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Essential Nutrition for Healthy Hair

Feeding your locks from the inside out is an essential part of maintaining strong, silky strands
Written by 
Meghan Rabbitt
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
December 2, 2014

With aisles and aisles of products aimed to improve the look and condition of your hair, it can be easy to forget that one of the most important things you can do to keep your strands at their best is to provide them with proper nutrition.

That’s right—just as your skin benefits from a healthy diet (like the rest of your body, for that matter), eating well and getting some key nutrients ensures that your hair gets what it needs to promote growth and prevent breakage and dryness. Likewise, strong, shiny, soft hair is not only something that makes you look and feel beautiful—it’s also a sign of a well-nourished you.

The next time you admire your mane in the mirror, give these healthy hair nutrition essentials a big thank you. And if you’re looking to improve your hair, evaluate your eating habits to see what might be lacking; the advice of a nutritionist can also help.


Protein

Your hair’s structure is made of hardened proteins called keratin. When your protein stores are low, generation of this important building block slows and hair grows slower and weaker. Lean meats, like chicken and turkey, and fish like tuna, halibut and tilapia are great high-protein foods to include in your diet. Low-fat mozzarella and cottage cheeses, tofu and quinoa are also terrific options to consider.


Biotin

Lentils are a good source of biotin—a nutrient that has been shown to promote hair growth. When biotin interacts with cell enzymes, it helps produce amino acids—compounds that form those ever-important proteins mentioned earlier. Researchers have even found that too little biotin can lead to hair loss. Carrots, almonds, walnuts and cauliflower are other smart choices to consider. If you’re interested in taking a supplement, speak with your doctor for a recommendation.


Iron

Your hair follicles receive nourishing oxygen from the iron in your red blood cells. While the level of iron in your blood may be considered normal, there is still a chance that you may have low ferritin—the “bank” of iron your body keeps to draw on when it needs it. Low ferritin has been linked to slow or halted hair growth, as well as shedding. Do your best to avoid this by eating iron-rich foods, such as oysters, clams, lean beef, eggs, tuna, soybeans, spinach, tofu and garbanzo beans. Be sure to have your ferritin levels tested before considering a supplement.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s are found in the cell membranes of your scalp’s skin, and in the natural oils your scalp and hair produce to stay hydrated. Getting enough of these essential fatty acids can help prevent dry scalp and help your hair grow and shine. Eating wild salmon and other fatty fish like striped sea bass or mackerel twice a week will ensure a healthy dose of omega-3s. Or, if you’re not a fan of fish, incorporate some plant-derived sources into your diet, like flax seeds, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil.


Water

While your locks are made primarily of protein, they’re also made of water and need to maintain their moisture to avoid dryness and breakage. In addition to turning to a leave-in conditioner or other hydrating products to soften strands, make sure you’re also replenishing yourself by drinking plenty of H20 each day. Eating water-rich fruits and vegetables helps hydrate your mane as well.


B Vitamins

B6, B12 and folate help create red blood cells, which carry oxygen and nutrients too all of the cells in the body, including the ones in the scalp and hair follicles. If you’re not getting enough B vitamins, the cells can starve, making your hair more prone to shedding, slower growth and breakage. Pork tenderloin is packed with these vitamins, but if you don’t eat pork, load up on beans, chicken, oatmeal and low-fat dairy foods, which are also good sources.


Vitamin C

This essential nutrient does a couple things to help promote healthy hair: Vitamin C helps absorb iron. It’s also used to form collagen, a structural fiber that makes up the connective tissue in the body, which hair follicles require for optimal growth. Bell peppers, thyme, parsley, kale, Brussels sprouts, oranges and strawberries all pack a vitamin C punch.


Zinc

This mineral helps strengthen your hair follicles, and prevent hair loss, by binding its proteins. It also plays a role in your oil glands functioning properly, which protects your locks from dryness and dandruff. Shellfish, like oysters, crab, lobster, clams and mussels all have high zinc content. In fact, just three ounces of oysters (about two medium-size oysters) has a whopping 493 percent of the daily recommended value of zinc. Sunflower seeds, peanuts, pine nuts, beef, lamb, pork and cereals with whole grains and bran are some other zinc-rich foods to choose from. 

If you notice significant changes in your hair that concern you, consult your doctor to discuss possible causes, like a nutritional deficiency, stress, underactive thyroid or hormonal imbalance.

Reference(s) 
Cleveland Clinic
Mayo Clinic
National Institutes of Health
About the author 
Meghan Rabbitt is an editor and writer whose work has been published in Women’s Health, Fitness, Shape, Runner’s World, Prevention, Parents and Weight Watchers.