You’d be amazed just how much diet can affect your hair – not to mention your nails and skin! The body produces hair cells to protect your head from the elements – to keep it warm in cold weather, and to keep the sun off your scalp in hot weather. It produces hair cells using spare nutrients that are available. If you aren’t eating well enough, those nutrients are used on more essential functions, like keeping your organs functioning as well as possible.
Wait – are you telling me that if I go on a crash diet and eat only pineapples or something, my hair will suffer?
That’s right! One of the leading causes of loss of your hair’s beauty is directly related, ironically, to the quest for beauty. Crash diets and fad diets don’t take all of your body’s nutritional needs into consideration. When your body can’t heal and maintain itself, you might well be losing weight – but your hair, skin and nails will start to show signs of damage and weakness. Your whole body needs a healthy, balanced diet full of the right nutrients in order to keep itself strong, working properly, and producing strong and great-looking hair.
So what should I be eating, then?
As a general rule of thumb, the less-processed your food, the better. ‘Processing’ refers to anything done to a food – grinding, extracting, boiling, frying, mixing, separating, etc – that will change its form… especially its chemical components. So a boiled carrot is more processed than a raw carrot, and a packet of dry ‘mashed potato’ mix is still way more processed than a potato that’s been peeled, cut up, boiled and mashed. Sometimes a little processing is necessary to make a food safe or tasty to eat. You wouldn’t want to start eating raw potato (yuck). But the general idea is that the fewer processing steps involved in preparing a piece of food, the more nutrients will be left in it and the more benefit it can provide to your body when you eat it. An example might be a carrot – if you peel the carrot before cooking and eating it, it’s no longer a ‘whole food’ – but it’s still not bad on the scale of things.
But I don’t LIKE these ‘whole foods’! Give me white bread and a packet of crisps any day.
It’s not the end of the world if you don’t have a taste for whole and unprocessed foods. It’s actually quite common in this day and age. Fast food and junk food have acclimatized our palates to lots of salt, easy carbs, and heaps of sugar. However, if you want to improve your diet, it is possible to do this without traumatizing your tastebuds too much. All you need to do is to make slow, gradual improvements to your diet. Here are some examples:
- If you love sweets, try replacing some of them with dried fruits. These are often almost as sweet, but they contain nutrients that can help your body to function well, too.
- Replace a bag of crisps with a small plate of oven-baked fries cooked in olive oil and sprinkled with salt. While the fries aren’t that healthy either, you’ll be cutting down on the number of processed chemicals going into your body, and the fat that you’ll be eating can be used beneficially by your body.
- If you eat a lot of milk chocolate, consider replacing some of it with high-cocoa-content dark chocolate or – even better, if you can find it – raw chocolate. These contain more antioxidants than regular milk chocolate, and the stronger taste usually means that you get your ‘fix’ while eating less of it.
- Eat a bit of healthier food before you start eating junk food. For example, if you’re about to reach for a packet of crisps, first eat a couple of slices of apple – then eat the crisps. When your diet is quite unhealthy, it can be very hard to get yourself into better eating habits – one tactic is to not deprive yourself for now, but to simply supplement the unhealthy with increasing amounts of nutritious foods. Unless you have issues with your body receiving ‘full stomach’ signals, this will naturally result in you eating less of the unhealthy food, too.
- Prepare a plate of mixed healthy and junk food. If everything is in bite-sized pieces, you might be surprised at how easy you’ll find it to automatically eat a bit of everything on the plate.
Can’t I just juice or make smoothies or something?
Sure you can! This is another tactic that works very well for some people. When juicing, try to find a slow juicer – these don’t heat up the juice as they process it, leaving it in a more natural, raw state. However, juicing really shouldn’t be your primary source of nutrients for more than a few months, because you lose a lot of the fiber and some of the nutrients when you juice a fruit or vegetable, but you keep all of the natural sugars.
Smoothies can be a great way to get your body used to a healthier food intake too. A smoothie containing nut milk, a banana, a few raspberries, a little cocoa, a teaspoon of flaxseed oil and a few dates is much better for you than a fast food restaurant’s chocolate shake. It definitely contains more nutrients.
One of the most difficult obstacles in the transition to a healthier lifestyle are food cravings. For most people, adopting a healthy lifestyle is a habit that is best acquired in time. I mean, as you got used to waking up at a certain hour each morning and brushing your teeth before bed each night, you just have to get used to eat, and even covet, healthy food – piece of (raw) cake. Follow my blog for more tips on healthy hair diet.