Rejuvenating facials, relaxing hair spas and foot massages are good to indulge in and no doubt beneficial for de-stressing, but our hair, skin and nails can become a lot healthier and sport a better texture if we focus on our nutrition and lifestyle. A diet rich in vitamins C, E and B complex and iron, among others, helps give strong, smooth, firm, porcelain-like and glowing skin; hair that is full and shiny, with minimal greying; nails that are strong and not brittle, ridged, or spoon-shaped.
In fact, our hair, skin and nails tell the story of our health even before blood reports do. The skin is the largest organ in the body and is built on a strong framework of the protein collagen, a cement-like substance that keeps it firm. The skin protects our internal organs, muscles and tissues from pathogens and infections and has several nerve endings that give us the sensation of hot and cold. The skin also prevents excessive water loss. Ninety-seven per cent of hair is made up of the protein keratin and a host of other minerals such as sulphur and iron, to name a few. On microscopic examination, a single strand of hair can help identify stress levels in the body in much the same way as the rings on the bark of a tree can tell its age. Nails are also made up of the protein keratin and because they are hard, nails protect the softer fingertips from damage, enable movements of fine coordination such as writing, painting, or using the keyboard.
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Here are some essentials for beautiful skin, hair and nails
• Proteins enable taut, young-looking skin, shiny hair and strong nails. Include a fist-sized serving of protein foods at least four times a day. Eggs for breakfast, skimmed milk paneer or tofu or chicken or fish for lunch and dinner are a good idea. Try whey protein shake as a teatime snack.
• Foods that contain vitamin A, such as carrots, tomatoes, spinach, cabbage and papaya, prevent whiteheads and blackheads on the skin, hair from thinning and drying out, and nails from splitting and growing sluggishly. Have a glass of carrot, tomato, beetroot, celery and spinach juice daily.
• B-complex vitamins help reduce tension lines and wrinkles on skin, provide strong, evenly coloured hair and prevent fungal infection on nails. A balanced diet containing a host of vegetables, wholegrain, oatmeal, wheatgerm and soy products and dairy can give you a lot of B-complex vitamins.
• Vitamin C is a powerful nutrient because it is essential in the making of collagen for the skin, helps prevent bruising and contributes to skin glow. A lack of vitamin C can lead to bumpy skin with large pores. Citrus fruit such as amla, oranges, sweet lime, and guava, tomatoes and potatoes are rich sources of vitamin C.
• Vitamin E is another vital nutrient; it enhances the function of vitamins C, B and A. Vitamin E is the anti-ageing vitamin; it reduces the incidence of brown spots on the skin, helps hair to become shiny. Almonds, wheatgerm and green vegetables are good sources.
• Zinc is essential for full, luxurious hair and for preventing white spots on nails. Iron also improves the strength of hair and nails. Check with your physician and take a supplemental dose of these for the short term to boost the health of your hair, skin and nails.
• Calculate how much water you need according to your weight and activity. Generally speaking, 13 glasses a day is good for men and nine glasses for women, to prevent dehydration and dryness of skin, hair and nails.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.
Write to Madhuri at email@example.com