The phrase “you are what you eat” is semi-terrifying. After all, that means most days we’d be a giant jar of Nutella.
However, there is a good aspect to being what you eat. According to Brigitte Zeitlin, a registered dietitian, and Lisa Drayer, a registered dietitian and author of The Beauty Diet, there are a ton of vitamins and minerals with beautifying effects. So when you eat certain whole foods (like, say, strawberries dipped in your Nutella), you get doses of micronutrients that will make your hair shinier, your nails stronger, and your skin clearer.
You might be wondering why you can’t just skip the strawberries in favor of a supplement or pill, but Zeitlin says it’s much better to eat whole foods. “Supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” she says. “There’s no way to tell what you’re getting.”
In addition, Zeitlin explains that when you take a supplement, you only get one nutrient. When you eat whole foods, you get a whole range. So forget the makeup counter or the supplement sites—let’s hit the grocery store.
If you literally want to be healthy from head to toe, make sure you’re consuming enough biotin. Drayer says that a biotin deficiency will not only lead to hair loss, but it can also make your nails brittle.
Getting enough of this micronutrient is also helpful for your skin. “Biotin prevents aging, helps reduce wrinkles and promotes skin health and beauty,” Zeitlin says. She suggests 30 to 35 micrograms (mcg) per day, but says there’s no upper limit, which means no one has observed any negative effects from consuming too much biotin.
“I recommend biotin-rich foods such as salmon, chicken, walnuts, yogurt, wheat germ, eggs, and whole-grain cereals and whole-wheat breads,” Drayer says.
“Vitamin C is a definite component of beauty health,” Zeitlin says. It promotes collagen production, which makes skin “plump, wrinkle-free and fresh.” The antioxidant also makes your hair and nails grow faster and stronger.
Since your body can’t make its own vitamin C, it’s important that you incorporate lots of food that contain it into your diet. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 75 milligrams (mg) per day for women over 19 who don’t smoke.
“You can find vitamin C in strawberries, blueberries, red bell peppers, sweet potatoes—and definitely citrus, such as grapefruits and tangerines,” Zeitlin says. A large strawberry has a little more than 10 milligrams of vitamin C, so if you ate just three, you’d hit half your vitamin C RDA.
Omega-3 fatty acids
We love dots on our sweaters and skirts. On our faces? Not so much. To banish your blemishes, you’ll want to consume a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids. “These nutrients are anti-inflammatory, meaning they reduce inflammation under the skin,” Zeitlin says. “That inflammation is what causes your blackheads and whiteheads.”
Not only do omega-3s clear up your skin, they also help prevent clogged pores, fine lines and dry, scaly skin.
Ready to start reaping these amazing benefits? “The adequate intake for omega-3 fatty acids for females 19 and older is 1.1 grams per day,” Drayer says. “Good sources include fatty fish like salmon, herring, trout, mackerel and sardines, as well as plant sources such as walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.” Zeitlin adds that you can also get omega-3s from avocados, olive oil, almonds and olives.
A 3-ounce portion of salmon (which is about the size of a deck of cards) has more than 1.5 grams of omega-3s. Chia seeds contain even more: each serving will give you 5 grams.
An upper limit for omega-3 fatty acids hasn’t been issued, so as long as you’re eating a whole range of foods, you won’t have an “overdose.”
Some of us love our short hair, some of us want Rapunzel-like length, but nobody wants dandruff. That’s why selenium is so awesome: It’s a mineral that, according to Zeitlin, helps our scalps stay free of dandruff-causing fungus. And when it comes to our skin, selenium is a triple threat. Not only does it protect us against sun damage and burning, Drayer says, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties.
The RDA for women is 55 mcg. You’ll get four times that amount with just one Brazil nut, which contains 200 mcg. (The National Institutes of Health actually warns us not to eat Brazil nuts too often since they have so much selenium.)
You can also get the mineral from fish, whole grains and mushrooms, according to Zeitlin.
When people want to justify tanning, they typically say something along the lines of, “I’m getting my dose of vitamin D!” There’s no doubt this vitamin is great for your skin. It can boost your production of collagen, make your skin more supple and glowing, and make blemishes less noticeable. “I call vitamin D the magic vitamin,” Zeitlin says. “It’s good for everything!”
Unfortunately, while she confirms that the sun is in fact the best source of vitamin D, she also warns sun overexposure can lead to sunburn, skin cancer, premature skin aging and even damage to your immune system.
So what’s a conscientious collegiette to do? First, you can get vitamin D from foods like fortified milk, fortified dairy such as cheese and yogurt and fortified cereals. (Fortified means the manufacturers have added micro-nutrients to the food.)
According to Zeitlin, we should try to get approximately 1000 international units, or IU, of vitamin D per day. One cup of fortified milk is around a tenth of your RDA. A serving of fortified cereal will give you 4 percent.
As you can see, it can be difficult to hit your RDA with food. Zeitlin says this is the one time she does recommend a supplement—especially during the winter months, when you’re getting even less sun than usual. Most vitamin D supplements only contain around 400 IU, so if you do take a pill, make sure you’re also eating foods with vitamin D in them.
One small step to the fridge means one huge leap for your hair, nails and skin. While you won’t see effects overnight, our experts agree a long-term commitment to a healthy, balanced diet will have you looking even more beautiful than ever. (We know, we didn’t think it was possible either.) Turns out being what you eat isn’t so bad after all.