Foods contain an abundance of essential nutrients for our hair, skin and nails. Through proper nutrition and the consumption of whole, nutrient dense foods we can slow down the aging process significantly. The hair, skin and nails are all tell-tale signs of a healthy, well-balanced diet and we’re here to divulge into what and how we can ramp up our beauty regime with food.

A. The 3 essential proteins – keratin, collagen and elastin

Collagen has taken the media by storm of late but when it comes to overall hair, skin and nail health we need to consider all three of the above-mentioned proteins.

Keratin is a protein that makes up roughly 95% of the composition of our hair. Its intake has been shown to reduce hair loss and improve its strength. The outermost layer of the skin (epidermis) is largely made up of keratinocytes i.e., the cells that produce keratin. Zinc has been found to support the production of keratinocytes and is an essential mineral for optimal skin health. Food sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, chicken, beans, nuts and dairy products.

Collagen is also a structural protein found mainly in the skin. It plays a role in the strength and elasticity of our skin. It contributes to skin hydration and as we age our bodies natural collagen production decreases. If we consume adequate amounts of protein in our diets, supplementation is not necessary. Collagen is easily found in most everyday diets as it’s found in the connective tissues of animals. Sources therefore include chicken, fish, eggs and bone broth. Many food sources also enhance the body’s natural ability to produce collagen.

Nutrients that support the production of collagen include:

 Proline – an amino acid critical to the synthesis of collagen. Food sources include salmon, cottage cheese, asparagus, chickpeas and tofu

 Vitamin C – aids in the production of collagen. Food sources include berries, kiwi, bell peppers and broccoli

 Glycine – required for adequate collagen synthesis. Food sources include dairy
products and legumes

 Lycine – supports the production of collagen. Food sources include red meat, tofu, spirulina powder

 Garlic – helps repair damaged collagen fibres

Elastin is the protein that is mainly found in the thickest layer of the skin. It is rich in the amino acids’ proline and glycine. Elastin is flexible and as its name suggests, gives your skin’s tissues elasticity. It is also responsible for the firmness of youthful skin. Manganese is an important nutrient for elastin production and sources include nuts, mussels and legumes.

Elastin also aids the skin in retaining water. Staying hydrated helps maintains the skins elasticity and we should aim for roughly 35ml/kg/day.

B. Fats

Both omega 3 and 6 fatty acids play a role in the structural integrity of our skin. Deficiencies of these fatty acids has been shown to cause increased water loss through the skin, altered skin barrier functioning and dermatitis.

C. Vitamins B, C and E

Deficiencies in B-vitamins may result in dry, itchy skin. Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) helps maintain the structural integrity of skin and improves wound healing. Vitamin B3 (niacin) plays important roles in preventing sun damaged skin and hyperpigmentation. Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) helps the skin retain moisture thus resulting in more hydrated and healthy skin cells.

Food sources include:

Vitamin B2 – milk, yoghurt, cheese, eggs, salmon
Vitamin B3 – red meat, chicken, fish
Vitamin B5 – mushrooms, avocado, nuts

As mentioned above, vitamin C aids in the production of collagen. Deficiencies in the vitamin leads to poor wound healing and lowered immunity.

Vitamin C, along with vitamin E both slow down damage to the skin. They are antioxidants which prevent oxidative damage to the skin cells. Sources include almonds, pumpkin, bell peppers, berries and spinach.

As shown from the above information, proper nutrition and adequate hydration come out tops when it comes to keeping our skin, hair and nails healthy. These nutrients also support our overall health and can easily be consumed from a well-balanced diet without any need for supplementation.

Written by: Nicole Keeling – Registered Dietitian, @cape.townfoods

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