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Medically reviewed by:
Elizabeth A. Liotta, MD
You are what you eat, the old saying goes. Whether or not you think that pertains to the brain, nails, skin or hair, I suspect that what we put in our bodies affects all of these things. Simply put, food supplies your body with important nutrients to keep it running at its best.
For example, a few foods that have been shown to be beneficial to the brain are walnuts, omega-3 fats, blueberries, turmeric, barley and quinoa, according to the Cleveland Clinic. A low-carb Mediterranean diet, which includes fruit, vegetables, legumes, "good" fats and fish are thought to help protect against Alzheimer's disease.
And what about your hair? While there are many products on the market that can temporarily boost the look of your tresses, why not put some healthy ingredients into your body to go to work for—and protect— those 100,000 hairs on your head?
Here are some foods with hair-health benefits:
Healthy omega-3 fatty acids can foster hair growth and sheen. Your body is unable to manufacture these healthy fats on its own, so fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna can supply them. The American Heart Association advises eating two servings (3.5-ounce portions) of fatty fish per week. If you don't eat seafood, omega-3s are also found in some nuts and seeds, such as flaxseeds, but it's in a different form, so you may also want to talk with your health care provider about taking a supplement.
Greek yogurt is packed with protein, which is critical for keeping hair healthy. It also contains vitamin B5 (or pantothenic acid), which may help prevent hair thinning and loss. And while we're on the subject of protein, make sure to get protein from foods like lean meat, chicken and turkey, which can protect against hair loss and promote growth and thickness. Eggs, milk and cheese are also considered complete protein sources. If you're a vegetarian, find your protein in foods like quinoa, chickpeas and lentils.
Strawberries, citrus fruits and peppers. What do these have in common? They're high in vitamin C, needed by your body to help produce protein. And since your body can't make or store vitamin C, it's important to include foods that contain this vitamin in your daily diet. Other sources include pineapple, cantaloupe, kiwi fruit and veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and leafy greens.
Iron-rich foods. Low iron can contribute to hair loss. Treat any deficiency with iron-rich foods like lean meat, turkey, whole grains, dried fruit, beans and egg yolks.
Biotin. This water-soluble B complex vitamin, also known as vitamin H, is found in small amounts in certain foods like eggs, cheese, yogurt, chicken and liver. Biotin helps to strengthen the keratin in the hair and nails and comes in different types of over-the-counter supplements. There is preliminary evidence that it may reduce hair loss caused by an autoimmune disease when biotin supplements are combined with zinc and a topical cream containing clobetasol propionate.
Sweet potatoes. Your body turns the antioxidant beta carotene into vitamin A, which in turn helps protect against dry or dull hair and encourages production of sebum (an oily fluid produced by the glands in your scalp that keeps your strands from drying out). Beta carotene, which gives veggies and fruit their rich colors, is also found in carrots, apricots, mangoes, asparagus, broccoli and kale.
Silica. In a study of women with temporary hair thinning, it was found that those who took the oral supplement silica experienced significant hair growth. Foods that contain this mineral include bananas, beer, oats and raisins.