Whether you’re trying to get your hair to grow out after a too-short cut or you’ve noticed an alarming increase in loose strands with each shampooing, you might be wondering how you can help your hair grow faster, longer, and stronger. 

Hair needs certain nutrients to grow and thrive. Just as your gut health and skin are impacted by the foods you eat, imbalances or nutrient deficiencies in your diet can affect how your hair grows and how healthy it appears.

What is healthy hair?

While there’s no official definition of healthy hair, most people think of thick, shiny, lustrous hair as healthy. Healthy strands go beyond surface appearance though. Well-nourished strands are hydrated, with clean ends and a strong core that’s flexible and resists breakage. 

Unhealthy strands can be dry, brittle, prone to breakage, dull, limp, thin, or shed excessively. Genetics play a role in hair health and certain life events, like having a baby or going through extra stressful times, can lead to an increase in hair loss.

While some factors are outside of your control, you can choose a nutritious diet to ensure you’re getting adequate intake of all the nutrients hair needs to thrive.

Nutrition for healthy hair

Just like there isn’t one perfect hair product or styling tool, there’s isn’t one single food to guarantee good hair days. But there are a lot of nutrients that play a role in helping hair grow and stay healthy.

Protein, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and zinc all play a role in how your hair grows and how healthy it is. Studies have found hair loss is linked to zinc deficiency.

Zinc’s role in hair health

Zinc is a trace mineral that the body can not make on its own. Your body doesn’t need a ton of zinc to be healthy, but the amount it requires must be obtained from food.

Zinc is involved in many processes in the body, including cellular growth and repair, protein and DNA synthesis, immunity, nutrient absorption, and wound healing.

Although zinc’s exact role in hair health isn’t well understood, it’s theorized that its role in DNA and protein synthesis help form the protein structure of hair. Structurally strong strands are less likely to break or fall out prematurely.

Indeed, research finds hair loss and balding is a common signs of zinc deficiency and zinc supplementation is an effective treatment for reversing hair loss caused by deficiency. 

Food sources of zinc

The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for zinc is set at 8 milligrams per day for adult females and 11 milligrams per day for adult males. Here are some of the best food sources of zinc to help you meet your dietary needs.

  1. Shellfish – Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food. Just 3 ounces of oysters provides 73 milligrams of zinc. Other shellfish like crab, lobster, and clams are also good sources. Shellfish is also a good source of lean protein.
  2. Meat & poultry – Beef, pork, and chicken all contain significant amounts of zinc that can help you meet your daily requirement. Beef contains more zinc compared to pork or poultry.
  3. Nuts – Besides zinc, nuts like almonds, cashews, and walnuts also contain healthy fats, vitamin E, and other minerals that can promote hair health.
  4. Pumpkin seeds – One ounce of pumpkin seeds, which is about two tablespoons, provides over 2 milligrams of zinc. They’re also a good source of protein and fiber. Try mixing some with nuts and dried fruit for a healthy snack mix.
  5. Beans and legumes –  Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, and peas are all good sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, iron, and zinc. Up your intake of beans and legumes by adding some on top of salads and in soups and chili.
  6. Greek yogurt – Milk and cheese also contain some zinc, but yogurt is the best dairy source. Choose plain yogurt to keep added sugar low and top with your own fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds. 

Zinc from animal foods is better absorbed than plant-based sources. Although food is always the best source of nutrients, some people, such as individuals following vegetarian and vegan diets, may benefit from a supplement specially formulated for hair health. 

If you’re concerned about your levels of zinc or any other nutrient, speak with a healthcare professional who can order lab work and discuss diet and lifestyle choices to help you identify and correct any deficiencies. 

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