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Foods for healthy hair

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

You can use the best shampoos and conditioners money can buy, but for really healthy looking hair you need to feed it from the inside out.

What you eat can have an effect on the look and condition of your hair.

healthy hair

If you have naturally fine and flyaway hair, whatever you eat, you won't end up with thick and smooth tresses, more's the pity!

Hair is composed mainly of the protein keratin, with an inner layer containing melanin that gives our hair its natural colour. An outer layer, called the cuticle, protects the hair. Average rate of hair growth is 1cm a month. Speed of hair growth depends on genetics, age and hormone levels. Hair growth may be affected by zinc deficiency, protein deficiency and anaemia, and hormonal fluctuations associated with pregnancy, menopause, thyroid conditions or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

However, experts say a healthy, balanced diet is the first line of defence.

"If you have nutritional deficiencies hair may be brittle or shed but generally a healthy balanced diet will give you all of the nutrients you need for healthy hair," says Ana-Kristina Skrapac, dietitian and British Dietetic Association spokesperson.

Pack it with protein

Protein is the most important nutrient for hair health.

"What you eat makes a big difference to your hair," says dietitian and BDA spokesperson, Priya Tew. "And as the main component of your hair is protein if you don't have enough in your diet it'll have an effect."

The special protein in hair, keratin, is responsible for giving hair its strength and flexibility.

What to eat: Juicy steak, salmon fillet, omelette, roast chicken breast, soy protein. All are great sources of protein.

Beans and pulses are proteins too, but combine them with starchy food proteins such as wheat, rice, or corn to ensure a wide range of dietary amino acids essential for keratin production and healthy hair.

"If you don't eat meat then make sure you have a variety of different protein sources so you get as many of the amino acids that you need," says Priya.

Don't cut back on carbohydrates

" Carbohydrates are important nutrients for your hair," says Marilyn Sherlock, chairman of the Institute of Trichologists. "People who run a lot and deplete their carbohydrate stores can experience hair loss."

She also says: "No-carb or very-low-carb diets can affect the hair. You may see the shedding effects around 3 months after a diet of this kind as that's the length of the growth cycle of hair."

"If you have a restricted diet of any sort, it can make your hair look dull and lifeless," says Priya.

What to eat: Complex carbohydrates like wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta and oats. Wholegrain breakfast cereals make a healthy snack at any time of the day.

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