To vitamin or not to vitamin: a query as old as The Flintstones. Do dietary supplements impart health and provide beauty benefits? Or are they just a waste of money? The debate is still heated—see the latest skepticism just this month, courtesy of CBS and Consumer Reports.
Jolene Hart has some opinions on the topic. A former journalist and beauty editor, she entered the discussion when she tried to find cures for her health problems, including eczema and cystic acne. “When I couldn’t find any products or supplements that could help save my skin, I started focusing on natural options and integrated nutrition to help.” From her research, she wrote the book Eat Pretty, which came out this year. Hart’s thesis: getting good-for-you foods into your diet (versus taking supplements) is often the best route to getting all the nutrients you need to live a healthy life and look your best.
In terms of beauty, Hart considers vitamins a great second line of defense. “There’s so much we don’t know about components of food and how it works systematically, that I don’t believe supplements can ever really take its place,” she explains. She does add, though, that it’s good to check with your doctor about certain nutrients and substances in pill form that might benefit you personally.
In Hart’s view, food is the foundation of how we look and feel every day, and eating seasonally is the way to get key foods into your diet when they’re at their most nutrient-dense and tastiest. “It’s about creating a lifestyle of beauty year-round,” she says, “and understanding that repairing your relationship with food is just as essential as getting a facial or other beauty service.” Her suggestion: go to your local farmer’s market and then play around in the kitchen. “Cooking was a way to heal myself, and I couldn’t do that when I ate processed food. It’s not something I used to think about, but once you start it up, you’ll never want to go back.” Here’s her guide for eating right for your hair, skin, and nails, complete with shopping lists.
benefits: Heals skin, especially if you have acne, and balances oil production and immunity as you age. “Your body doesn’t normally store zinc, so you need to make sure you’re getting some,” says Hart.
get it from: Pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, chickpeas
benefits: “As we age, cell growth slows down and we notice textural differences,” explains Hart. Because vitamin A increases cell turnover and helps skin grow, it helps reduce environmental damage and prevents fine lines and other signs of aging.
get it from: Fruits and veggies high in beta carotene—think orange, red, and yellow options such as cantaloupe, grapefruit, apricots, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, and also leafy greens like romaine and kale
benefits: Hart calls C “the collagen drug that keeps skin strong and elastic.” It also helps defend against free radical damage.
get it from: Bell peppers, strawberries, pineapple, cabbage, kale
benefits: These organisms are a daily essential for helping your body break down food. “If you don’t break down food correctly, you’re not assimilating it into your body properly and therefore not getting the nutrients you need,” explains Hart. You’ll see a change in your skin in particular. “The better your digestive system functions, the less your skin has to pick up the slack of eliminating toxins and it will look more radiant,” she says.
get them from: yogurt and other fermented foods; if you have trouble tolerating natural sources of probiotics, this is a case in which Hart recommends talking to your doc about supplements.
benefits: “It’s super important for hair strength and will increase silicone for flexibility and elasticity,” says Hart. That means: when you brush your hair, it won’t snap.
get it from: Pastured eggs, mushrooms, spinach, raw nuts and seeds, radishes, oats, bananas
benefits: “Keep your scalp healthy, too, with omega fats. They allow your scalp to produce healthy oils you need for moisture and balance,” explains Hart.
get it from: Chia seeds, hemp seeds, sardines, walnuts
benefits: One of the most commonly recommended nutrients for nail strength and durability. “Biotin is what you need if you want to grow your nails long without worrying about breaking them,” says Hart.
get it from: Swiss chard, almonds, red cabbage
benefits: “It’s the building block for nails,” explains Hart—and it’s also essential for locks.
get it from: Animal sources or hemp powder you can add in smoothies