Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Nutrition for Beauty: Ask the Nutritionist

Question:
I have damaged-looking nails and I have tried everything to repair them. Could there be something missing from my diet that's causing this? Are there any nutrients or supplements that can improve the look of my nails?
Answer:

A lack of certain nutrients has been connected with nail problems, especially dry, brittle nails. One study showed that taking 2.5 mg of biotin a day, or 10 mg of silicon a day, can help improve brittle nails. Keep in mind that you'll need to take these supplements for a while to see a difference. These nutrients won't repair your nails that are already brittle, but will lead to an improvement as your nails grow out.

It’s important to get plenty of protein in your diet, since that’s what nails are made of. Also, make sure your iron levels are normal because low iron can also make nails brittle.

Your nails can reveal clues about your overall health. So, check with your doctor if you're concerned.

Question:
I want my hair to grow long and healthy. What vitamins or supplements do you recommend for healthy hair?
Answer:

Vitamins and supplements that are good for your body are also good for your hair. So a nutrient-packed diet is the way to go. Some of the best foods you can eat for healthy hair include salmon (omega-3 fatty acids help moisturize the scalp and hair), dark green veggies (full of vitamin A and C to help moisturize hair), beans and lean meats (great sources of protein, which is what your hair is made of), nuts (eat a variety to get more hair-healthy nutrients), and eggs (biotin and vitamin B-12 provide for strong hair and nails).

Question:
I want to start taking supplements that contain MSM for my hair, nails, and skin. Is this safe to do while I’m breastfeeding?
Answer:

While MSM is generally safe, we do not have enough evidence to say it’s safe for women to take while breastfeeding. So to be on the safe side, wait until you’re done.

Question:
Are there any changes I can make in my diet to avoid a reoccurrence of toenail fungus?
Answer:

I always like to suggest a dietary solution when I can. But what you eat doesn’t play a role in the development of toenail fungus. What you can do: wash and dry your feet before bed, use an over-the-counter antifungal product (ask your pharmacist to point you in the right direction), keep your feet dry with cotton socks or open shoes, don't share nail files or clippers, and wear shower shoes in public stalls.

Question:
Are there certain foods I should eat or supplements I should take to keep my teeth healthy and strong?
Answer:

You need a diet rich in calcium to keep your teeth strong. The best sources are dairy foods like yogurt and milk. Green, leafy vegetables are also good sources, such as kale and turnip greens. It’s best to get calcium from food, but you need 1,000 to 1,200 mg a day (equal to about 3 cups of milk). If you can’t get that much from your diet, calcium supplements can help fill in the gaps. Vitamin D, often found in fortified milk and cereals, is also important to help your body absorb calcium. 

Question:
My legs are swelling and I'm retaining water. Could this have something to do with my diet?
Answer:

Your diet can play a role in swelling. Too much salt can cause swelling, especially in the feet and ankles. Cut back on the amount of salt you eat and see if that helps. Watch out for hidden salt in packaged and canned foods.

If you continue to have swelling, let your doctor know, especially if you have shortness of breath. Many different medical conditions can cause swelling, so don't ignore it.

Question:
Are there any supplements that really help in building and maintaining muscle mass, especially for those of us over 50?
Answer:

I’m so glad you asked this question because loss of muscle is a particular problem as we get older. But there are ways to prevent it. First, make sure you’re getting plenty of lean protein. Good sources include lean meats, fish, dairy, beans, and eggs. Most women need about 50g a day, and men need 60g. If high-protein foods aren’t your favorite, you can also take protein supplements. But it is even more important to put your muscles to work! Many of us become less active as we age, which is a major cause of muscle loss. You’re never too old to exercise. Weight-bearing exercises, like walking, and resistance exercises with weight or bands are crucial for keeping your muscles strong.

Question:
I am a woman and a vegetarian. I just started strength training. What are some good sources of protein to help me build muscle?
Answer:

If you’re an ovo-lacto vegetarian (you eat eggs and dairy), you're in luck. Eggs and low-fat or fat-free dairy products (yogurt and milk) happen to be great sources of protein.

If you don’t eat eggs or dairy, other good sources include tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers, beans, and nuts. Most women need about 50g of protein a day, which is very doable, even as a vegetarian. But keep in mind that most non-meat sources of protein are what we call “non-complete", meaning you have to eat more than one source of protein to get all the amino acids your body needs. For example, eat beans and rice and you’re set. It's not as complicated as it sounds. Just mix up your sources of protein and you should be in good shape.

