, we often forget that everything that happens on the outside is governed and controlled by what is going on inside; skin, hair and nails are a reflection of what’s going on within.

So, what do your hair, skin and nails really need to get them into great shape?

Age-defying collagen

Meat and Vegetarian sources of protein on kitchen worktop

The most abundant structural protein in the body is collagen: it is the building block making up the structure of skin, tendons, bones and teeth.  Good dietary sources include cow’s meat, chicken, and fish.  Another key structural protein found in human tissue is keratin which makes up most of our hair, skin and nails.  It’s important, therefore, to have a protein-rich diet, with animal protein providing higher amounts of the key amino acids required to produce collagen and keratin.

A selection of foods containing Vitamin C

Additionally, a key role of vitamin C is the formation and maintenance of collagen. Rich sources of vitamin C include cherries, red peppers, kiwis, kale, broccoli and citrus fruits so load up on these foods as much as possible for optimal collagen production.

Smooth digestion

Close up on stomach with hands making a heart shape to show good digestion

When things aren’t running smoothly on the inside, it’s reflected in how we look and feel.  Acid reflux is a common and unpleasant digestive symptom, leading people to think they have too much stomach acid.  Frequently, it’s just that the acid is in the wrong place caused by food or drink irritating the oesophageal valve, allowing acid up rather than keeping it in the stomach where it belongs.  Spicy foods, raw onions, coffee and alcohol are common triggers and are best avoided if you’re struggling with acid reflux.

Happiness from within

two strawberries and a banana made to look like a happy face on a blue wooden background

If self-esteem has taken a hammering during the past few months, it’s time to work on being happy from within, including being accepting of your appearance.  Around 90% of serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter known as the ‘happy hormone’, is made in the gut (another good reason for maintaining good gut health) and is key to keeping our mood balanced.

The amino acid tryptophan found in in poultry, soya produce, oats, almonds and dairy foods is also key to serotonin production. Try to include some of these foods at least once a day in your diet.

Beautiful biotin

Foods containing biotin

Often referred to as the ‘beauty vitamin’, biotin is part of the family of B-vitamins; it plays an important role in the health of your hair, skin and nails. Biotin functions as an essential co-factor for four key enzymes, needed for the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. It is also involved in the metabolism of amino acids and cell growth and replication, hence being important for hair, skin and nail health.

Biotin is found in brewer’s yeast, liver, soya, wholegrain brown rice, oats and peas but, but for a real boost to your hair, skin and nails, a supplement is a good idea.

Mineral magic

The body needs 45 different nutrients (including water) every day for optimum health. However, there are certainly some key players in the mineral stakes when it comes to hair, skin and nail health.

Foods containing iron

Lack of iron has been linked to hair loss, which may be down to the trend towards a less meat-based diet (since red meats are the richest sources of iron).  Selenium is a powerful antioxidant mineral warding off damaging free radicals, which attack hair, skin and nails.  Plus, it’s key to the production of thyroid hormones, low levels of which can cause poor hair condition as well as being a factor in hair loss[1]. Good sources include bran, oats, wholewheat foods and brazil nuts.

Foods containing zinc

Another beauty mineral is zinc. It is one of the hardest working minerals in the body, responsible for over 200 different enzyme reactions.  In short, not much functions in the body without zinc, and low levels can lead to many dermatological issues, hair loss and poor nail condition. Good sources include seafood, red meat, egg yolks, poultry, soya, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Quick Fixes

Eat some protein at every meal:

Good sources include meat, poultry, legumes, soya, dairy, fish or nuts

Hair, skin and nails can’t thrive without good hydration: 

Drink at least six to eight glasses of water daily.

Increase your intake of minerals:

Boost your biotin, selenium, zinc and iron levels, alongside other essential nutrients, with a multivitamin supplement.

Eat plenty of green foods:

Think spinach for iron, avocados for biotin, broccoli for vitamin C and artichokes for digestion and liver detoxification.

Keep smiling!

Why not write a gratitude list, even if it’s only one thing each day that makes you happy?

[1] Hind M Almohanna et al. The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review.  Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2019 Mar; 9(1):51-70

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