You are what you eat, the old saying goes. Whether or not you think that pertains to the brain, nails, skin or hair, I suspect that what we put in our bodies affects all of these things. Simply put, food supplies your body with important nutrients to keep it running at its best.
For example, a few foods that have been shown to be beneficial to the brain are walnuts, omega-3 fats, blueberries, turmeric, barley and quinoa, according to the Cleveland Clinic. A low-carb Mediterranean diet, which includes fruit, vegetables, legumes, “good” fats and fish are thought to help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
And what about your hair? While there are many products on the market that can temporarily boost the look of your tresses, why not put some healthy ingredients into your body to go to work forand protect those 100,000 hairs on your head?
Here are some foods with hair-health benefits:
Healthy omega-3 fatty acids
Healthy omega-3 fatty acids can foster hair growth and sheen. Your body is unable to manufacture these healthy fats on its own, so fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna can supply them. The American Heart Association advises eating two servings (3.5-ounce portions) of fatty fish per week. If you don’t eat seafood, omega-3s are also found in some nuts and seeds, such as flaxseeds, but it’s in a different form, so you may also want to talk with your health care provider about taking a supplement.
Greek yogurt is packed with protein, which is critical for keeping hair healthy. It also contains vitamin B5 (or pantothenic acid), which may help prevent hair thinning and loss. And while we’re on the subject of protein, make sure to get protein from foods like lean meat, chicken and turkey, which can protect against hair loss and promote growth and thickness. Eggs, milk and cheese are also considered complete protein sources. If you’re a vegetarian, find your protein in foods like quinoa, chickpeas and lentils.
Strawberries, citrus fruits and peppers.
Strawberries, citrus fruits and peppers. What do these have in common? They’re high in vitamin C, needed by your body to help produce protein. And since your body can’t make or store vitamin C, it’s important to include foods that contain this vitamin in your daily diet. Other sources include pineapple, cantaloupe, kiwi fruit and veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and leafy greens.
Iron-rich foods. Low iron can contribute to hair loss. Treat any deficiency with iron-rich foods like lean meat, turkey, whole grains, dried fruit, beans and egg yolks.
Biotin. This water-soluble B complex vitamin, also known as vitamin H, is found in small amounts in certain foods like eggs, cheese, yogurt, chicken and liver. Biotin helps to strengthen the keratin in the hair and nails and comes in different types of over-the-counter supplements. There is preliminary evidence that it may reduce hair loss caused by an autoimmune disease when biotin supplements are combined with zinc and a topical cream containing clobetasol propionate.
Sweet potatoes. Your body turns the antioxidant beta carotene into vitamin A, which in turn helps protect against dry or dull hair and encourages production of sebum (an oily fluid produced by the glands in your scalp that keeps your strands from drying out). Beta carotene, which gives veggies and fruit their rich colors, is also found in carrots, apricots, mangoes, asparagus, broccoli and kale.
Silica. In a study of women with temporary hair thinning, it was found that those who took the oral supplement silica experienced significant hair growth. Foods that contain this mineral include bananas, beer, oats and raisins.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can actually absorb damaging UV light and protect skin cells. It also repairs sun damage on the scalp, which can cause hair to thin. In one study, “Tocotrienols, or different types of vitamin E supplements, were studied for eight months in patients with hair loss,” says Debé. Thirty-eight people received the supplement, and some received a placebo. The supplemented group had a 34 percent improvement in hair growth.” Debé notes that although the amount of tocotrienols used in this study is difficult to get from diet alone, barley is a very good source.
Nuts And Seeds
Pistachios have been linked to helping with male pattern baldness, cashews have biotin, and walnuts contain oils that add to the amount of elastin in your hair. Elastin keeps hair supple and stops it from breaking.
Beta carotene protects against dry, dull hair and stimulates the glands in your scalp to make an oily fluid called sebum. So where do you find this elixir of the locks? Orange-colored fruits and vegetables are your best bet: Carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, mangoes and sweet potatoes.
Along with iron, another important mineral for keeping the shine off your dome is magnesium. Halibut has plenty of magnesium, as do several other types of fish.
Copper may help hair maintain its natural color, regardless of your color, according to a 2012 study. Shiitake mushrooms are rich in the mineral, as well as seaweed and sesame seeds.
Chickpeas contain some of the highest concentrations of vitamin B9. A cup of them packs a whopping 1,114 micrograms of B-9, nearly three times the RDA of 400 micrograms.
Although the highest concentrations of copper are found in the livers of various animals, the highest amount of non-animal-derived copper can be found in spirulina. It’s nicer sounding than “pond scum,” but that essentially is what it is: A type of blue-green algae that grows naturally in oceans and salty lakes in subtropical climates.
This yeast-extract spread looks like tar and has a unique and powerful odor all its own. Even its British manufacturers admit that Marmite typically spread on hot buttered toast at breakfast is an acquired taste. But if want to fend off the greys, you may want to give it a try. According to the USDA, yeast extract tops all foods in folic acid content.
