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In December I decided I was going to get all of my hair chopped off. Ok, so maybe not all, but I was going to get about 10 inches or so cut off. A couple of hours before heading to my appointment, I made a Facebook post about it. I usually don’t do that kind of thing but I thought if I announced my intention, then I would have to follow through with it.
I was surprised when so many people commented and then I was surprised at the conversation that came out of it. It seemed like a lot of women were having issues with their own hair. Some said their hair just wouldn’t grow, while others said their hair was thinning. And some had issues with brittle hair that broke easily.
I had never thought too much about my hair, how fast it grows, or anything else really. For the most part I ignore it completely. I wash it with shampoo and conditioner purchased from the grocery store. It’s shiny and healthy looking and I generally never use products on it.
My hair grows quickly. Since I seldom ever get split ends, I can usually get away with having only 2 -3 haircuts a year. Although it’s long and heavy and I wear it up in ponytail or clip all the time, it somehow seems to survive the rough treatment I give it.
I don’t take any vitamins or supplements, so what makes my hair so different than other people’s hair?
My immediate thought went to my diet. I eat healthy because it makes me feel better than when I eat crappy food, but before sharing what seemed to be working for me, I decided to do some research on the subject to find factual data to share with you. I wanted to know if there was a specific type of food or a combination of the food I was eating that keeps my hair and nails healthy, or maybe if it was just a coincidence that I eat healthy and have healthy hair.
I dove into the internet research with great enthusiasm but within a couple of minutes I was more than a little frustrated. I found a million and one articles on how to make hair and nails healthy but none of them were actually fact based.
As an RN and with second degree in biology, I feel it’s necessary to give factual information if I’m writing on a subject or I need to clearly state that I’m giving my opinion. None of these articles stated that.
So dear readers, just keep this in mind when you’re reading health and nutrition articles online. There’s a lot of misinformation available and while most of it is harmless, some of it might not be, and at the very least, you will be wasting your time and money on things that are never going to work.
What Science Says About Making Hair and Nails Healthy
Dr. Carolyn Jacob, founder and medical director of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology, says eating a well balanced diet with real food is the key to healthy hair and nails and she feels supplements are unnecessary.
During my research I found the foods I eat on a daily basis are a large part of the foods needed for healthy hair and nails. My daily diet consists of oatmeal, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, baby carrots, walnuts, almonds, Greek yogurt, and lots of protein, just to a name a few. Although I don’t eat with the intention of making my hair and nails grow at a faster rate, my normal diet is geared exactly for that.
So let’s break it down and take a closer look at the foods that contain the necessary vitamins and nutrients to make your hair and nails stronger and healthier than they have ever been before.
Foods for Healthy Hair and Nails
Hair and nails are made from a protein called keratin. When keratin forms thin layers it is flexible in nature (hair) and when it forms thick layers it becomes nails.
“At any given time, about 90% of your hair is in the growing phase. For each individual hair, this growing phase lasts 2 to 3 years. At the end of that time, hairs enter a resting phase that lasts about 3 months before they are shed and replaced by new hair. If you don’t get enough protein in your diet”, a disproportionate number of hairs may go into the resting phase.”
Shedding 50-100 hairs each day is a normal and natural process; however, if you are experiencing more shedding or noticeable hair loss than that, then you need to take a look at your diet.
It’s quite normal for women who have recently given birth, lost 15 pounds or more rapidly, or have been extremely sick to shed more hair than healthy women. This type of hair loss usually occurs 2-3 months after the event. Increasing your protein intake should help remedy this issue.
How much protein do you need to eat for healthy hair and nails?
The RDA recommends women eat around 45 grams of protein each day but female weight lifters eat 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. I generally eat around 100 grams of protein a day and I weigh around 110 pounds.
Tip: A 4 ounce serving size of meat will roughly fit in the palm of your hand.
Sources of Protein for Healthy Hair and Nails
Eggs are the best source of protein and a staple in any weight lifter’s diet. Eggs are high in protein and contain biotin which makes hair stronger. Other good choices include red meat, chicken, pork, fish, almonds, eggs, and Greek yogurt.
