Growing up with a chef for a father meant that good food was always at the center of our lives. Nutrition, however, took a back seat. It was just never part of the equation growing up. It was only when I moved to New York 16 years ago that I began to take an interest in the power of food as medicine. Even as a hairstylist, I never made the connection between diet and the quality of one’s hair.
Most likely, you too associate the effects of what you eat with your weight, energy levels—maybe even your skin—but hair often gets overlooked. So it may surprise you to learn that one of the best kept secrets for strong, healthy, shiny hair is not the latest hair care product, but rather good nutrition. Healthy hair is a great marker of overall health and your diet is a central part of your hair’s quality and vitality!
It is scientifically proven that a healthy diet (with the right combination of protein, healthy fats, phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals) is the foundation necessary for strong, healthy hair – quality, elasticity and shine. Healthy hair is bouncy, strong, shiny and manageable. A balanced diet gives your hair all the nutrients it needs to grow appropriately out of the follicle and stay connected to the scalp. It’s not surprising that the foods that support optimal health are the very same needed to achieve top quality hair. Of course there are other factors that also affect your hair’s condition, such as lifestyle, stress, medication, hormones and sleep (not to mention the chemicals and heating tools used directly on your hair), however, your diet is the foremost factor when it comes to your tresses!
So let’s take a look at what the Healthy Hair Diet looks like. I’ve highlighted my top 10 (mainly plant-based) whole foods for transforming your locks: say goodbye to those dull, drab strands!
EGGS – Whether you like them scrambled, poached or sunny side up, eggs are a fantastic way to get the protein you need to start your day. Protein, along with the biotin found in eggs, is essential for hair growth and overall scalp health. Biotin (a B vitamin) ensures that all the body’s cells, including the scalp and follicles, get the oxygen and nutrients they need.
SPINACH – The folate in spinach aids in the production of red blood cells, while its iron content helps these cells carry oxygen and nutrients to every part of the body. Hair loss can be a result of iron deficiency (anemia), since the cells can’t get enough oxygen and start to lose functionality.
LENTILS – Protein is necessary for all cell growth, including the growth of your hair. Lentils are a great vegetarian source of iron-rich protein, as well as zinc and biotin, making them a great staple for vegetarians and vegans who want a fabulous mane!
RED PEPPERS – Red peppers deliver 100% of your daily value of vitamin C, which helps your body absorb and use iron (a critical part of your hair’s health.) Vitamin C is also used in the production of collagen. Hair follicles require collagen, a structural fiber, to hold everything together for optimal growth. Even minor vitamin C deficiencies can lead to dry, splitting hair that breaks easily. Foods rich in vitamin C promote more resilient strands.
SWEET POTATOES – The beta carotene in sweet potatoes (as well as carrots, pumpkins, squash and dark leafy greens)
is converted to vitamin A within the body, which aids in cell growth. A deficiency can lead to dry, dull, lifeless hair, as well as dandruff, but be aware that too much vitamin A can lead to hair loss.
WILD SALMON AND SARDINES – When it comes to omega-3 fatty acids, this seafood combo is considered the Rolls Royce of fish oils. Sardines are one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids combat dry and brittle hair, hair loss and a flaky scalp, while also adding luster, sheen and elasticity to your hair. They are vital for the nourishment of hair follicles and the support of hair growth. Plant sources of omega-3s include walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds.
NUTS/SEEDS – Go nuts for seeds—these little nuggets will provide your hair (and the rest of you) with tons of nutritional value! Peanuts are a fantastic source of zinc and folate, as well as biotin, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. Brazil nuts are also a great source of selenium, which plays an important part in the health of your scalp. Selenium helps preserve your skin’s elasticity and reduces inflammation. Walnuts are another winner as well as hemp and chia seeds as they contain alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 that boosts the condition and shine of your hair. Walnuts are also a terrific source of zinc, as are cashews, pecans and almonds. A zinc deficiency can lead to hair loss, so make them a staple in your diet.
AVOCADO – This is one of my most beloved foods: it boasts over 25 vital nutrients! The high levels of zinc, vitamin E, vitamin B and healthy fats mean you can literally replace your pricey hair conditioner with a ripe avocado and leave it in for a few minutes. You will have soft, shiny, well-conditioned locks! Try it!
CHICKPEAS – While chickpeas are a great vegetarian source of iron-rich protein, they’re also an important combination for hair growth and repair. Because hair gets its structure from hardened proteins called keratin, people who don’t have enough protein in their diet experience slower growth and weaker strands. To increase the absorption of iron from chickpeas, couple them with vitamin C-rich foods such as tomatoes, bell peppers or citrus fruit.
COCONUT – Any form of coconut will leave your hair happy. Coconut oil, butter, water, shredded or whole coconut—you name it, coconut will give you hydrated, manageable tresses. Drinking coconut water and massaging coconut oil from roots to ends just a few times per week will keep your hair free of dandruff and split ends, while also preventing hair loss.
WATER: When it comes to hair, hydration is key! Your hair is one quarter water, so it’s critical that you feed it with nutrients and keep it hydrated. Water carries vitamins to the root of your hair and hydrates the entire strand of hair from the inside. Water is the main source of energy for hair cells including those that generate new growth. It also removes potentially hair-loss causing toxins from the body.
So as you can see, eating well goes beyond having a body and skin to be proud of. Your hair is as much a reflection of your inner health as anything else, requiring a wide range of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. So, don’t waste money on the latest hair care products and take some time to focus on what’s in your kitchen and on your plate. The next time you fill your plate, think about thriving from the inside out, nourishing and feeding all of you, especially the mane on your head!