If you thought brittle or damaged nails were just a beauty issue, think again. Chipped nails, nails with white spots, flaky nails and nails with ridges all point to a vitamin or nutritional deficiency, which could be due to a lack of certain foods in your diet.

Although there are no foods that can provide a quick fix for nails, a diet for healthy nails can certainly help in making them strong and beautiful. We tell you about five common nail problems and what you should eat to make your nails healthy.

1. Brittle Or Flaky Nails
Brittle, dry or flaky nails often mean that you are vitamin B deficient, specifically biotin and vitamin B-12.

  • To fight them, include more carrots, tomatoes, leafy green lettuce, liver, nuts, peas, oatmeal and beans as sources of biotin in your diet.
  • Vitamin B12 can be found in meat, eggs and dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese.
  • Flaky nails can be prevented by including more essential fatty acids in your diet. Add two tablespoons of flaxseed oil or ground flaxseeds to your cereal or smoothies to keep your nail beds moisturized.

Sometimes, brittle nails may be an early sign of an underlying health condition such as hypothyroidism, a liver disease, anemia or even a fungal infection. If you feel that diet alone is not helping and your nails are still brittle after a month, consult your doctor to find out the real cause.

2. Soft Nails
Keratin makes your nails hard and strong and if you have a diet that is missing protein, you’d probably be suffering from them. “Protein helps provide structure to your cells,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, RD and health expert for Vitafusion in Washington.

  • To make keratin, a major component of hard, strong nails, you need to feed your body some high-quality protein. Add more eggs, dairy, nuts and meat to your diet to up your protein intake.
  • Phosphorus-rich foods, such as fish (especially salmon and mackerel) and whole grains, aid in the growth, maintenance and repair of all tissues and cells, and hardens nails.

3. Nails With White Spots
Those white areas on your nails are caused due to a zinc or calcium deficiency. “Zinc is key in cellular metabolism, and is found in foods such as cashews, oysters, lamb, lobster and lentils,” says Scritchfield.

  • Red meats such as beef and pork are also good sources of zinc, as are pumpkin seeds, dairy products and hard-boiled eggs.
  • However, sometimes white spots or marks could result from a nail injury or infection. In such cases, the spots disappear once the nail grows out.

4. Nails With Ridges
A lack of iron in foods can cause nails to grow with ridges rather than with a smooth surface.

  • Eat leafy greens, prunes, grains, seeds, red meat, broccoli and tofu as sources of iron.
  • Folate is also present in lentils and beans and can also help your nails regain their luster.
  • Calcium present in dairy products will also make your nails strong.

5. Hangnails
Hangnails can be prevented by the addition of vitamin C to your diet. “Vitamin C is important for the formation of collagen throughout the body,” adds Scritchfield.

  • Sources of vitamin C include red and green peppers, kiwis, strawberries, apples, cantaloupes, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and broccoli.
  • You should also include vitamin A-rich foods to prevent dry nails. Vitamin A—which can be found in carrots, pumpkins, apricots, sweet potatoes and tomatoes — helps maintain healthy tissue and skin.

What Else You Can Do
Lately, the hottest trend in health circles appears to be something you can easily make at home—bone broth. Made by boiling animal bones, herbs, and vegetables into a flavorful, bone marrow-filled stock, it contains protein, calcium, essential fatty acids, as well as vitamins, all important for healthy nail growth, according to Ariane Resnick, author of The Bone Broth Miracle.

Hailing its benefits, Bob Huttinga, PA-C and author of Put Your Health in Your Own Hands, says, “Both bone broth soups and stews work wonders for nails. You can also eat the ends off the chicken bones, but only if you know where the chicken was raised.”

And, of course, nothing is more important than keeping yourself hydrated all the time. “Water helps deliver nutrients to cells. In addition to drinking plenty of water, incorporate a mix of water-rich fruits and veggies to help you hydrate and to deliver a dose of vitamins and minerals to your body,” says Scritchfield.

For more interesting stories, visit our Health page and read about other Natural Remedies here.

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An alumnus of Asian College of Journalism, and Cardiff University, Wales, Yoshita Sengupta has more than five years of experience in writing for various news outlets. As Founder and Director of Underscore, a content solutions agency, she writes for multiple digital and print news outlets and consults brands. When not working for Underscore, she works with social entrepreneurs and homeless communities, which includes running a library for street children.