Although commercials for hair care products try to convince you that they can make your hair shiny, thick, and strong, there’s something else that plays a much bigger in the health of your hair—what you eat. Learn how your hair grows, why what you eat matters for hair health, the nutrients you need for healthy hair, and specific foods you can eat to obtain those nutrients.
HOW HAIR GROWS
To understand how what you eat affects the appearance and health of your hair, you need to understand how it grows. The American Academy of Dermatology explains that hair starts growing from a root that’s located at the base of small pockets in your skin called follicles. That root is made up of protein cells is nourished by blood that circulates in the blood vessels on your scalp and creates new cells. These new cells are responsible for hair growth. As hair grows from the root out toward the surface of the skin, it passes by an oil gland called the sebaceous gland, which adds sheen and a softer texture to it.
When your hair actually emerges from the skin, the cells are no longer living—at this point all hair care products can do is help protect that hair. That’s why what you eat to nourish those cells makes a much greater impact on the health of your hair than the shampoo or conditioner you use. You lay the foundation for healthy hair long before you ever see it.
NUTRIENTS THAT NOURISH HAIR
Many of the same vitamins and minerals that help you have strong bones, teeth, and nails, also contribute to growing healthy hair. The BBC Good Food blog says that the following nutrients are important for healthy hair:
Protein prevents your hair from becoming brittle and weak. Diets extremely low in protein can eventually lead to hair loss. Authority Nutrition lists the following as high-protein foods: eggs, almonds, chicken or turkey breast, Greek yogurt, milk, lean beef, and fish. You may be surprised to learn that oats, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts actually contribute a significant amount to your daily protein needs while providing other important nutrients and fiber.
In a previous All We Eat blog post, you learned that a diet deficient in iron can lead to the condition, anemia. Anemia can result in hair loss, as the lack of sufficient iron prevents the follicle and hair root from receiving nutrients. A WebMD article notes that your body can digest two types of iron, heme iron and non-heme iron, although it more readily digests heme iron. The same article suggests that you eat these animal-based foods as a source of heme iron: beef, sardines, chicken, turkey, ham, veal, halibut, haddock, perch, salmon, or tuna. It also recommends eating lentils, beans, and spinach as a source of plant-based non-heme iron. By the way, your body absorbs iron more easily when you consume foods or beverages high in vitamin C.
Vitamin C helps your body produce collagen, a key structural protein of muscles, skin, blood vessels, and other connective tissues in your body. One cup of each of these fruits helps you meet your daily requirement for vitamin C: orange, mango, grapefruit, strawberry and pineapple. Health.com reveals an interesting fact—red chili peppers actually pack more vitamin C than an orange! A single cup of red chili peppers offers around 350 percent of your daily needs while a cup of orange slices offers slightly less than half that amount. While you would probably never eat an entire cup of red chili peppers, it’s nice to know that the little zing of spice you get from so many dishes also delivers a little dose of vitamin C.
Your body requires vitamin A to create the oily substance sebum, which our sebaceous glands coat your hair with as it emerges. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, these five foods provide meet or far exceed your daily needs for Vitamin A: sweet potato, beef liver, spinach, carrots, and cantaloupe.
Vitamin E protects your hair and skin from sun damage. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers a list of foods high in vitamin E, with dry roasted sunflower seeds as a top source, followed by almonds, spinach, safflower oil, beet greens and many others. Generally speaking, if you include plenty of nuts, seeds, and oils in your diet, you should be able to meet your vitamin E needs.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
These essential fatty acids, which you can only get through what you eat, supply the oil that gives your hair shine and softness. While oily fishes like sardines and salmon are well known to be rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, Women’s Health Magazine says that you can also get them from foods like edamame, walnuts, grass-fed beef, and flaxseed oil.
ZINC AND SELENIUM
Without zinc, you can experience hair loss, and your scalp may be dry and flaky. Livestrong explains that a selenium deficiency can make it difficult for you to grow hair and cause hair thinning. You tend to get zinc when you eat protein-rich foods. Great sources for selenium include foods like liver, butter, garlic, nuts, whole grains, and some types of fish.
One of the B-vitamins, biotin helps prevent brittle hair and hair loss. U.S. News and World Report recommends eating eggs, peanuts, almonds, wheat-bran, salmon, cheese, and avocado to get enough biotin in your diet.
EAT A WELL-ROUNDED DIET, AND YOUR HAIR WILL THANK YOU
Although it can be overwhelming to look at all the various nutrients you should consume to grow healthy hair—or to be healthy in general—you can’t go wrong by simply eating a variety of good foods.
Do you have any dietary secrets for lustrous, thick and strong hair to share? If you do, please post them in the comments below.