Question:
I read that drinking 1 cup of low-fat chocolate milk after a workout can help rebuild muscles. Is that true?
Answer:

Your body needs both protein and carbohydrates to recover from a good workout, and chocolate milk provides both of these. One study has shown that low-fat chocolate milk can improve endurance and performance, increase muscle, and decrease fat.

The question is would regular low-fat milk work just as well -- researchers didn’t test that. The added carbohydrates (sugar) in chocolate milk may not be necessary, since milk has natural milk sugar already. Plus, the added sugar may pack on the pounds. So it's fine to down a glass of chocolate milk occasionally after a workout, but I wouldn’t recommend that you make it your go-to recovery drink.

Question:
I've heard that putting tea bags over my eyes can help prevent wrinkles. Is this true? If so, what is it about the tea that helps fight wrinkles?
Answer:

Chilled tea bags can help puffy eyes, but wrinkles, not so much. The cool temperature of the tea bags helps reduce the swelling. You can use other chilled items as well, such as cucumber slices or a package of frozen peas. Hemorrhoid cream under your eyes can also help get rid of puffiness.

Question:
I have an acne problem. I try to snack healthy, but when I eat certain snacks, like peanuts, I break out by the next morning. Are there any snack foods you'd suggest that could be kinder to my skin?
Answer:

Many people notice a connection between what they eat and acne breakouts. Recently, some research has found a possible link between acne and high-sugar foods. While some people think dairy can cause acne, the research doesn’t support that. If you notice a connection between any foods you eat and your own breakouts, your best bet is to avoid those foods. Focus on foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, like fruits and vegetables. Nuts are a good source of healthy fats, which are also beneficial for skin health. But if they cause a problem for you, try some other good sources such as avocados or olive oil. 

Question:
Are there certain foods that I should limit or avoid in order to trim my midsection? If so, which ones?
Answer:

Having a smaller waist really comes down to caloric intake. You need to burn more calories than you eat. But eating high-calorie foods can make that harder to do. So you should avoid or limit high-fat and high-sugar foods. Steer clear of butter, high-fat cheese, and fatty meats. Limit sweets (desserts) and sugary drinks (including juice and non-diet soft drinks). Calories from alcohol, such as beer or wine, have a tendency to go straight to your waistline, as well.

Question:
Is it true that I should not eat after a certain time of night in order to lose weight? If so, what time?
Answer:

It's really about the total amount of calories you take in a day, regardless of what time of day you eat them. If you eat 5 or 6 small meals or snacks a day, your last meal should be an hour or two before your bedtime. Personally, I don't eat after a certain hour, because it helps me limit the number of calories I eat within a day. Plus, going to bed with a full stomach can interfere with your sleep. So I’d say, make your last meal at least two hours before bedtime. If you work out in the mornings before breakfast, eating your last meal one hour before bedtime may provide you the energy you'll need for your workout the next morning.

Question:
I am a 27-year-old woman. Can drinking whole milk help me gain weight?
Answer:

Since most people need to lose weight and not gain it, generally you can afford to avoid drinking whole milk because of the amount of fat it holds. But if you do need to gain weight, then whole milk is a good drink option. It’s still packed with healthy nutrients for your overall health.

Question:
Are there any additional beauty benefits to drinking ionized water instead of tap water?
Answer:

To create ionized water, manufacturers add electrically charged substances, or ions, to the water. Ions can make the water more acidic by lowering the pH, or more alkaline by raising the pH. The theory is that the pH of acidic ionized water is closer to the pH of your skin and hair. But your body quickly neutralizes any water you drink to make it match your body’s pH. So it’s highly unlikely that drinking ionized water will have any significant health or beauty benefits.

Thank you for joining us for WebMD Ask the Nutritionist. Be sure to check in on Wednesday, Oct. 10th, at 1 p.m. ET, when the discussion topic will be "All About Antioxidants." Sign up if you'd like an email reminder the day before the event.

WebMD Ask the Specialist Transcript

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on September 11, 2012

The opinions expressed in this section are of the Specialist and the Specialist alone. They do not reflect the opinions of WebMD and they have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance or objectivity. WebMD is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on WebMD. 

WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.