One small schmear of Marmite (about 4 grams) packs a whopping 100 micrograms of folic acid, or 25 percent of your recommended daily allowance. Although it was once smuggled into the U.S. by the families and friends of British expats, Marmite can be found at Whole Foods and Amazon.
Dermatologists treating hair loss look at the level of ferritin in your blood, because they can deduce what your body is doing with all the iron they told you to add to your diet during your initial consultation. If you’d been eating plenty of bok choy which is super iron rich they would likely see a spike in your ferritin levels.
Almond butter contains a wide variety of nutrients including protein, healthy fats, and certain vitamins that have all been linked to hair health. It’s the vitamin E content in the nuts that researchers say is particularly good for keeping your locks thick and lustrous.
One eight-month trial found men who supplemented daily with vitamin E saw an increase in hair growth by as much as 42 percent. Just a tablespoon of almonds provides nearly two thirds of your RDA for fat-soluble vitamin E.
The benefits of tangerines affect your hair in two big ways: 1.) Its vitamin C content makes it easier for your body to absorb iron, such as from spinach; 2.) The vitamin B12 in tangerines promotes hair growth, reduces hair loss, and slows down the graying process.
Also known as Indian gooseberry, amla is a sour fruit native to India. High in antioxidants, it is prescribed by Ayurvedic doctors for glowing skin and hair. It’s easiest to purchase frozen amla berries online.
In some cases (particularly in women), a mineral deficiency is the cause of hair loss. “It’s important to make sure you don’t have a lack of something in your diet that could be leading to hair loss,” says dermatologist Dr. Carolyn Jacob. “We check protein levels, iron, iron storage, vitamin D and a number of other labs to make sure you don’t have deficiencies.” Spinach is iron rich and it contains sebum, which acts as a natural conditioner for hair. The leafy green also provides omega-3 acids, magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron. All help keep hair lustrous, shiny and, most importantly, out of the drain.
Ever notice what sits atop nearly every ancient Greek statue? A mop of thick, full, wavy hair. An artistic choice? Perhaps. But maybe it’s due to the thick, protein-rich yogurt that Greeks and other cultures have been eating since 500 B.C. Greek yogurt is rich in vitamin B5 (known as pantothenic acid), which helps with blood flow to your scalp and hair growth.
The human body can do a lot of crazy stuff, like turning sunlight into bone-strengthening vitamin D. Something it can’t do, however, is make omega-3 fatty acids. “Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory. They can help if you have inflammation that’s causing hair shedding,” says Jacob. It’s best to get omega-3s from natural sources, such as salmon and cold-water fish like sardines and mackerel. In addition to helping you stay fit and disease free, omega-3’s enable you to grow hair and keep it shiny and full. According to Debé, both male-pattern balding and female hair loss is often associated with insulin resistance. Salmon is one food that helps the body process insulin more efficiently. But avoid farmed salmon at all costs!
It smells like the holiday season and improves circulation, which brings oxygen and nutrients to your hair follicles. Sprinkle this evocative spice on your toast and in your coffee, or sprinkle it on top of your oatmeal. Speaking of…
Oats are rich in iron, fiber, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which stimulate hair growth, making it thick and healthy.
Vitamin C prevents hair from becoming brittle and breaking. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, researchers tested an oral supplement containing vitamin C in women with thinning hair. They found the supplement promoted “significant hair growth in women with temporary hair thinning.” Although we often think of oranges as the best source of vitamin C, one guava packs four to five times as much. We’ve rounded up 6 more foods that are the Best Sources of Vitamin C.
Eggs are packed with a B vitamin called biotin, which helps hair grow and strengthens brittle fingernails. Not having enough of this vitamin can lead to hair loss. Other good sources of biotin: almonds, avocados and salmon.
Full of protein, iron, zinc and biotin, lentils have plenty of folic acid. The body needs folic acid to restore the health of red blood cells that supply skin and scalp with hair-improving oxygen. Foods rich in folic acid are also good for healthy sperm.
Zinc is an important mineral for overall health. When you don’t have enough, you can experience hair loss…even your eyelashes! You can also find rich stores of zinc in beef, crab and lobster.
As mentioned, iron deficiency can lead to hair loss, most notably in women. Iron is plentiful in our ol’ friend spinach (and other dark leafy greens), soybeans, lentils, fortified grains and pastas. Liver may sound much less appetizing, but if you like pate, your hair will benefit. Organ meats like liver have iron in abundance.
Notice how your muscles don’t grow (and sometimes even shrink) when you’re not getting enough protein? The same thing might happen to your hair. Without sufficient dietary protein, hair essentially goes on strike. Less new hair will replace what’s falling out (about 50-100 hairs a day), and you’ll experience an overall loss of hair. To get protein from meat, pick lean options like chicken, fish, grass-fed beef or lean pork loin.
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