Your hair is an outward sign of your inner health, just like your skin. And since healthy hair can only be achieved if you’re nourishing your body properly in the first place, here are my top food recommendations for helping you achieve healthier shiny locks !
Before we start, I think that it’s important to clarify a few things before I get into the weeds with all of the nutrients that can play a role in achieving and maintaining healthy locks.
First of all, let’s talk about supplementation. There isn’t strong evidence to support individual nutrient supplementation in the absence of a deficiency…. which is something that should be ruled out of course! It’s not to say that supplements don’t help, but we just don’t have a heap of solid research to prove anything specifically related to hair growth beyond supplementing to treat a deficiency at this point. All that being said, in case you’re wondering, I personally take a few supplements including a multivitamin, vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega 3 (DHA & ARA), probiotics, and right now, iron and vitamin C as I have slightly low iron.
There are also many underlying potential reasons for hair loss or poor hair health that should be ruled out, should this be an issue for you, that includes:
- hormones (which can be linked to life stages such as pregnancy, breast feeding or menopause)
- restrictive diets (such as many fad diets that aren’t nutritionally sound or lead to excessive rapid weight loss)
- underlying disease states (ie: thyroid disease, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, PCOS, chronic renal failure etc.)
- excessive supplementation (ie: too much vitamin A, selenium, boron …)
It is vital that you eat a well-balanced diet that meets your body’s needs (the Mediterranean Diet, emphasizing plant foods and healthy fats, is my favourite); I highly recommend talking to a Registered Dietitian if you have concerns regarding your diet to ensure that you are getting the proper nutrition to meet your requirements (the information contained in this article is not a substitute for personalized recommendations from your healthcare professional).
Diets that are very restrictive may leave you in a state of deficiency, depending on the diet and how long you are following it for. The good news is that most nutrient-related hair loss can be corrected with a balanced eating pattern. If you are experiencing hair loss, speak with your doctor to uncover the root cause first and to establish a plan for addressing the underlying issue(s). In case you’re wondering, you can still get everything you need on a vegan diet (I’m not vegan but eat mostly plant-based) but there are certain supplements you will want to add to your diet, including some of the above (this is a whole other post!).
Here are the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) tables if you’re wanting to find out how much of a given nutrient you need (from all sources) to meet your requirements in a day according to Health Canada.
Note that while a nutrient deficiency could be at the root of hair loss, excess amounts of some nutrients, including vitamin A, selenium and boron, may actually cause hair loss! Crazy, hey? The moral of the story is talk with your doctor and/or dietitian before starting any supplement regime. Here is the low-down on the key nutrients that support great, healthy hair including the food sources that I highly recommend including in your diet!
Nuts and Seeds:
Rich in healthy fats, fibre and plant-based protein, nuts and seeds are nutrition powerhouses that are a big part of my diet! A diet containing too little fat or protein can contribute to hair loss and nuts and seeds are rich in both. Nuts (especially Brazil nuts) are also rich in selenium which helps maintain a healthy thyroid. Try Brazil nuts, ground flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, almonds or macadamia nuts! Throw them on a salad, on top of your oatmeal or pack your favourite nuts in a small container as an easy filling snack on the fly. Make a batch of this nut-heavy Top Secret Granola for a healthy way to sneak in more nuts!
Fatty Cold-Water Fish:
Fish like mackerel, sardines, herring, tuna and wild salmon are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats (along with ground flax and walnuts listed above) and are also a great source of protein. In case you are wondering, the daily recommendation for adults for protein is .86g/kg/day. Getting more than this amount is not shown to increase hair growth, and you’ll be happy to know that getting enough protein really isn’t that difficult if you are eating a variety of healthy foods and enough calories to meet your needs. I recommend including a source of protein in every meal; I aim for around 20 grams per meal but it will vary depending on your needs. A serving of fish, chicken or meat is the size of a deck of cards in case you’re wondering! If you are vegan or vegetarian, fear not, protein is abundant in plant based foods and you can absolutely meet your needs eating a variety of grains (ie: quinoa, freekeh etc.), nuts, seeds, tofu etc.! Make a quick meal out of this Honey Orange Glazed Wild Salmon, the Smoked Salmon Cakes pictured above (sooooo good!), or these mouth-watering Cedar Plank Salmon Burgers!
Berries are high in nutrients and low in calories, a big plus in my books! Berries are high in fibre, vitamin C (to support collagen formation and may help strengthen hair), antioxidants and also helps with the absorption of iron which may be important, especially if you have lower iron levels which may contribute to hair loss. Toss berries into salads, on top of hot or cold cereal, blend into smoothies or pile them on top of a yogurt parfait! Give this Raspberry Rainbow Smoothie Bowl a whirl for a special morning treat that will leave your body saying ‘thank you’!
Also a great source of protein, eggs yolks also contain biotin (also known as vitamin B7, needed for protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism). Although rare, biotin deficiency can cause hair loss. (Note that there is no evidence that supplementing with biotin will prevent hair loss in individuals who are not suffering a biotin deficiency). Source your eggs from a local farm or buy free range eggs to ensure that you’re getting the best quality eggs from farmers that treat their chickens well. These Mini Smoked Salmon Quiches are so yummy or try this Kale Potato Breakfast Skillet Pie for something different.
High in ‘good fats’, avocados are rich in fatty acids and vitamin E which helps support cell membranes and also is a powerful antioxidant that reduces the effect of free radicals on hair. Getting enough fat in your diet (the right kinds) is essential to maintaining good health, and your hair is no exception. Try dicing avocados on your salad, slicing on toast, adding to smoothies or layering them on your favourite veggie loaded sandwich! Try this Creamy Avocado Pesto Pasta Salad (pictured above) or my healthy Chocolate Avocado Pudding for a fun and easy way to use up those avocados that are starting to go west!
Beans & Legumes:
A great source of plant-based protein, beans and legumes are also rich in zinc, biotin and folate. Eating beans with meat (if you eat meat) can improve the absorption of iron from the meat – add something high in vitamin C such as tomatoes in soups, chilli or pasta sauces to get an even better absorption boost! We add beans to AND beans are so inexpensive, such a win! Try my Sautéed Kale and White Beans (double whammy), this Black Bean Mushroom Burger, my Chickpea Feta Salad or this easy Roasted Zucchini Hummus (pictured above).
Spinach is at the top of my list here but honestly, any greens are SOOOO good! Dark leafy greens are a source of folate and are also a source of iron, calcium and vitamin A. Lightly sauté a big pile of fresh spinach with olive oil and a clove of crushed garlic for a healthy side dish – you will be shocked at how much it cooks down, I love eating greens this way! Kale, arugula, Swiss chard, spinach, beet greens … shall I go on? Throw them in your smoothies to start your day off the RIGHT way; try this incredibly delicious Green Smoothie that we have nearly every day for breakfast (and the kids LOVE it!) or perhaps try a Green Smoothie Bowl (see above!).
You get the picture! Orange coloured fruits and veggies (not oranges unfortunately) are rich in beta carotene which is a precursor to vitamin A which helps maintain healthy hair follicles. Try roasting squash for a soup like this Roasted Butternut Squash Pear Soup, making my Butternut Squash Lasagne or Butternut Squash Carbonara, roasting carrots with a drizzle of olive oil, see salt and herbs or making muffins or waffles with pumpkin puree such as my Pumpkin Pie Waffles or my Pumpkin Muffins.