Seven Superfoods for Healthy Hair
For a gorgeous, thick, shiny and soft crown, chow down!
For Black women, hair is a crown and glory. And whether it’s with weekly salon visits, hot oil treatments, sleeping on a satin pillowcase or taking hair supplements, you do everything you can to care for it. But whether you wear it relaxed or natural, locked, loose or braided, your hair is much more affected by what you put in your body than by what you put on your strands. In fact, the most effective way to achieve look-at-me locks is actually to look at what’s on your plate.
For a primer on exactly what to eat for healthy, head-turning hair we consulted nutritionists Wendy Lopez and Jessica Jones. The BFFs (and owners of gorgeous hair themselves) are cocreators of Food Heaven Made Easy, an online platform that provides resources for delicious and cost-effective healthy eating. Here are their hair-boosting picks.
Healthy hair begins with a healthy scalp. And foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, can help balance the oils in your scalp, reducing flakiness and itching. Don’t like salmon? You can also get a hefty dose of omega-3s from other oily fish, such as sardines, trout and mackerel. Vegetarian? “Ground flax seeds are also an amazing source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lubricate our hair, providing moisture and hydration for our hair follicles,” says Jones. She also recommends choosing ground over whole flax seeds because they’re easier to digest. And if flax seeds aren’t your thing, know that chia and hemp seeds are also high in omega-3s.
“Spinach is a rich source of vitamin A, which is needed for sebum production,” says Lopez, a registered dietitian/nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. “Sebum is an oily substance that’s secreted by our follicles and pores and helps lubricate our scalp and skin. It’s basically our hair’s natural moisturizer, and you can get it from spinach and other dark leafy greens like collards and chard.”
The humble egg is a great source of biotin, a part of the B-complex family of vitamins, which dermatologists recommend to help reduce hair shedding and promote hair growth (so much so that it’s sometimes dubbed vitamin H, for hair). Don’t like eggs? Other high-biotin foods include peanuts, almonds, sweet potatoes, salmon, strawberries and avocados.
The curly crustacean is not only an excellent source of protein, it’s also high in B vitamins and iron and is a good source of vitamin D. (Studies have linked vitamin D3 deficiency to hair loss). Shrimp also has zinc, a mineral that helps support hair growth and is also found in oysters.
Studies show that lack of protein can contribute to hair loss, but there are plenty of proteinaceous foods you can add to your diet. “Greek yogurt is one of my personal favorites,” says Jones. “It’s great because it’s loaded with protein and helps promote [the formation of] keratin, which is a protein found in your hair. It’s also high in vitamin D, which is essential for hair follicle health.” But check the nutrition labels before you buy — the amount of vitamin D in Greek yogurt varies greatly between brands.
“Chickpeas [also known as garbanzo beans] are a great source of iron, an essential mineral in hair growth,” says Lopez, who is also coauthor of the 28-Day Plant-Powered Health Reboot. “ Some studies even find that low iron intake can be associated with a progression of hair loss. And low iron can lead to iron-related anemia, which can have a huge impact on your hair quality.” Load up on the nutty-flavored legumes with hummus dip or by adding them to homemade soups and stews.
These nuts are a great source of selenium, a mineral that can promote healthy hair growth and prevent hair loss. (Too much selenium, however, can have the opposite effect, so limit yourself to a maximum of one to two of these larger nuts a day.) Your hair will also be happy if you get sufficient amounts of vitamin B, which can be found in Brazils and other nuts, such as almonds and walnuts.
A final tip: What’s good for your body is generally good for your hair. So eat a well-balanced diet with lots of colorful veggies and lean proteins. And, whether on your plate or in your hair products, avoid chemicals that you can’t pronounce. Your tresses will thank you.