When it comes to growing long, thick, lustrous hair, there are a number of factors at play. Genetics is a big one for sure, as is age, and environment. But when it comes to your hair, one thing is for certain: you really are what you eat.
First, make sure you’re eating enough
Our bodies are very, very intelligent, and are highly organized to prioritize our most essential organs and vital body functions above all else. Auxiliary items like hair and fingernails rank pretty low on the priority list, even if they may seem super important to you.
Because of this, in order to nourish your hair (and skin and nails), it’s really important to be getting adequate nutrition in the first place. If your body is in an ongoing state of deprivation, it’s going to direct the nutrients you do take in to the most important functions first, and your hair is going to suffer.
First and foremost, be mindful of eating a nutrient-dense diet that’s got enough energy (calories) for your age and activity level. If you want to go a step further, make it a point of prioritizing the 7 nutrients below.
Your hair is made from protein, so it stands to reason that protein plays a crucial role in how strong and healthy your hair is. Eating a diet too low in protein can lead to dry, brittle hair, and even hair loss.
I recommend that most people aim for between 50-70 grams of protein in their diets each day, depending on age, diet (vegetarians should aim a little higher), and activity level. Nuts, seeds, legumes, meat, and fish are all good sources of protein. Collagen protein is particularly helpful in the formation and strengthening of your hair.
2. B Vitamins
The B’s encompass a huge family of vitamins, many of which are responsible for keeping your hair strong, increasing circulation to the skin, and stimulating follicles to grow healthy hair. B vitamins also play a role in reducing hair loss and helping to maintain longer, shinier hair.
Some people believe that B vitamins can reduce gray hair, but this gray-haired nutritionist would like you to know that the grays are kind of inevitable.
B vitamins of particular interest for strong, healthy air include niacin, panthothenic acid, folic acid, B6, and B12. Another B vitamin, biotin, gets honorable mentions as it plays a role in stimulating new cells to grow.
Good sources of B vitamins include eggs, chicken, salmon, halibut, quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, and leafy green vegetables.
As a long-term vegetarian, I know that hair loss is a tell-tale sign that my iron is getting too low. Very low blood iron levels (referred to as anemia) disrupts nutrient supply to the hair follicle, which in turn disrupts the hair’s natural growth cycle and results in shedding. As both the hair follicle and root are dependent on an iron-rich blood supply, getting enough of this important nutrient in your diet is key for your hair.
You’ll find heme (animal-derived) iron in red meat, chicken, and fish, and non-heme (plant-derived) iron in lentils, leafy green vegetables, pumpkin seeds, and dried apricots. Note that vitamin C helps to enhance iron absorption, while calcium eaten at the same time can disrupt it.
4. Vitamin C
Not only does vitamin C help with the absorption of iron-rich foods, but it’s also an important antioxidant. Vitamin C also plays an assistive role in the production of collagen protein, which works to strengthen the blood vessels that supply and enrich the hair shafts.
You’ll find vitamin C in citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, guava, papaya, blueberries, broccoli, and sweet potatoes.
5. Vitamin E
Keeping a supply of vitamin E rich foods in your diet will help to protect your hair from the sun, cold, and dry weather. Almonds and other nuts are a great natural source of vitamin E, as is wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and leafy green vegetables.
6. Vitamin A
The oily substance produced by your scalp that keeps your head from becoming dry and itchy and keeps your hair hydrated depends on vitamin A. This natural conditioner is secreted by your sebaceous glands, and without enough vitamin A, we can’t produce enough of it.
You’ll find vitamin A in dairy products, liver, egg yolks. Plant-based beta-carotene is a pre-curser to vitamin A, and can be found in winter squash, carrots, and leafy greens.
In many cases a dry, flaky scalp can be caused by zinc deficiency. Lack of zinc can also lead to hair loss in some people. Zinc can be found in oysters, beef, eggs yolks, whole grains, and fortified cereals.40