When it comes to the condition and appearance of our hair, we may often reach for a shampoo, conditioner, or hair mask to achieve that shiny, healthy look. However, packing your diet with healthy fats, antioxidants and other essential nutrients can be just as (if not more) effective in achieving this! In today's blog, I take a look at some nutrients that can promote the growth of healthy hair, and give some tips on how to incorporate these into your diet.
Many of us want to make sure our hair remains healthy, strong, and shiny, especially as we grow older. Eating a healthy diet, with the correct balance of essential nutrients, is one way to ensure your hair stays as healthy as possible. Some nutrients which are essential for ensuring hair health include:
Read on to find out how these nutrients can help to keep your hair healthy, and get some tips on how to incorporate these into your diet.
Eating sufficient protein is extremely important for hair health, particularly hair growth. This is because hair follicles are mostly made up of protein.
As strands of hair are made up of protein fibres, this means they require an adequate amount of protein to grow properly. If you don't eat enough protein, your body may cut off the quantity it supplies to hair follicles to try and reserve this protein for other – more essential - bodily processes. You may not agree with your body's priorities, but it will always put the health of your heart, lungs, brain, etc., over the health of your hair and nails.
At any particular time, around 90% of your hair strands are in a phase called the "growing phase" where, as the name suggests, your hair is actively growing. Once this phase finishes, your hair enters into a "transition phase", where the hair follicle begins to detach from the root. The final phase is known as the "resting phase", in which hair follicles eventually detach completely and are shed, allowing new strands to grow.
If you don't have enough protein in your diet, a considerable number of hair strands may enter the resting phase at the same time, resulting in lots of hairs being shed. In this instance, you may be able to notice your hairs falling out, or your hair becoming thinner than normal.
As well as hair loss, a diet which is very low in protein may result in hair becoming dry, brittle and weak. Protein can be included in the diet through:
Lean meats (like chicken and turkey)
Legumes (like fresh peas, fresh beans and soybeans)
Nuts and seeds
Another nutrient which is fundamental for hair growth is biotin, which is important as it helps in the production of keratin, the protein in hair. If you eat a balanced diet with a variety of healthy foods, you shouldn't be lacking in biotin. However, if you're looking to increase your consumption, biotin is found in foods such as:
Eggs (specifically the yolk)
Iron is an important mineral that helps red blood cells to carry and deliver oxygen to cells throughout the body, including hair follicles.
The hair follicle and root are fed by a nutrient-rich blood supply containing iron. When iron levels in the blood fall below a certain level, you may experience anaemia. This occurs when there is a decrease in the total amount of red blood cells. If this is the case, the nutrient supply to the hair follicle may be disrupted, and this can affect the growth of the hair, resulting in possible hair loss.
Animal products such as red meat, chicken, and fish provide iron with a high bioavailability, which means the body can readily absorb and use the iron. However, although lean meats such as chicken, turkey and fish are a healthy addition to your diet, it is not advisable to eat red meat too frequently. The Department of Health recommends that people should eat no more than 70g of red meat per day (which is around 3 slices of ham), and opt for dishes that include lean meats or fish instead.
Other foods which you can include in your diet to increase iron consumption include:
Leafy green vegetables (spinach, broccoli and kale)
Nuts (pistachios, cashews and pine nuts)
Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
If you do wish to increase your iron consumption, it is important to pair these foods with foods rich in vitamin C. This important vitamin aids the absorption of iron and is also an antioxidant, which helps to protect the body (including hair follicles) against damage from harmful free radicals.1
Vitamin C can be found in many fruits and vegetables, including:
Red and green peppers
As green leafy vegetables contain both iron and vitamin C, they are a good option for regular consumption.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), are essential fatty acids, which means they cannot be made by the body and, therefore, must be acquired through the diet.
They are important for several functions in the body, including playing a crucial role in brain function, and also provide a host of other benefits such as supporting the heart and reducing inflammation. On top of all this, omega-3 fatty acids may also promote hair growth because they are found in the cells that line the scalp, providing oils that keep your scalp and hair hydrated.
Research also suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in reducing hair loss. In one study, 120 women found that taking a supplement containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as antioxidants, reduced hair loss and increased density of hair.2
Another study found that taking a fish supplement (rich in omega-3 fatty acids) increased hair growth in women with thinning hair.3 However, at present there are only a few studies linking omega-3 fatty acids with hair health/growth, so more studies are required to understand this link in more detail.
My self-care tip for a healthy scalp:
In my video, I discuss what to eat to keep your scalp and hair healthy. Read on for more information.
Oily fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and is a great source of protein, selenium, and B vitamins - nutrients which may also promote strong and healthy hair. Try to up your intake of oily fish such as:
• Salmon • Herring • Sardines • Mackerel.
Or, if you don't eat fish, some plant sources of omega-3 include:
• Avocados • Walnuts • Chia seeds • Flax seeds.
If you do enjoy including chia seeds and flax seeds in your diet as a source of omega-3, make sure you grind them up before consumption, as this allows your body to access the oils they contain.
If you find your scalp is often dry and flaky, as well as increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, you may benefit from trying our Neem shampoo. It contains neem leaves which have been traditionally used to soothe dry, irritated, and flaky scalps.
Another nutrient needed for a healthy scalp is vitamin A, which is required by the body to make sebum.4 Sebum is an oily substance produced in the sebaceous glands of our hair to moisturise the scalp and keep hair healthy.
Without sebum, your scalp may become itchy and flaky, and your hair dry. On top of this, vitamin A is also needed for hair growth, and may promote the growth of thicker hair whilst preventing hair follicles from becoming thinner or falling out.5
Vitamin A can be found in animal products such as:
*Whole fat milk contains vitamin A which is readily available for the body to absorb. Low fat options such as skimmed and semi-skimmed milk may be fortified with vitamin A; however, as vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is better absorbed when consumed alongside dietary fats.
It can also be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, including:
Other nutrients which are essential for scalp protection include zinc and selenium. Without these nutrients, you may also be at risk of a dry, flaky scalp. Good sources of zinc include:
If you wish to incorporate more selenium into your diet, brazil nuts, eggs, fish and meat are good choices. As only very small quantities of selenium are needed, it's best not to overdo rich sources such as brazil nuts.
What you said!
We recently ran a poll to find out what your biggest hair issue is. We've crunched the numbers and here are the results.
Results: What is your biggest hair issue?
The majority of you said that thinning hair/hair loss is your biggest hair concern. When it comes to healthy hair growth, having a diet rich in essential nutrients, especially iron and protein, is crucial.