Our hair requires two types of nutrition: external and internal. Nourishing it from the outside can be successfully done by regularly applying oil masks to deep condition it and by not relying on heat styling too often. Nourishing it from the inside requires us to eat the right foods and avoid the ones that do not bring any nutritional benefits. Because, at the end of the day, it all comes back to vitamins and minerals. Whatever our starting point is, a clean, nutritious, balanced and varied diet is all that we need for beautiful hair.
Eating right can help undo years of lack of care, repair even the most extensive damage and help us achieve beautiful, healthy, luscious hair. Over time, of course. And the types of food our hair relies on most for achieving a healthy structure, normal growth and repairing damage are those rich in quality protein and healthy fats, preferably unsaturated. Not to mention that foods high in protein and containing healthy fats also happen to be some of the most nutritionally-dense options, providing additional nutrition for hair in the form of vitamins and minerals.
Hair loss, thin hair and hair breakage, split ends, dull appearance and scalp problems can all be traced back to nutrient deficiencies and deficient eating. Most people that are unsatisfied with the way their hair looks eat either too much of something or not enough of anything, and thus end up not getting all the nutrients they need.
When it comes to our hair, there are two types of nutrients we should focus on:
1) Macronutrients: quality proteins and healthy fats.
2) Micronutrients: vitamins and dietary minerals.
Eating for healthy hair should focus on foods rich in protein and foods rich in healthy fats such as Omega-3 fatty acids, which also happen to be rich sources of essential vitamins and dietary minerals that promote thickness, damage repair, encourage hair growth and contribute to scalp health. Why does our hair need protein and fatty acids in particular?
Protein for healthy hair. The hair shaft (the visible part of our hair) is made up almost entirely out of a type of protein called keratin. Eating protein helps build and repair keratin and helps us achieve beautiful hair and skin.
Healthy fats for hair. Healthy fats help improve our hair´s appearance. When applied directly on the hair, the fatty acids in oil-based hair masks smooth out the hair cuticles, the outermost layer of our hair shaft that offers protection against damage. This allows for the hair to retain moisture and not dry out. If our hair is damaged along its length, it can dry out and break easily.
Vitamins for healthy hair. Our hair benefits most when we enjoy a proper diet, rich in all the essential nutrients our body requires on a daily basis. However, if already damaged, nutrients such as vitamins C and E, vitamins B3 (niacin) and B7 or B8 (biotin or vitamin H), iron and zinc work best. These nutrients assist hair repair in varied ways, from encouraging collagen production and improving oxygen circulation to the scalp to moisturizing and preventing the hair shaft from drying out, becoming dull or breaking easily.
What to eat for beautiful hair
1) Fish. Eating salmon, tuna, sardines, halibut, perch even mackerel and cod has many health benefits for skin and hair. Salmon, tuna and sardines are particularly rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Regular consumption (2-4 times a week) improves brain and cardiovascular function, encourages normal fetal development as well as contributes to better looking skin, hair and nails. Salmon also contains generous amounts of biotin. Fish is a great source of heme iron, a form of iron our body absorbs fairly easy compared to the plant non-heme iron.
2) Chicken meat and lean red meat. Meat is a great source of quality protein and important vitamins (niacin and biotin) to help encourage healthy hair growth. Chicken meat can be consumed more often (remember to alternate poultry, fish and beef) than red meat because as lean as the latter may be, it still contains plenty of saturated fats that might not prove so healthy in the long run. Still, red meats are rich in iron to help stimulate scalp health by improving microcirculation, contributing to better nourished, stronger hair. They also contain generous amounts of niacin and biotin, two vitamins with great positive impact on hair health.
3) Healthy oils. Extravirgin olive oil is one of the healthiest options for anyone looking to be, feel and look healthy. It contains oleic acid (monounsaturated Omega-9 fatty acid), linoleic acid (polyunsaturated Omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linoleic acid (plant form of Omega-3). Flaxseed oil is another great option. Sunflower seed oil is low in unhealthy saturated fats, but high in unsaturated fats (Omega-6 and Omega-9) as well as vitamin E, a nutrient with excellent emollient and protective properties. Soybean and corn oil are to be avoided because the oils are extracted via chemical solvents, not through cold pressing as olive oil, for example.
4) Milk, hard and soft cheeses. Goat cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta etc. are all good options to increase our protein intake, unless lactose intolerant. Because they are rich in sodium (salt), hard cheeses should be consumed with moderation to avoid water retention and high blood pressure. Increasing our potassium intake can help reduce sodium side effects.
5) Plain yogurt, whey and whey protein. All three are great sources of quality protein, ideal for strong, healthy hair and damage repair. They are also often used as hair masks and in various shampoo, conditioner and hair treatment brands designed to prevent hair loss and encourage hair repair. Plain yogurt contains probiotics, elements which favor digestive health by improving healthy gut flora, while whey protein contributes to muscle fiber formation and repair, among other great health benefits.
6) Eggs. Despite having cholesterol and saturated fats, eggs are a wonderfully nutritious food. They contain all the essential amino acids our body needs to keep us healthy and are thus a source of complete protein. Consuming them in moderate amounts helps meet our protein and Omega-3 requirements and supplies generous amounts of biotin, contributing to stronger, better looking hair.
7) Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds contain healthy unsaturated fats, protein and high amounts of important vitamins and dietary minerals such as vitamin E and zinc. The best options include walnuts, black walnuts, flax seeds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pecans and pine nuts. The healthy Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9 fatty acids in them help improve scalp health and contribute to stronger hair. Vitamin E has an emollient and protective action, while zinc has been found to improve scalp-related conditions such as dryness or dandruff. Walnuts, peanuts and almonds are also great sources of biotin, a B vitamin that helps fight hair loss and breakage as well as brittle nails and scalp problems.
8) Seafood. Oysters, clams, mussels, mollusks are rich in heme iron, a form of iron found in animal foods and easier to absorb. Iron helps improve scalp circulation which allows for better hair nourishment and strong, beautiful hair. Seaweeds exert a stimulating effect on the scalp, promoting hair growth. Not to mention seafood is also rich in iodine which prevents hypothyroidism and combat brittle thin hair and hair loss (see fish and seafood page).
9) Legumes. Beans, chickpeas, peanuts, peas and legumes in general are a good source of protein and non-heme iron. Regular consumption can contribute to improved circulation to the scalp and stimulate hair growth and hair damage repair.
10) Certain fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C such as bell peppers, green mirabelles, kiwifruit, strawberries, papaya, citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables such as spinach promote the synthesis of collagen, the principal protein in our body ensuring structure and contribute to strong hair. Vitamin C also increases iron absorption, making it ideal for brittle hair. Tomatoes, carrots, onions, papaya, avocado and chard supply generous amounts of biotin.
If we already suffer from extensive hair damage, eating right is even more important. A proper diet paired with simple, at-home hair remedies can help our hair recover faster and regain its shine, strength and overall healthy aspect. While some foods are better for our hair than others, remember that balance is key. So don´t limit your diet to just these foods, but rather incorporate them in your current diet. Also remember to keep your protein intake to about 30% and eat nutritionally-dense foods.
Eating less is not a solution either. Being underweight depletes the body and our hair of essential nutrients and will result in severe hair loss, thin hair that breaks easily and is more prone to damage. Strong, healthy, beautiful hair means eating well: quality protein, healthy fats, vitamins C, E, B3 and H, iron and zinc as well as keeping up a good hair routine focused on avoiding damaging hair styling practice such as frequent heat styling.