Eat Right for Your Hair Type
What’s one of the best-kept secrets for healthy hair? Is it the latest exotic potion from Europe? An exclusive Hollywood salon conditioner?
You might be surprised to learn that it’s a balanced diet. Experts agree that a healthy diet with the right mix of protein, iron, and other nutrients can help improve the health, look, and feel of your hair.
Protein Is Important
Your hair needs the same well-rounded diet that provides all the recommended vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients needed for good health in the rest of your body.
Take protein, for example. A strand of hair is composed of mostly protein, which means your hair needs protein to grow. “Hair and nails are both protein fibers,” says dermatologist Paradi Mirmirani, MD, of the Permanente Medical Group in Vallejo, Calif., and a member of the North American Hair Research Society.
Iron and Other Nutrients
Protein isn’t the only nutrient needed to maintain healthy hair. You also need iron, vitamin E, and trace minerals such as selenium, copper, and magnesium to help keep your hair in good shape. “These are all involved in the production of the various proteins that make up your hair,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly called the American Dietetic Association).
Not getting enough iron can cause hair loss.
“The best source of iron in your diet is meat,” Gerbstadt says. Clams, oysters, and organ meat top the list “But there are problems with eating a lot of organ meat,” Gerbstadt says. “Lean meat, though — pork, beef, and fish — are all good sources.”
Good vegetarian sources of iron include fortified cereals, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, white beans, lentils, and spinach. The problem with iron from non-animal sources is that the body absorbs iron less efficiently from plants. “It’s possible to eat a vegetarian diet paying attention to iron and still not get enough,” Gerbstadt says.
Her advice: Talk with your doctor about your diet and ask for an iron test so your doctor can check on whether you should consider taking an iron supplement.
Vitamin D and Your Hair
Though the evidence still isn’t clear, some studies suggest that vitamin D may play a role in the hair cycle. “We can get vitamin D from the sun,” Mirmirani says. “But dermatologists don’t recommend a lot of sun exposure.”
You can also get vitamin D from fortified foods such as milk, orange juice, and cereals. But, Mirmirani says, according to some studies, many Americans don’t get enough vitamin D, “and the actual recommended dosage is controversial.” She recommends talking with your doctor about your vitamin D needs and whether or not you should take a supplement.
Hair Health and Weight Loss Diets
Weight loss, especially rapid weight loss from a restrictive diet, can cause major hair loss. “Master hairdressers,” Gerbstadt says, “know without being told when their clients are dieting — just from the changes in the hair.”
“Women on a very strict calorie-deprived diet will lose weight very quickly. But it’s hard to ensure they get the nutrients they need,” McMichael says. Weight loss can also stress the body, which also contributes to hair loss. “Even if you lose weight very slowly on a doctor-approved program, you can still have associated hair loss.”