Strong and healthy hair symbolizes strength, vitality, and youthfulness, but the quest for luscious locks becomes ever more elusive the older we get. While genetics, age, and hormones play a key role in the condition of our hair, often, these factors cannot be helped. Instead of dwelling on things we have no control over, let’s focus on what we can change to achieve that voluminous mane: our diet.
You are what you eat. As cliché as it may sound, it’s true. And hair quality is often an indication of our overall health based on the nutrients we put (or don’t put) inside of us. So if your diet is less than ideal, don’t get duped into splashing out on the next ‘miracle’ hair care product claiming to save your stressed tresses, because we hate to break it to you, but it’s only going to leave you smelling like coconut, at best.
Your nutrition is your true knight in shining armor when it comes to salvaging those limp, lifeless strands. Read on to learn what you need to be putting on your plate if you want to give Rapunzel a run for her money.
But first, what is a typical hair growth cycle?
The pursuit of healthy hair starts from within, and the sooner we understand this point, the sooner we can achieve a fuller, thicker mane. Our scalps are made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny hair follicles, and each hair goes through its individual growth cycle, consisting of three stages:
- The anagen stage: Otherwise known as the ‘growth phase’, this is where the hair is fed a bunch of nutrients and oxygen through the blood supply, which enables it to grow. This process can last anywhere between 2 and 7 years, depending on factors like age, health, genetics, and – you guessed it – diet.
- The catagen stage: This is the transitional period of around 2 to 3 weeks, where the hair stops growing as it disconnects from the blood supply.
- The telogen stage: In this final phase lasting around three months, the hair strand will rest in the root while it waits for the new hair to grow through the follicle. Once the baby hair has matured, the existing hair will fall out to make way for its successor.
So, for your hair to live its life to the fullest, you need to make sure that you are supporting it with proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle and avoiding unnecessary damage by heating and styling products that could disturb its delicate growth cycle.
What nutrients do I need for strong, healthy hair?
Our hair is composed mainly of a hard protein known as keratin, which can also be found in our skin and fingernails. This protein is made up of lots of little amino acids, which are essentially the building blocks of the human body. It is no wonder, then, that protein is an essential nutrient we need for strong, healthy hair.
From giving us energy to enhancing our immunity and all the important things in between, without this powerful metal nutrient, there’s not much our bodies can do efficiently. All thanks to its key role in producing hemoglobin (part of the red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen and nutrients throughout the body), iron is essential in preventing hair loss, improving hair texture and growth, and reducing dullness.
Biotin is charged with the critical task of producing keratin, so a lack of it will cause hair loss, thinning, and breakage, which is why it is so vital that we ensure we’re getting enough of it from our food.
If you’re having trouble pinpointing the cause of your hair loss, have you thought about whether you’re consuming enough zinc? This mineral is essential for hair growth and repair, as well as keeping the follicles properly moisturized; however, be sure not to get carried away. Too much zinc is known to inhibit the absorption of copper – another key nutrient.
Selenium is a powerful soldier of a mineral that fights off any free radicals (bad guys whose mission is to damage our cells, protein, and DNA) present in our body. By conquering these villains, selenium protects the hair from premature aging and weaker hair strands.
Our bodies cannot produce omega three on its own, and because of the elusive nature of this essential fatty acid, it makes it all the more important that we obtain enough of it from the food we eat in order to promote blood circulation, reduce hair follicle inflammation, and prevent flakiness in the scalp.
Vitamins A, C, and E
Due to their high antioxidant content, vitamins C and E are absolute powerhouses when it comes to fighting off those destructive free radicals we talked about earlier, thereby preventing hair follicles from breaking down. While vitamin A is the driving force behind cell growth (which makes it pretty vital since our hair is the fastest growing tissue in the human body), it also keeps the scalp healthy and moisturized by producing a lubricating substance known as sebum.
So, what foods should I be eating to achieve luscious locks?