Tip: Not all protein powders are created equal. Many use a lesser quality of protein and have fillers and additives. Other products have a higher price because they are a “designer” protein; however, the quality of the protein isn’t better than the cheaper protein powders I listed.
2. Sources of Iron for Healthy Hair and Nails
Iron is used to make various proteins which are found in hair and nails. Low iron levels are associated with hair loss. If you are in a constant state of fatigue, bruise easily, and get short of breath with minimal exertion then you may have iron deficiency anemia. You can ask you doctor to do a simple blood test to determine if you have this.
Again, the best source of iron in the diet is meat. Clams, oysters, and organ meats provide the highest amounts of iron, but any of the foods listed in the box are acceptable.
Vegetarians can eat iron fortified cereals, breads, and pastas, dark green leafy vegetables, lentils, bok toy, pumpkin seeds, dried fruit, and peas.
3. Sources of Magnesium and Vitamins A and C
“Magnesium is mother nature’s anti-stress mineral and stress is a major factor in hair loss.” –Ashley Koff, RD
Spinach is an excellent source of magnesium for healthy hair and nails. It also contains Vitamins A and C which the body needs to produce the natural occurring oil in your hair called sebum.
Other sources of magnesium include beans, nuts, whole grains, cacao nibs, and fish.
Vitamin C can be found in a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables. With the American diet, very few people have Vitamin C deficiency; therefore, there is no need to buy a supplement for Vitamin C.
4. Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium is the key mineral in building healthy hair and nails and Vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb calcium. Some studies have shown a link between low levels of Vitamin D and hair loss, but researchers still don’t understand the full connection between Vitamin D and the role it plays in hair health.
Calcium is found in dairy products and Vitamin D can be found in fortified milk, orange juice, and cereals. Of course, the easiest source of Vitamin D is from sunlight.
5. Omega 3 and Vitamin E
Omega 3 foods are well known for their super powers. Foods rich in Omega 3’s can lower cholesterol levels, reduce joint pain, improve memory, and decrease heart attack risks.
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid which means your body doesn’t produce it and you will need to get it from proper foods in your diet.
Walnuts are rich in Omega 3’s and they also contribute to the elastin in your hair which is needed for growth.
Research studies have shown that copper which is found in walnuts can helps keep hair its natural color while staving off graying.
Free radicals in the body cause cell damage which increases stress hormones and inflammation and can impact all cells in the body, including hair and nails. Blueberries have the highest anti-oxidant properties and can fight free radical damage.
7. Zinc and Biotin Supplements
Pharmaceutical companies usually tout zinc and biotin supplements for their powerful hair and nail strengthening abilities; however, Dr. Carolyn Jacob believes the American diet provides an adequate supply of both of these and expensive supplements aren’t necessary.
If you’re new to healthy eating and want to make it a lifestyle, I suggest slow adding healthy food choices into your diet. Add a few berries to your oatmeal or cereal in the morning. Pack a salad with some leftover chicken for your lunch. Have some almonds and dark chocolate for an afternoon snack. Once you see a difference in how you look and feel, it makes choosing those healthier foods much easier.
“10 Foods for Healthy Hair in Pictures.” WebMD. WebMD. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
“How Diet Affects Your Hair.” WebMD. WebMD. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
Mayo Clinic Staff Print. “Iron Deficiency Anemia.” Self-management – Iron Deficiency Anemia – Mayo Clinic. 11 Nov. 2016. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
“Office of Dietary Supplements – Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Selenium.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
“Office of Dietary Supplements – Magnesium.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
“Office of Dietary Supplements – Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
“Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin C.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
“Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin D.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
“Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin E.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
“Office of Dietary Supplements – Zinc.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
Patel, Arti. “10 Foods For Healthy Locks.” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 29 Mar. 2012. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
Http://www.howstuffworks.com/about-author.htm. “Benefits of Omega-3.” HowStuffWorks. 15 June 2010. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
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