Woman to Woman: Eat Smart for Healthy Hair
By Holly Crawford
For most of us, when it comes to taking care of our hair, the usual maintenance routine involves frequent washing, conditioning, styling and going for regular cuts at the hair salon. But how often do you eat certain foods that promote strong, shiny and healthy hair?
Healthy hair starts with a well-balanced diet, says Willow Jarosh, a certified dietitian-nutritionist at C&J Nutrition in New York City. Specific nutrients play key roles in hair growth and maintenance, and if any are missing from your diet, your strands could suffer, she says.
Check out this guide to foods that encourage healthy hair, and start feeding your follicles at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Spinach, Chicken and Red Peppers
Load your plate with spinach and chicken for their health benefits to hair. Both spinach and poultry are great sources of iron, a mineral that helps red blood cells carry oxygen to hair follicles. This flow of oxygen is essential for promoting healthy hair growth and strong strands, says Jarosh.
Aim to get your iron from both plant and animal sources, advises Jarosh. Because vitamin C increases the amount of iron your body absorbs, try to eat iron-rich foods with a fruit or vegetable, such as red peppers or strawberries, she says.
Chicken breast with spinach and red peppers is a perfect example of an iron-packed meal, delivering about one-third of your daily 18 mg requirement. Get the remainder throughout the day from other good sources, including fortified cereal, lean beef, fish, lentils, beans and such vegetables as tomatoes and beets.
The notorious aphrodisiacs actually deliver much more than an amorous feeling. Oysters are one of your best sources of zinc, a mineral that is vital for many functions in the body, including the cell division necessary for healthy hair growth. "Low levels are associated with slower growth and hair loss,” says Jarosh. In fact, dry scalp and thinning hair are two symptoms of a zinc deficiency.
Oysters pack the most zinc per bite -- just one provides your entire day’s zinc requirement (8 mg). But you’ll also fulfill your zinc needs with three ounces of lean beef or pork. Or just fill your breakfast bowl with fortified cereal.
These and other orange veggies owe their place on the list -- and their rich color -- to a high concentration of beta-carotene. In your body, this carotenoid converts to vitamin A, which helps regulate cell production and turnover, says Bethany Thayer, M.S., a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Regularly sloughing off old cells and replacing them with new ones contributes to normal hair growth, plus a smooth and healthy scalp.
Beta-carotene is also a powerful antioxidant. It protects skin -- including that on your scalp -- from damage caused by UV rays.
Try a baked sweet potato for a hearty dose of beta-carotene. Carrots, squash, cantaloupe and apricots also supply ample amounts. A good rule of thumb: For your recommended five servings of fruit and veggies a day, choose a variety of colors, including at least one that’s high in beta-carotene.
Eggs deliver multiple nutrients needed to maintain healthy hair. First, they’re a good source of protein and amino acids, protein’s building blocks. Because hair is made primarily of keratin, a type of protein, getting adequate amounts in your diet is necessary for hair growth and strength, says Jarosh. “We naturally shed hair each month, and diets low in protein could slow the rate at which strands grow back, causing hair to look thinner,” she says. Likewise, eating too little protein may contribute to weak or brittle strands.
In addition to protein, eggs provide zinc and iron, plus B vitamins, which aid in the metabolism of food, says Thayer. They help convert what you eat into the energy your body needs for its various functions, including hair’s growth cycle. Specifically, think of vitamins B-6 and B-12 “as messengers that deliver the nutrition from your healthy diet to hair follicles,” says Jarosh.
Jarosh advises three to five eggs per week. You’ll also get protein and B vitamins from poultry, lean meats, fish and lentils.
Fish is a favorite among nutritionists, and salmon is a superstar they mention frequently thanks to high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. For hair, these good-for-you fats act like internal conditioners, helping to keep your scalp and hair moisturized, shiny and healthy. Salmon also contains other strand savers like B vitamins, protein and iron.
Experts recommend eating salmon or other fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout and sardines two to three times a week to get your fill of omega-3s. Not a seafood fan? Sprinkle two tablespoons of ground flaxseed into your oatmeal or smoothie.
The nutrients and foods that give hair a beauty boost are some of the same that keep your body healthy. So try increasing your intake, even if it means snacking on carrots or ordering a side of spinach once in a while. You know the saying “When you look good, you feel good”? You’ll see just how true it can be.
Woman to Woman: "Eat Smart for Healthy Hair"