No one likes painful broken nails and hangnails, and strong healthy nails not only lower your chance of these painful conditions, but they look good, too. Nails grow at a set rate, and food can't make them grow more quickly. Certain foods can, however, strengthen your nails to prevent breakage, which will allow you to grow -- and keep -- longer nails more easily than if your nails were weaker.
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Your nails are made up primarily of protein -- specifically, a tough structural protein called keratin -- so you need adequate protein from your diet to support healthy new nail growth. Low protein levels can affect your nails, causing abnormal lines across your nails, while getting enough protein strengthens them. Your protein needs vary depending on your weight and activity, but the average person needs 0.4 gram per pound of body weight daily. Meet your protein needs healthfully with lean meats like skinless chicken breast and fatty fish like salmon, as well as nuts, beans, eggs and low-fat dairy.
Your body may use biotin to fight nail brittleness -- which ups your risk of breaks that prevent your nails from growing long. Biotin increases nail thickness and hardness, so nails are less prone to splitting, reports the Life Extension Foundation. Snack on nuts -- especially pecans, almonds and walnuts -- and add whole eggs to your diet to boost your biotin intake. Sardines, mushrooms and grains also serve as sources of biotin.
Foods With Zinc or Silicon
Minerals also play a role in nail health and can help you grow stronger nails more easily. Low zinc levels weaken your nails and cause hangnails, while silicon fights nail brittleness. Silicon also helps your body make collagen, a structural protein found in your skin and nails. Include unrefined grains, especially oats, as well as spinach, bananas, lentils and beans in your diet as sources of silicon. Nuts, chickpeas, and meat and shellfish -- especially beef, turkey and oysters -- increase your zinc intake.
Putting It All Together
Nourish your nails by eating meals high in protein, biotin, zinc and silicon throughout the day. For breakfast, try topping oatmeal with sliced banana and all-natural almond or cashew butter. At lunch, serve lean grilled chicken breast -- or 1/2 cup of lentils, if you'd prefer a vegetarian option -- and sauteed mushrooms atop a spinach salad, with low-fat Greek yogurt on the side. For dinner, have grilled salmon on a bed of steamed spinach, with a side of brown rice. If you're vegetarian, make a filling grain bowl by topping a cup of brown rice with beans, steamed spinach and your favorite roasted vegetables, with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette for added flavor.