Many people strive for long, thick, healthy hair, and scientific evidence shows that you may be able to eat your way to stronger, thicker hair with a nutrient-rich, balanced diet.
How does the hair cycle work?
Our hair is continually going through growth cycles, resting and shedding. You have about 100,000 individual hairs on your head at any moment, and on average, each hair grows for nearly 1,000 days before entering a resting period before they are shed.
There are three main stages in the cycle of hair growth:
- Anagen phase (growing stage)
- Catagen phase (transitional stage)
- Telogen phase (resting stage)
- Exogen phase (shedding stage)
During this cycle, the hair grows at a rate of approximately one half-inch per month, though several external factors can influence this.
We have no control over some factors, such as age, sex, and genetics. But there is one very controllable element that can make a huge difference in your hair's health - nutrition.
What is the anatomy of hair?
To better understand what nutrients are needed for optimal hair growth, let's take a look at the basic anatomy of your hair. Hair is primarily made up of a hard protein called keratin; it is also found in your fingernails and skin.
Each hair strand comprises two parts, the hair follicle, and the hair shaft. The follicle is the portion of hair beneath the skin where new growth happens.
This follicle base is called the bulb and comprises stem cells that produce the shaft. The bulb is nourished by blood vessels in the scalp that supply oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to support hair growth and health.
Since your hair is primarily composed of protein, it makes sense that protein, vitamins, and minerals are essential for strong hair.
How does diet impact hair health?
The foods people eat regularly affect the hair growth cycle and our hair's overall quality. Specific proteins, vitamins, fats, and minerals are crucial for healthy hair. Nutritionists and dermatologists confirm that certain nutritional deficiencies lead to dry, dull, and straggly hair. In some cases, improper diet can even lead to hair loss and thinning. Eating a varied, nutritious diet can help reverse these symptoms once the deficiency is restored.
A balanced nutritional regimen also plays a significant role in nail and skin health.
Foods for healthier, thicker hair
Since diet plays such a massive part in keeping hair luscious and strong, it's important to prioritize your food choices and nutritional lifestyle. Eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals that support healthy hair is crucial to achieving thicker tresses. Here are some foods you can start incorporating into your daily meals.
The most common nutritional deficiencies associated with hair thinning and loss include low iron, vitamin D, and biotin levels. Eggs are an excellent, natural source of these nutrients, especially B vitamins. They also have two carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which play a significant role in cellular health, particularly skin, hair, and eyes.
Scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, or egg sandwiches are great ways to incorporate them into your daily rotation. You can even add hard-boiled eggs to your lunch salad or on top of a turkey burger.
Chock-full of biotin, one serving of almonds daily, can help stimulate new follicle growth and help thicken hair. Almonds are also a good source of healthy fats, vitamin E, and magnesium.
You can enjoy almonds by themselves, on top of yogurt, or mixed with dried fruit.
Berries like strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries provide a healthy dose of antioxidants to protect the hair follicles and vitamin C from supporting collagen production and scalp circulation. Berries also aid in the absorption of iron, an essential mineral in the body. Eating berries regularly can result in healthier hair that is less prone to breakage and split ends.
Next time you're looking for a sweet snack, grab a handful of your favorite berries! They're also great blended into smoothies, on top of whole wheat pancakes, or mixed into your cereal.
Fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna are\= rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids and protein. These fan-favorite fish can help you keep your hair strands strong and reduce potentially hair loss inducing inflammation around the scalp.
Try mixing up your dinner protein by incorporating fish into your favorite dish! It can be grilled, broiled, fried, or baked. Most make for a delicious sushi roll, too!
Sweet potatoes can help restore shine and moisture to your locks. They are loaded with beta carotene; an antioxidant converted to vitamin A by the body when consumed. Vitamin A has been shown to protect against dull, dry hair and encourage the scalp's glands to produce sebum (oil) to keep the hair moisturized.
Baked sweet potatoes can be a delicious dinner side, topped with butter and a bit of brown sugar. You can also cut them up and bake them to make your own sweet potato fries!
Kelp promotes hair growth due to its high iodine levels, which are thought to aid in healthy thyroid function that can play a part in hair thinning. Sea kelp can also strengthen hair and prevent damage, thanks to its rich vitamin and mineral content. Iron, folate, magnesium, zinc, and l-lysine found in kelp effectively boost hair fullness and health.
Kelp is a great addition to your stew or favorite noodle dish. It can also be dried out and enjoyed as a crunchy snack.
Dark leafy greens
Greens such as spinach, kale, swiss chard, and collard greens are excellent vitamin A, calcium, iron, and vitamin C sources. Many of the greens also contain biotin, which has the ability to help reverse damage caused by heat styling and harmful sun rays.
If you're not a salad person, don't fret! There are other ways to include leafy greens in your meals. Try blending them into your breakfast smoothie, incorporating them into a stirfry, or juicing them!
Other nutritious choices for healthy hair
- Chia seeds
- Lean, red meat
- Greek yogurt
- Flax seeds
Additional hair care tips for healthier, thicker hair
Adjusting your diet to reflect nutritious and wholesome choices is the first step to promoting healthy hair growth. However, following a proper hair care routine to preserve the scalp's health can also help encourage new growth. Here are some simple tips for maintaining happy hair.
Wash hair regularly, but not too often
Cleaning away dirt, excess oil, and other impurities is vital in safeguarding the scalp from congestion and damage. The frequency will depend on your specific hair type, but washing the hair 2 - 3 times per week is often the recommended amount to prevent stripping the hair from natural oils, leading to unwanted dryness.
Utilize hair masks
Hair masks can be a great way to restore damaged hair and nourish strands from the inside out. There are countless products available on the market, so be sure to look at the ingredient list. Look for natural ingredients that are easy to pronounce, such as olive oil, jojoba oil, honey, restorative proteins, and aloe vera.
Lay off the heat treatments
Excessive use of heating tools like flat irons, curling irons, and blow dryers can cause significant damage to the hair by altering the internal protein structure of your strands. This can lead to change in curl patterns, frizziness, breakage, and irregular texture. If you need to use a heating tool to style your hair, be sure to use a heat protection product.