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  • Writer's pictureDr. Aparna Santhanam

Diet for Healthy Hair

So many of my patients do so much externally to make their hair look beautiful. But, more often than not, when I start talking to them about their diet, they seem quite perplexed and confused as to what are the foods that aid in preserving the growth and the goodness of our hair. So, here’s a quick look at the essential nutrients and where we can fit them into our diet for acquiring beautiful tresses.

A simple way to remember your hair foods is to memorize the word ZIPLOCABLES. You can literally ziplock these ingredients into your hair to impart beauty and health to it. Each of these stand for vital hair nutrients, in no particular order of importance. We are looking at the first 6 of these in this blog.

Zinc is a trace mineral found in the body. It plays a vital part in many bodily processes and functions such as cell reproduction, hormonal balance, proper absorption of vitamins and in protein synthesis. All these processes are vital for the health and growth of hair. Adequate amount of this mineral is needed to prevent hair thinning and loss, and to keep the strength of hair intact. Eggs, chicken liver, dark chocolate, wheat germ, pumpkin and watermelon seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts and soy products are good sources.

Top tip: Foods high in zinc should not be taken with those high in calcium as calcium retards the absorption of zinc.

Iron deficiency, both in the form of low circulating iron as well as low iron stores – leads to hair loss. Conversely, including iron in the diet or supplementation goes a long way towards improving the health of the hair. The sources of iron are classified as haeme (derived from animal haemoglobin, like liver, clams, oysters, etc.) and non-haem (derived from potatoes with skin, legumes such as white beans and pumpkin, sesame seeds, apricots, raisins and ready-made cold cereals fortified with iron, as well as oats and oatmeal).

Top tip: Iron absorption is increased by the intake of vitamin C. So, eat the two together. For example, you could have legume salad with lemon dressing and potatoes in their skins, etc.

Protein: Since hair itself is almost all protein, it is necessary to include protein in the diet in order to preserve strength, promote growth and reduce inflammation on the scalp. While all essential amino acids are vital for healthy hair, cysteine, arginine, and lysine are considered extremely significant to keep hair loss at bay. While it is argued and is true that meat-based diets are high in protein, from the perspective of hair loss, there is some evidence that a high-fat diet may actually promote hormone-induced hair loss. So, it is best to stick to lean protein sources like lean chicken, fish, and eggs. Vegetarians can get good protein from soya, sprouts, low-fat paneer, etc.

Top tip: Vegetarians can still get complete protein by ‘protein complementing’, where you eat two sources of food that combine to make up the complete range of amino acids. Zunka bhakri, brown rice and dal, etc., are examples.

Legumes: Although they could technically be classified under proteins, legumes are granted special mention here. This is because in addition to their protein content, they are rich in B-complex vitamins as well as in antioxidants. A friend of mine once told me how she always has some whole bean or legume ready, which she adds to any vegetable preparation of the day. When you have hair loss, eat legumes every day.

Top tip: If you wish to prepare any bean, do soak it overnight if you are starting with dried beans. Soaking aids digestion and helps in the cooking process as well.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are also known as essential fatty acids as they are vital for the body’s functioning and because they have to be incorporated in the form of your diet since they cannot be produced by the body. The best source of omega-3 for nonvegetarians is fish, especially salmon. Vegetarians can get omega-3 from flax seeds as well as walnuts. Omega-6 is obtainable from evening primrose oil.

Top tip: Omega-3 is singularly important for all anti-inflammatory activity in the body. So, it is a good idea to keep small quantities of ground flaxseed and add it to a staple like dal or yogurt every day.

C Vitamin and Copper: Vitamin C is important for multiple reasons. It is a potent antioxidant and has anti-ageing properties. But it has a very unique function in the nutrition of hair in that it helps in the absorption of iron, another vital nutrient for hair. There are a large number of good sources, including broccoli, leafy greens, green peppers, citrus fruit and strawberries. For copper, the best sources are seafood, nuts such as almonds and pecans, legumes and mushrooms.

Top tip: Potatoes are also a very good source of vitamin C and can be eaten either in their skins or with spinach so that you get iron, copper and vitamin C in your diet.

Excerpted from Let’s Talk Hair by Dr. Aparna Santhanam:

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