Now that we’ve got all the technical stuff out of the way, it’s time to tuck right into the main takeaway of this article: Which foods are the best for healthy hair growth?
We’ve already mentioned how having a balanced diet that provides your body with the key proteins, nutrients, and minerals are the key to keeping it running optimally. More specifically, adding the following foods to your cart on your next trip to the grocery store is a good start to your healthy hair journey:
- Eggs: An excellent source of protein, biotin, and vitamins A, D, and B12, as well as zinc and selenium for overall hair health.
- Leafy green vegetables: Leaves like spinach, kale, and collards are loaded with iron, folate, and vitamins A and C to combat hair loss.
- Avocadoes: Rich in vitamin E and essential fatty acids, avocados are great for fighting free radicals that can damage hair follicles.
- Berries: Packed with antioxidants and vitamin C, colorful berries aid collagen production and iron absorption.
- Bell peppers: Containing five times as much vitamin C as an orange, and a great source of vitamin A, bell peppers can help speed up hair growth while also preserving scalp health.
- Colorful fruit: Loaded with a whole host of hair-loving nutrients, incorporating a tropical variety of fruits, like oranges, papayas, mangoes, guavas, and so much more, in your diet will have you well on the way to achieving a glossy mane.
- Sweet potatoes: This root vegetable contains lots of vitamin A to help keep a dry, flaky scalp away.
- Lean poultry or beef: Chicken, lamb, and beef are all rich in protein and iron, which helps with nutrient absorption and repairing and strengthening hair follicles.
- Fatty fish: Salmon, herring, and mackerel are all great sources of omega 3 to improve hair growth and density.
- Whole grains: Eating foods like whole-wheat bread and fortified wholegrain cereals are a great way to keep hair healthy due to their high zinc, iron, and B vitamins content.
- Beans, pulses, and legumes: A brilliant source of plant-based protein, especially if you observe a vegan or vegetarian diet, and they’re also packed with a bunch of iron, zinc, and biotin.
- Nuts and seeds: Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, almonds, and peanuts are all great for hair growth, thanks to their high zinc and selenium content. Similarly, seeds like chia, flax, pumpkin, and sunflower also have high nutritional value.
- Greek yogurt: Packed with protein and an excellent way to increase blood circulation to the scalp, Greek yogurt is the building block for lovely, luscious locks.
- Cinnamon: This stimulating spice is also great for drawing blood supply to the scalp, allowing for some much-needed nourishment to your hair follicles.
Are there any other ways I can keep my hair strong and healthy?
While the stuff you eat is a great start to growing a healthy head full of hair, the journey doesn’t end there. Going that extra mile will bring you ever closer to achieving a voluminous mane that would make a lion roar with pride. The following will earn you extra brownie points with your hair:
- Don’t wash your hair every day – washing daily can remove essential oils that protect your hair, making it more susceptible to damage. Instead, opt for a dry shampoo to banish any unwanted grease in between washes.
- Protect your hair from heat – heating and styling products can cause significant damage to the hair, making it appear dry and brittle. It’s usually best to let your hair dry naturally, but, of course, this takes time (a luxury many of us cannot afford). So, for the time-deprived, be sure to run nourishing oils, such as grapeseed, argan, or coconut, through the lengths of your hair before exposing it to heat to give it that added protection and healthy sheen.
- Avoid wearing your hair up all the time – wearing tight buns or ponytails can take its toll on your hair, leading to flyaways, frizz, and breakage. If you can’t help but to have your hair up, try and wear a looser style to reduce the strain on your hairline.
- Use a wide-tooth comb or wet brush after washing – our hair is weakest when wet, so employing proper brushing etiquette after a wash is super important. The last thing you should be doing is yanking or pulling the hair; instead, use a wide-tooth comb or a brush specifically designed to gently tease out tangles while the hair is still wet.
Making these simple yet effective changes to your daily routine will have you well on the way to banishing bad hair days for good. So, show your hair some love from the inside-out and see what wonders it will do for you.