Fish and other sources of protein and good fats
Hair is made almost entirely of protein, so that’s what your body needs to replace the hairs that are continually shed. A protein-poor diet may well result in a dry scalp and dry, dull, brittle hair. Protein deficiencies can also eventually cause loss of hair colour.
Eating fish a couple of times a week is an excellent way to remedy this. Not only is it packed with high-quality protein, it’s low in unhealthy saturated fats and high in other dietary components your hair needs: essential omega-3 fatty acids, B-vitamins, vitamin D and iron.
Omega-3s are found in the cell membranes of the skin of your scalp, in the hair shaft itself and in the natural oils that keep your scalp and hair conditioned.
Fish is also a good source of iron, which helps the blood carry oxygen to the hair follicles. Too little iron (anaemia) is a major cause of hair loss, particularly in women.
All fish choices are good, but you get the most “bang for your buck” nutritionally from fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, trout and mackerel, as these are especially high in omega-3s.
If you don’t fancy fish, other good protein and iron sources include poultry, lean red meat and eggs.
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Vegetarian options for omega-3s include avocado, pumpkin seeds and walnuts. Legumes (see below) are good protein sources, while spinach is loaded with iron.
Fruit and vegetables
We know our bodies need fruit and veg, but some kinds are especially beneficial – for hair too. Dark green, leafy vegetables and orange-yellow fruits and vegetables tend to be especially high in the two vitamins hair craves: A and C.
Vitamin A is important in the production of scalp oils, which act as the body’s own hair conditioner. Lack of vitamin A can cause dry scalp and dandruff.
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Vitamin C is essential for blood circulation to the scalp, allowing the tiny blood vessels there to feed the follicles. Too little vitamin C in the diet can lead to hair that breaks easily.
Dark green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, kale and Swiss chard contain high amounts of vitamins A and C.
In the orange-yellow category, sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupes, mangoes, pumpkins and apricots are great sources of beta carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A. Blueberries, kiwis, tomatoes, strawberries and citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C.
Legumes or pulses (lentils, beans, peas) provide a vegetable protein source to promote hair growth, and also contain iron, zinc and biotin – a B-vitamin.
Insufficient biotin intake can cause brittle hair and even lead to hair loss. Luckily this is easily preventable: biotin sources also include whole grains, egg yolk, yeast and nuts.
In addition to protein, nuts are high in the element selenium, which is important for a healthy scalp. Alpha-linoleic acid and zinc are also found in some nuts and help condition the hair. Hair shedding can be caused by a lack of zinc.
Low-fat dairy products like yoghurt, milk and cottage cheese are good sources of calcium, a key component for hair growth. They’re also high in vitamin D, which may be linked to follicle health.
We’re rounding off the list with oysters because they’re famously high in zinc – lack of which can lead to hair loss and a dry, flaky scalp. But you can also up your intake of this mineral with nuts, beef, eggs, fortified cereals and whole-grain breads.