Your nails are hard little shields that protect your fingers and toes from injury and infection. Nail problems including lack of growth, a brittle consistency and marks on your nails can also point to various health problems that might require treatment, but in many cases, simple nutrition can keep your nails healthy and growing strong. Drinking water keeps your tissues and nail beds adequately hydrated to promote normal growth patterns, but essential nutrients are important, too. If you follow a healthy, varied diet and still experience nail issues, consult your doctor.
Dairy products like milk -- especially goat's milk -- cheese, yogurt and eggs can all contribute to normal nail growth and structure. The key to eating dairy to maintain your nails, is a combination of nutrients: biotin and calcium. Biotin is a B vitamin that, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, can eliminate the brittleness of fragile nails. Calcium is also beneficial to nail growth, according to the AOCD.
Meat and Seafood
The iron and protein that a variety of meats and seafoods contain can also help your nails grow healthy and strong. The Dermatology Information System explains that a condition called koilonychia, or spoon nails, can develop if you are anemic due to a deficiency of dietary iron. Spoon nails are inverted like the bowl of a spoon and are very soft, and can break easily. The National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements reports that poultry, beef, tuna, oysters, crab, shrimp and pork are all good dietary sources of iron; animal-based foods are also high in protein that can strengthen your nail plates. Tofu is non-meat source for protein as well.
Beans and Lentils
Beans and lentils are a vegetarian option that can promote normal nail growth because of their high levels of protein and iron. These non-meat sources of iron, called non-heme iron, include soybeans, cooked lentils and lima beans, and a range of colorful navy, kidney and pinto beans, as well as black-eyed peas.
Green vegetables, including spinach, collard and turnip greens and romaine lettuce contain both iron and calcium, and should be part of a healthy diet to maintain your nails. Broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are also calcium-rich and serve as a non-dairy option for increasing your calcium intake.
Nuts and Grains
Ward off nail problems associated with anemia by eating whole grains and nuts that contain iron and biotin. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with iron--and even calcium--to provide an easy way to get iron that does not involve eating animals products, if you limit your red meat intake. Peanuts, walnuts and almonds are rich in biotin, according to a report from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Oatmeal and whole wheat bread are healthy choices to help you reach your dietary iron requirements.