Top Foods for Healthy Hair
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet isn't just good for you on the inside, it can also help benefit your physical appearance too. Your hair, for example, requires a very specific range of nutrients to look its best. In this article we'll talk about what those are, as well as some of the top foods you can start incorporating into your diet to help support healthy hair.
Eat Red Meat, Poultry and Broccoli for Protein
90% of your hair is made up of keratin, which is believed to help smooth out an area called the “cuticle”. The cuticle is made up of overlapping cells that band together, providing structure and rigidity to your hair. Many medical experts believe that keratin is able to help smooth the cuticle, providing a glossier appearance. Unfortunately keratin can't be found in food, but there are things you can eat to support keratin production.
Since keratin is a protein, ensuring that your diet contains a constant daily supply of other proteins is a great way to help maximise its production. Thankfully, no matter what kind of diet or lifestyle choices you practice, there's always a potent source of health protein available. Lean animal meats like beef, chicken and turkey are renowned for their excellent protein content. Protein powders can also be an easy way to top up your ptoein levels.
Vegetarians and vegans can substitute meat with things like tofu and lentils as beneficial plant-based sources of protein. Vegetables like broccoli can also be used to obtain smaller portions, with a single 100g serving providing 2.8g of protein, alongside other great vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre.
Eat Fish and Mixed Nuts for Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Fatty acids, despite the less than appealing name, are actually highly beneficial for many different parts of your body, including the heart, brain and eyes, as well as aesthetic elements like your hair. There are three different, but equally important, omega 3 fatty acids you need to be aware of, which are:
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), and
- Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA).
Omega 3 fatty acids benefit your hair by targeting your hair follicles, which are responsible for hair production. Each individual hair comes out of a follicle, meaning that there are thousands all over your scalp. Insufficient supplies of omega 3 fatty acids may cause the follicles to become weakened and reduced in size, which can result in thinning hair or even eventual hair loss. Oily fish are frequently cited as being some of the best sources of EPA and DHA, especially varieties like salmon, sardines and mackerel.
Alternatively a range of high quality fish oil supplements are readily available. In order to help get enough ALA into your diet, mixed nuts offer the perfect health snack option. Substitute packets of crisps and chocolate bars for almonds and walnuts to help maximise the health of your hair.
Eat Spinach for Iron
Iron is crucial for the production of a substance called haemoglobin, which is a protein molecule used to help carry oxygen around your body. By improving the speed and efficiency with which oxygen can move through the blood vessels, you may be able to help stimulate different cells, including those that are responsible for hair growth.
Interestingly, a study published in 2007 looked to investigate the relationship between low iron stores in the body and hair loss. 5110 women aged between 35 and 60 served as the sample, each of whom was given a questionnaire to complete. Analysis methods used by the authors identified three categories:
- Absence of hair loss (43% of the sample)
- Moderate hair loss (48% of the sample), and
- Excessive hair loss (9% of the sample).
The results gathered by the study showed that “among the women affected by excessive hair loss, a larger proportion of women (59%) had low iron stores compared to the remainder of the population.” Based on the data they collected, the authors drew the conclusion that low bodily iron stores are a risk factor for hair loss. Despite the support of this study, the science of iron intake and hair loss is much more heavily debated, and no definitive link or relationship between the two has been established. With luck, future study will be able to paint a clearer picture.
Nevertheless, ensuring that you receive plenty of iron on a daily basis should not be overlooked. As you might expect, because of how important iron is, it can be found in plenty of different foods. We'd suggest adding spinach to your diet. A single 100g serving of spinach contains up to 15% of your recommended daily intake of iron, and can be used in a huge variety of different recipes. If you're not a fan of spinach though, here are a few alternatives for you to try:
- Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and soybeans
- Tofu, and
- Turkey meat
Eat Citrus Fruits for Vitamin C
Vitamin C is not naturally produced or stored in the body. Instead, you have to make sure that you get a good, high-quality dose every day. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, can be found in a variety of different foods and supplements. These include:
- Apples, oranges, lemons and grapefruit
- Strawberries, blueberries and cranberries
- Broccoli, Brussel sprouts and spinach
- Red and green peppers
Now that you know how to get vitamin C into your diet, we can start to discuss how it might be able to help support healthy hair. Firstly, vitamin C is known to help promote the production of collagen within your body. Collagen is used to help make your skin, tissues and ligaments more structurally rigid, as well as to potentially help strengthen and grow hair.
Although the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has approved a lot of different health claims regarding vitamin C and collagen production, they have not yet linked this to hair. Other areas surrounding vitamin C and hair however, do possess a more proven relationship. Vitamin C is renowned for its antioxidant properties, which help to protect all of our body's cells, including those making up your hair, from the threat posed by free radical molecules.
If your hair is exposed to free radicals, the damage caused, known as oxidative stress, may weaken hair at an alarming rate. Vitamin C is known as what's called a ‘free radical scavenger'. “Ascorbate [vitamin C] has been demonstrated to be an effective antioxidant.” These benefits may be able to help look after hair, promoting healthy growth and development.
Science has also been conducted surrounding vitamin C and its supposed ability to improve the absorption rate of iron in the body. “The key role of ascorbic acid for the absorption of dietary… iron is generally accepted.” We previously talked about iron and the effects if can have on hair, so the fact that these two of these nutrients go hand-in-hand can be extremely beneficial if you're looking to give your hair a boost.
Eat Brazil Nuts for Selenium
Selenium is not a well-known nutrient, but it is believed by many to be able to help prevent dandruff from occurring, as well as helping the body to use proteins that are related to hair growth. Dandruff is a problem no one wants to suffer. The small white flakes that litter your head and hair can be caused by a variety of different factors including eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and even a fungus called Tinea capitis.
Interestingly, selenium is known to be toxic to this fungus, meaning that increasing the amount of selenium you ingest may help to counter this particular problem. For this reason it's not uncommon to see selenium sulphide used in anti-dandruff shampoos. Brazil nuts are renowned for their high selenium content, so snacking on a small handful each day may do your hair a world of good. Alternatively selenium supplements can be a quick and easy way to boost your intake.
Just be careful though; substantial and over-the-top dietary increases may result in symptoms like nausea, vomiting and even hair loss. Your aim should be to improve your hair, not aid to its loss, so you only need:
- 0.075mg a day for men aged 19 to 64
- 0.06mg a day for women aged 19 to 64
In this article we've talked about 5 different nutrients that you may find useful for improving hair growth and thickness. It's important to remember though that we're all different, meaning that what might work for 1 person might not have the same effects for another. If you still aren't getting the results you're looking for, it's best to consult your local GP for help and advice.