Friday, May 17, 2013

The Experts Weigh In: From Whole Foods to Hot, Healthy Hair!

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When you think about your diet, you probably never stop to consider its impact on your hair. Most likely, you associate the effects of what you eat on your weight, energy levels, or maybe even your skin, but hair often gets overlooked. So it may surprise you to learn that one of the best kept secrets for strong, healthy, shiny hair is not the latest hair care product, but rather something as simple as good nutrition. Healthy hair is a great marker of overall health and your diet is a central part of your hair's quality and vitality!

Hi! I'm Kirsti, and I'm a one-stop shop when it comes to food, nutrition, fitness and hair! Growing up with a chef for a father meant that good food was always at the center of our lives. Nutrition however, took a back seat. It was just never part of the equation growing up. It was only when I moved to New York 13 years ago that I began to take an interest in the power of food as medicine. Even when I was a hairstylist for many years, I never made the connection between diet and the quality of one's hair. But after many years of reading and studying, I now have a completely different appreciation for food and it's value beyond pleasure. It can truly serve our health and beauty - inside and out.

It is scientifically proven that a healthy diet (with the right combination of protein, healthy fats, phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals) is the foundation necessary for strong, healthy hair in terms of its quality, elasticity and shine. Healthy hair is bouncy, strong, shiny and manageable. A balanced diet gives your hair all the nutrients it needs to grow appropriately out of the follicle and stay connected to the scalp. It's not surprising that the same healthy diet needed for optimal function of the rest of your body is the same one needed for top quality hair. Of course there are other factors that will affect your hair's condition - such as lifestyle, medication, hormones, and sleep (as well as chemicals and heating tools used directly on the hair). However, your diet is the foremost factor when it comes to your tresses!

So let's take a look at what the 'Healthy Hair Diet' looks like. I've highlighted my top 10 favorite foods for transforming your locks! Say goodbye to those dull, drab strands!

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EGGS - Whether you like them scrambled, poached or sunny side up, eggs are a fantastic way to get the protein you need to start your day. Protein, along with the biotin found in eggs, is essential for hair growth and overall scalp health. Biotin (a B vitamin) ensures that all the body's cells, including the scalp and follicles, get the oxygen and nutrients they need.

SPINACH - The folate in spinach aids in the production of red blood cells, while its iron content helps these red blood cells carry oxygen and nutrients to every part of the body. Hair loss can be a result of iron deficiency, or anemia, where the cells can't get enough oxygen and start to lose functionality. Spinach is excellent for your body for many reasons, not the least of which is your hair.

LENTILS - Protein is necessary for all cell growth, including the growth of your hair. Lentils are a great vegetarian source of iron-rich protein, as well as zinc and biotin, making them a great staple for vegetarians  and vegans who want a fabulous mane!

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RED PEPPERS - Red peppers deliver 100% of your daily value of vitamin C, which helps your body absorb and use iron (a critical part of your hair's health). Vitamin C is also used in the production of collagen. Hair follicles require collagen, a structural fiber, to hold everything together for optimal growth. Even minor vitamin C deficiencies can lead to dry, splitting hair that breaks easily. Foods rich in vitamin C promote more resilient strands.

SWEET POTATOES - The beta carotene in sweet potatoes is converted to vitamin A within the body, which aids in cell growth. A deficiency can lead to dry, dull, lifeless hair, as well as dandruff. However, too much vitamin A can lead to hair loss. Other vitamin A rich foods include carrots, pumpkins, squash and dark leafy greens.

WILD SALMON AND SARDINES - When it comes to omega-3 fatty acids, this seafood combo is considered the Rolls Royce of fish oils. Sardines are one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids combat dry and brittle hair, hair loss and a flaky scalp, while also adding luster, sheen and elasticity to your hair. They are vital for the nourishment of hair follicles and the support of hair growth. Plant sources of omega-3's include walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds.

NUTS - Go nuts for nuts because these little nuggets will provide your hair (and the rest of you) with tons of nutritional value! Peanuts are a fantastic source of zinc and folate, as well as biotin, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. Brazil nuts are also a great source of selenium, which plays an important part in the health of your scalp. Selenium helps preserve your skin's elasticity and reduces inflammation. Walnuts are another winner. They contain alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 that boosts the condition and shine of your hair. They are also a terrific source of zinc, as are cashews, pecans and almonds. A zinc deficiency can lead to hair loss, so make them a staple in your diet.

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AVOCADO - This is one of my most beloved foods because it boasts over 25 vital nutrients! The high levels of zinc, vitamin E, vitamin B and healthy fats mean you can literally replace your pricey hair conditioner with a ripe avocado and leave it in for a few minutes. You will have soft, shiny, well-conditioned locks! Try it!

CHICKPEAS - While chickpeas are a great vegetarian source of iron-rich protein, they're also an important combination for hair growth and repair. Because hair gets its structure from hardened proteins called keratin, people who don't have enough protein in their diet experience slower growth and weaker strands. To increase the absorption of iron from chickpeas, couple them with vitamin C-rich foods such as tomatoes, bell peppers or citrus fruit.

COCONUT - Any form of coconut will leave your hair happy. Coconut oil, butter, water, shredded, whole, you name it, coconut will give you hydrated, manageable tresses. Drinking coconut water and massaging coconut oil from roots to ends just a few times per week will keep your hair free of dandruff and split ends, while also preventing hair loss.

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When it comes to hair, hydration is key! Your hair is one quarter water, so it's critical that you feed it with nutrients and keep it hydrated. Water carries vitamins to the root of your hair and hydrates the entire strand of hair from the inside. Water is the main source of energy for hair cells including the cells that generate new hair growth. It also removes toxins from the body, which may lead to hair loss.

Hair loss is just one of the things that results from dehydration. Drinking the recommended amount of water each day can help other hair and scalp issues, including hair thinning and dandruff. When a person is suffering from dehydration, your hair is the last place the water goes. Vital organs such as the brain and heart take priority over your scalp. This leads to excessive shedding, as the hair is literally dying from thirst. This slows down hair growth because the roots are not moisturized enough to stimulate new hair growth.

So as you can see, eating well goes beyond having a body and skin to be proud of. Your hair is as much a reflection of your inner health as anything else, and it craves to be fed, nurtured and given the wide range of nutrients, vitamins and minerals it needs to thrive. So stop wasting money on the latest hair care products, and take some time to focus on what's in your kitchen and on your plate. The next time you fill your plate, think 'Healthy In, Beauty Out' knowing that you are nurturing and feeding all of you, especially the mane on your head!

Kirsti Pesso has been doing hair for over 20 years in both Australia and New York and has a loyal following due in part to her holistic perspective on hair. In addition to her work as a stylist/colorist, Kirsti is also a certified personal trainer and holistic health coach living in Westchester with her husband and two little daughters. Growing up in Australia in her father's kitchen, Kirsti has always had a passion for food. For the last 11 years, nutrition, fitness and healthy living have been a priority for her and her family. She is passionate about cooking healthy, clean meals and about educating her children on how to live healthy and feed themselves well. For more of Kirsti's advice on healthy living, eating, fitness and beauty, visit Healthy In, Beauty Out.

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