Louise Chang, MD
"Lather, rinse, repeat" may be standard advice, but shampoo and conditioner
alone won't give you the healthy hair you crave. For the most luxurious locks
possible, you'll need to step out of the shower, and into the kitchen.
"Your hair grows about 1/4 to 1/2 inch every month, and the foundation of
all of our new hair, skin,
and nail growth is the nutrients we eat," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, a
Chicago-based dietitian. "If you eat a healthy diet,
you will grow stronger and healthier cells throughout your entire body --
inside and out."
If you were born with fine, thin hair, you'll never have rope-thick tresses
-- no matter what you eat -- but a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of
growth-promoting protein and iron can make a difference, say nutrition and hair experts.
And beware of dietary
supplements often marketed to thicken hair or make it grow faster. They may
"Even though you can find beauty supplements on the shelves of most stores, try to get
the nutrients you need from foods whenever possible," Paradi Mirmirani, MD, a
dermatologist in Vallejo, Calif., tells WebMD. "In rare instances, excess
supplementation of certain nutrients, such as vitamin A, has been linked to hair
Read on for the 10 top foods that should be the foundation of your healthy
(What are some of the things you do to keep YOUR hair
healthy and shiny? Talk with others on the
Skin Care: Share Your Tips message board.)
When it comes to foods that pack a beauty punch, it's hard to beat salmon.
Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, this high-quality protein source is also
filled with vitamin B-12 and iron.
"Essential omega-3 fatty acids are needed to support scalp health," says
Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD, a dietitian in Los Angeles and a spokeswoman for the
American Dietetic Association. "A deficiency can result in a dry scalp and thus
hair, giving it a dull look."
Vegetarian? Include one or two tablespoons of ground flaxseed in your daily
diet for some plant-based omega-3 fats.
Popeye the Sailor Man didn't eat all that spinach for healthy hair, but he
could have. Spinach, like broccoli and Swiss chard, is an excellent source of
vitamins A and C, which your body needs to produce sebum. The oily substance,
secreted by your hair follicles, is the body's natural hair conditioner.
Dark green vegetables also provide iron and calcium.
Beans, beans, they're good for your ... hair?
Yes, it's true. Legumes like kidney beans and lentils should be an important
part of your hair-care diet. Not only do they provide plentiful protein to
promote hair growth, but ample iron, zinc, and biotin. While rare, biotin
deficiencies can result in brittle hair.
Blatner, who is also a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association,
recommends three or more cups of lentils or beans each week.
Do you go nuts for thick, shiny hair? You should.
Brazil nuts are one of nature's best sources of selenium, an important
mineral for the health of your scalp.
Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that may help
condition your hair. They are also a terrific source of zinc, as are cashews,
pecans, and almonds. A zinc deficiency can lead to hair shedding, so make sure
nuts are a regular on your healthy hair menu.
Chickens and turkeys may have feathers, but the high-quality protein they
provide will help give you the healthy hair you crave.
"Without adequate protein or with low-quality protein, one can experience
weak brittle hair, while a profound protein deficiency can result in loss of
hair color," Giancoli tells WebMD.
Poultry also provides iron with a high degree of bioavailability, meaning
your body can easily reap its benefits.
When it comes to healthy hair, it doesn't matter whether you like your eggs
scrambled, fried, or over easy. However they're served up, eggs are one of the
best protein sources you can find.
They also contain biotin and vitamin B-12, which are important beauty
Sink your teeth into hearty whole grains, including whole-wheat bread and
fortified whole-grain breakfast cereals, for a hair-healthy dose of zinc,
iron, and B vitamins.
A whole-grain snack can also be a great go-to food when your energy is
zapped halfway through the afternoon, and you've still got hours to go before
Oysters may be better known for their reputation as an aphrodisiac, but they
can also lead to healthy hair -- and who doesn't love that?
The key to their love and hair-boosting abilities is zinc -- a powerful
If oysters don't make a regular appearance on your dinner plate, don't
despair. In addition to getting it from whole grains and nuts, you can also get
zinc from beef and lamb.
Low-fat dairy products like skim milk and yogurt are great sources of
calcium, an important mineral for hair growth. They also contain whey and
casein, two high-quality protein sources.
For some healthy hair foods "to-go," try throwing a yogurt or cottage cheese
cup in your bag when you head out in the morning to snack on later in the day.
You can even boost their hair benefits by stirring in a couple of tablespoons
of ground flaxseeds or walnuts for omega-3 fatty acids and zinc.
Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A, which promotes a healthy scalp
along with good vision.
Since a healthy scalp is essential for a shiny, well-conditioned head of
hair, you'd be wise to include carrots in your diet as snacks or toppings on
When it comes to foods for healthy hair and beauty, variety is the best way
"An overall balanced diet of lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables, whole
grains, legumes, fatty fish like salmon and low-fat dairy will help keep hair
healthy," Giancoli says.
If you're tempted to drop pounds fast with the latest fad
diet, it could leave you with less-than-healthy hair -- along with a
growling stomach. Low-calorie diets
are often low in some of the most important nutrients for healthy hair,
including omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamin A. In addition to stunting
hair growth and leading to dullness, super-low calorie plans may even cause
"Crash diets can affect the hair cycle," Mirmirani tells WebMD. "Losing a
significant amount of weight in a short amount of time can affect that normal
hair rhythm. Two to three months later, you might notice a significant increase
in shedding. This is a temporary problem that you recover from with a
SOURCES:Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD, American Dietetic Association spokeswoman, Los
Angeles.Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, American Dietetic Association spokeswoman,
Chicago.Paradi Mirmirani, MD, dermatologist, Valejo Medical Center, Valejo,
Calif.Trost, L. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, May 2006;
vol 54: pp 824-844.Alhaj, E. Skinmed, July - August 2007; vol 6: pp 199-200.Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic web site,: "about hair/nutrition."American Dietetic Association: "Iron Needs for Women."American Dietetic Association, "Good Health from A to Zinc."
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