Strong, shiny hair is a sign of good health. You can help your locks maintain that glow by eating a well-balanced diet. Because each hair strand is made mostly of a protein called keratin, getting adequate high-quality protein in your diet is important. This means opting for foods that contain all nine essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein. The foods below are all solid sources of protein, and they each offer additional nutrients that contribute to hair health.

Plant-based Protein Sources

Vegan sources can provide plenty of protein to meet daily needs and are often high in other nutrients. Some vegan sources have all of the essential amino acids, but those that don’t can be paired with grains such as rice, oats, or crackers to make them complete.

Quinoa

While often mistaken as a grain, this plant seed is actually related to spinach. As a complete source of protein, one cup of cooked quinoa is an excellent source of several hair-health nutrients including copper, which boosts keratin strength.

Tofu

Enjoyed by humans for over 2000 years, just 3 ounces of tofu provides 7 grams of high-quality protein and is a source of iron. Tofu is mild in taste which makes it a versatile ingredient to use in any recipe, from smoothies to stir fries.

Nuts and Seeds

Though they’re an incomplete protein, a half cup of mixed nuts and seeds can provide over 13 grams. Each kind of nut or seed provides its own unique combination of nutrients that contribute to hair health. For example, Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, while sunflower seeds provide zinc. Eat a wide variety to gain the most value.

Legumes

Legumes are good sources of protein which can easily be paired with grains to make them complete. Like nuts and seeds, each one specializes in different nutrients. Lentils and chickpeas are especially high in folate which contributes to hair health by aiding red blood cell formation, providing oxygen to all cells including hair follicles.

Animal Protein Sources

Animal protein sources are complete but sometimes offer fewer additional vitamins than vegan sources. Adding plant foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables will help balance your diet.

Eggs

Known for their high-quality protein, eggs offer a ton of additional nutrients in an adorable little oval including iron, zinc, vitamins A and D, and several B vitamins. B12 may be responsible for more rapid growth in hair follicle cells. Choosing eggs advertising higher omega-3 content is a good investment, since the hair-healthy omega-3 displaces saturated fat.

Dairy

Vitamin D influences the growth and specialization of keratin cells and may increase root cell integrity. While it’s difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone, dairy products are often fortified making them an excellent source. They are also a good source of protein, vitamin A, and several B vitamins.

Salmon and Sardines

Omega-3 fatty acids have gained popularity for promoting heart and brain health. Studies show that they may also increase follicle cell growth, aiding in hair fullness. Fish like salmon and sardines are among the best sources, also offering other nutrients including vitamin D and B vitamins.   

Poultry

Poultry, especially chicken breast, is an excellent source of several B vitamins including niacin. Niacin deficiency can lead to pellagra, a disease which often leads to hair loss.

Beef

Beef is an excellent source of heme iron, a type of iron absorbed easily by the body. Iron deficiency has been linked to hair loss, so it’s important to get plenty. Pairing beef with foods high in vitamin C like broccoli boosts iron absorption even more. 

Beef Liver

For those who enjoy eating liver, this protein source is packed with nutrients. Just 3 oz is an excellent source of iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and several B vitamins which means you’re getting a lot of value in a small package. Because liver is so high in vitamins, it’s not recommended to eat it more than once weekly.

By eating a wide variety of healthy foods including these high-quality protein sources, you’ll help keep your hair looking its very best.

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