As a clinical nutritionist, I focus on wellness from the inside out. The health of your hair is a great indicator of your overall health because hair is one of the most metabolically active parts of our body. To explain, your hair needs a constant supply of protein and nutrients to continue to grow — and grow well. And if your nutritional needs aren’t being met, your tresses will certainly reflect the deficiencies.
With your nutrition in mind, these are the foods I always have in my own pantry. Plus, what supplements you may wish to consider using if you feel your diet be lacking!
Must-Have Pantry Items for Healthy Hair
Here are the items I keep stocked up in my pantry at all times to ensure my hair gets the nutrients it needs. Many studies have shown that nutrient deficiencies may lead to hair loss (1).
Canned Beans (All Varieties)
Key nutrients: Iron and protein
Iron deficiency is a very common condition, affecting more than 3 million Americans annually. No matter what type of canned beans you prefer, you’ll receive the benefits of iron and protein in each serving.
Studies have indicated that sufferers of iron deficiency are at risk of certain kinds of hair loss (2). For people who menstruate, iron intake is even more crucial, as you will lose additional iron each month with your cycle.
Protein is a crucial building block in healthy and vibrant hair. Did you know that most of our hair is actually made of protein? Studies have shown that a lack of protein in the diet can promote hair loss and thinning (3).
Key Nutrient: Zinc
Pumpkin seeds are loaded with nutrients, including zinc. Zinc is a key mineral that plays many important roles in our body (like supporting the immune system, wound healing and supporting skin), (4). A lack of zinc has also been associated with hair loss (3).
Key Nutrients: Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E
I could speak for days about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids, and flax seeds are a terrific source!
Omega-3’s come in three forms: EPH, DHA and ALA. Our body uses EPA and DHA for most of its internal processes, while ALA must be converted into EPA or DHA. EPA and DHA are mostly found in animal sources, and ALA is mostly found in plant sources (think walnuts, flax seeds, or algae). In that conversion process, a significant portion of the omega-3s are lost, so it’s incredibly important for plant-based eaters to consume foods rich in omega 3’s regularly or consider supplementing if you’re not able to eat these foods regularly.
It’s important to know that the body can’t break down whole flax seeds. So to get all the nutritional goodness, you’ll need to grind them first. If you’re adding them to a smoothie, the blender will do this for you. Otherwise, you can purchase pre-ground flax seeds or grind them in a spice grinder before using them.
Key Nutrient: Biotin
Lentils are a power legume! They are a great source of protein, and they’re rich in vitamins like iron, zinc and biotin. Since biotin is a water-soluble vitamin, it can be damaged by aggressive cooking methods, so consider simmering lentils on low heat instead of pressure cooking or other high-heat methods.
Biotin is also well known for it’s function in supporting the maintenance of normal hair (5)
Key Nutrient: Beta carotene
Sweet potatoes are a fantastic source of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, so when you’re eating sweet potatoes, make sure you have a healthy fat source in the same meal. This will increase your body’s ability to absorb and use it. I personally love a drizzle of hazelnut butter on a sweet potato with a dash of cinnamon!
Your Diet and Your Hair
You may be wondering how often you’ll need to work these foods into your diet to optimise your hair wellness. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and health; however, individuals with more nutrient variety and diversity in their diet tend to be healthier overall. Consider intentionally adding these foods throughout your week when it makes sense.
Add some pumpkin seeds to your salad to provide a satisfying crunch or meal-prep a bean and root veggie chilli to eat throughout the week. By focusing on creating variety in your diet, you’ll automatically increase your nutrition and promote holistic hair wellness!
About Erica Zellner
Erica Zellner holds a Masters of Science in Nutrition and Integrative Health and a post-graduate certificate in Global Health Management. Erica additionally holds the prestigious designation of Certified Nutrition Specialist through the American Nutrition Association and is a Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist. Erica has been featured in various outlets including The New York Times, Women’s Health, and HuffPost. As a Clinical Nutritionist, Erica's focus is on wellness in every aspect of a person's life: mind, body, and spirit. Her goal is to empower individuals to take full control of each of these facets in healthful and fulfilling ways.
- Zinc contributes to normal: DNA synthesis, cognitive function, fertility and reproduction, macronutrient metabolism, metabolism of fatty acids, metabolism of vitamin A and protein synthesis. Zinc also contributes to the maintenance of normal bones, hair, nails, skin, vision and testosterone levels in the blood. Zinc contributes to the normal function of the immune system. Zinc contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress.
- Biotin contributes to the maintenance of normal hair and skin.