Having long, strong hair doesn’t just depend on what shampoo you use, or which products you put on your hair. It’s also a reflection of what you put into your body. Just like skin, the condition of your hair is an outward sign of internal health. To promote hair growth, you need to ‘feed’ the hair from the inside. The cells that make up each strand of hair require a regular supply of key nutrients.
Although you can’t change hair-growth factors like age and genetics, diet is one thing you have control over. In fact, consuming a diet lacking the right nutrients can lead to hair loss. Eat the correct balance of the following nutrients, including protein, vitamins, and minerals, to supply the hair with all that it needs to remain shiny, lustrous, and strong.
As hair is made of protein, ensuring you have enough protein in your diet is crucial to make the hair strong and healthy. If you are not consuming enough protein in your diet, your hair is likely to become dry, brittle, and weak. A lack of protein in the diet has been shown to promote hair loss. Choose chicken, turkey, fish, dairy products, and eggs as excellent sources of protein along with vegetarian sources such as legumes and nuts.
Iron is an especially important mineral for hair, and too little iron is a major cause of hair loss. A nutrient-rich blood supply feeds the hair follicle and root. When iron levels (serum ferritin) fall below a certain point, you may experience anemia. This disrupts the nutrient supply to the follicle, affecting the hair growth cycle and may result in shedding. Animal products such as red meat, chicken, and fish provide iron with high bioavailability, meaning the iron is readily available to the body. Vegetarians can raise their iron stores by including lentils, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and salad greens.
Vitamin C aids the absorption of iron, so foods high in vitamin C are good to eat in conjunction with iron-rich foods. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help protect hair follicles against damage from harmful molecules called free radicals. This important nutrient also helps in the production of collagen, which strengthens the capillaries that supply the hair shafts and keeps hair from becoming brittle.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important fats our body cannot make by itself, and therefore they must be obtained through our diet. Omega 3s are found in the cells that line the scalp and also provide the oils that keep your scalp and hair hydrated. One study found that taking a fish oil supplement significantly reduced hair loss and increased hair growth in women with thinning hair. Include oily fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, trout, and mackerel and plant sources like avocado, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts.
Vitamin A is needed by the body to make sebum. Sebum is an oily substance created by the sebaceous glands, which provide a natural conditioner for a healthy scalp. Without sebum, we may experience an itchy scalp and dry hair. What’s more, research shows that vitamin A could speed up the rate of hair growth and encourage the growth of thicker hair. Include animal products like liver and orange or yellow-colored vegetables, which are high in beta-carotene such as carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes.
Scalp protection involves other essential minerals, notably zinc and selenium. Zinc helps with cellular turnover, cell division, and growth that help to form keratin, a protein that makes up hair strands. A lack of zinc can lead to a dry, flaky scalp, and may promote telogen effluvium, a common but reversible form of hair loss caused by a lack of nutrients in the diet. Studies have shown that taking a zinc supplement can reverse the effects of hair loss caused by a zinc deficiency. Whole grains are a good source of zinc along with oysters, beef, and eggs.
The sun can damage our hair just like it can damage our skin, so ensure you eat foods rich in vitamin E to protect your hair. In one study, people with hair loss experienced 34.5% more hair growth after taking a vitamin E supplement for eight months. Nuts are nutritional powerhouses, providing zinc and selenium as well as vitamin E, so aim to include them as part of a balanced diet.
Biotin is a water-soluble B vitamin. Too little biotin has been shown to cause brittle hair and may lead to hair loss. Try to eat more biotin-rich foods such as whole grains, liver, egg yolk, soy flour, and yeast.
Studies have linked vitamin D3 deficiency to hair loss. When we get enough vitamin D, it can help stimulate hair follicles that have become dormant. Taking a good vitamin D3 supplement, spending time outdoors, and eating mushrooms and fish can help top up this critical nutrient.
Top healthy-hair foods
Add more of these foods to your diet to get plenty of the hair-promoting vitamins covered in the list above.
- Eggs: Rich in protein, biotin, zinc, and selenium
- Salmon: A great source of protein, vitamin D, selenium and omega 3s
- Strawberries: Nourish hair with vitamin C and antioxidants
- Mango: This colorful fruit provides the mineral silica, a component of connective tissue that helps to strengthen hair and promote hair growth.
- Spinach: Loaded with beneficial nutrients like folate, iron, and vitamins A and C
- Kelp: Certain nutrients in kelp, such as iron and the amino acid l-lysine, directly affect hair growth
- Sweet Potato: A medium sweet potato contains enough beta-carotene to provide more than four times your daily vitamin A needs
- Avocado: Good source of healthy fats and vitamin E, plus copper, which helps to balance the hormones, so hair grows strong, and aids other reactions in the scalp that strengthen lipids in the hair.
- Nuts and Seeds: Super nutrient-dense, containing vitamin E, omega 3s, zinc, selenium, and B-vitamins
Now it’s time to load up on these healthy hair all-stars and add them to your grocery cart ASAP.