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When it comes to the health of your hair and scalp, we know that eating a balanced diet may not be at the top of your priority list. But whilst clarifying shampoos, nourishing conditioners and intense masks all contribute to a healthy head of hair, the food you eat also makes a big impact. It’s simple really – your scalp is skin. So, just as you might eat a balanced diet to maintain a great complexion, the right food helps to keep the scalp happy too. And if your scalp’s healthy then so is your hair. It’s the circle of living your best hair life! We donned our diet hats and asked the experts which foods make for a marvellous mane (and which ones we should skip), all in the name of thicker, healthier hair. Here are some top tips for what to do for hair growth and thickness.
Diet and scalp health – how does it work?
When you eat, you are not just satisfying your hunger and simply feeding a rumbly tummy, you are feeding your skin and hair too. “The human scalp contains an estimate of 100,000 hair follicles,” explains Jessica Sepel, clinical nutritionist and founder of JSHealth Vitamins. “90% of these are in what is called the anagen phase – when your hair is growing – and this requires proteins, vitamins and minerals to produce healthy hair.” So, what happens if you skip the good stuff? “The cells in the hair follicle have a high turnover so depriving yourself of calories, protein, minerals, essential fatty acids and vitamins may lead to structural abnormalities, pigmentation changes and hair loss,” says Jessica.
The foods and ingredients to avoid
So let’s start with what not to eat. Because being savvy about what to skip from your diet is just as important as knowing what to add into it. Jessica recommends simply cutting down on sugars – sodas, candy, refined chocolate, packaged foods, white breads and pastas – as this could spike insulin levels; “Insulin can have an impact on the blood vessels which nourish the scalp and could contribute to hair loss,” she says. Registered nutritional therapist Alex Allan (alexallannutrition.co.uk) continues; “If your diet is full of fast foods, highly processed foods or it’s lacking in good quality protein and healthy fats, this will have a detrimental effect on hair growth and quality,” she says.
Fruits and vegetables VS hair growth and thickness
Who said that fruits and vegetables just make your body big and strong? They make the hair strong too when included in your daily diet. Superhero worthy hair? We’ll take it! So, how do fruits and vegetables benefit the hair’s thickness and general health? Well, fruits are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants which keep the hair healthy. “An adequate supply of vitamin C in the diet influences the hair shaft – fruits like strawberries, kiwi fruit and citrus fruits are some of the richest sources of vitamin C to support healthy hair,” explains Jessica. When it comes to vegetables, Jessica says her favourite ones for the hair are the dark green, leafy vegetables like broccoli, kale, rocket and spinach. “Vegetables are rich in nutrients like iron, zinc and magnesium which support hair health,” she says. “Zinc, for example, plays a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fats and can influence hair follicles and hair growth, whilst a deficiency in iron has been linked to hair loss.”
Other foods and ingredients for luscious locks
We now know that fruits and vegetables are the ideal choices for optimum hair health, particularly because they are rich in hair-loving zinc. But zinc can also be found in foods such as red meat, poultry, liver, pumpkin seeds and soy, according to Alex. And these aren’t the only things topping the healthy hair list – there are many other foods that are just waiting to give you a lifetime of good hair days. “A low level in nutrients can lead to brittle hair and hair loss so include wholegrains, egg yolks and yeast in your diet which are a good source of nutrients,” says Alex. “Omega 3 fatty acids help to contribute towards hair shine and strength, so eating oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines or flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts is recommended.” And finally, think protein, protein, protein! This includes things like meat, fish, eggs and soy. “Hair is comprised of about 90% protein so a deficiency of certain amino acids (protein building blocks) can lead to weak, brittle hair or hair loss,” Alex continues. “You should aim to have a palm-sized portion of protein with every meal – even breakfast!”
Vitamins to aid hair growth
We all know the importance of taking supplements for things like bone and muscle health, maintaining a happy gut or clearing up your skin. But do supplements work for the health of our scalp and hair? The answer is, absolutely! “Certain supplements are important for normal cell growth and function so may contribute to preventing hair loss,” says Jessica. “Fucoidan – extracted from brown seaweed and rich in iodine – is known to promote growth factors that are connected with the hair cycle,” explains Jessica. “One study showed that a supplement containing seaweed extracts helped to prevent hair loss and promote scalp health.” Try JS Health Vitamins Hair & Energy Formula, £29.99, amazon.co.uk which contains seaweed extracts.