Protein and Hair Growth: How Protein Directly Affects Your Hair
Are you dealing with thinning, damaged, scraggly hair that is prone to split ends? For a lot of people, damaged hair is something which becomes a problem with age. For me, it was always a problem. It seemed like I was just born with unhealthy hair.
For a long time, I thought it was just my lot in life. I remember in school how I was so jealous of all the pretty girls with their shiny, beautiful, flowing hair. And there I was with dry, limp, lifeless “blah” hair.
Well, it’s been some time since then, and my hair has actually gotten better the older I’ve gotten, because I have learned more and more about how to take care of it over the years!
One important aspect of how you take care of your hair is diet. You have heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” Well, that is true. You cannot create something out of nothing. You need to take in all the building blocks for the various constituent elements that comprise your body tissues. And that means you need to eat the right nutrition to give your body what it needs to build healthy hair tissue!
So let's get into how protein directly affects your hair.
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Hair Is Made Up Largely of Protein
The structure of your hair actually consists of two different parts:
- The hair bulb: This is a structure where cells are being produced on an ongoing basis. These cells will eventually result in hair growth. It may interest you to know that the cells which produce hair pigment, called melanocytes, are located in the hair bulb.
- The hair shaft: This is of course the visible part of your hair that grows from your scalp. The hair shaft actually consists of three components. The innermost is called the medulla. The medulla is not always present, especially if you have really thin hair. Surrounding that is the cortex, which holds your hair’s pigment and comprises the bulk of the hair itself. The outermost layer of the hair shaft is the cuticle, which protects the cortex. When your cuticle is healthy, the scale-like structure is smooth and your hair has a healthy shine. When it is unhealthy, the moisture balance of your hair can be disrupted, and your hair may become dry, lifeless, dull, and damaged.
As it turns out, your hair shaft is made up largely of keratin, which is a special type of protein rich in sulfur. The disulphide bonds in keratin make it incredibly strong. In fact, nails are made out of keratin as well. There are animal parts that are made of keratin too, such as claws and hooves.
But what if you are not getting enough protein in your diet? It is easy to see how the health of your hair could suffer. Again, you need to feed your body the nourishment it needs in order to produce healthy new body tissues, including keratin.
Benefits of Protein for Hair
When you get more protein in your diet, you are giving your body what it needs to produce stronger, healthier hair. The benefits include:
- A stronger cortex. Your hair will be less likely to break or form split ends, which will make it possible to grow your hair longer. Fewer split ends also improves the overall appearance of your hair, making it appear smoother.
- A strengthened, smoother cuticle also will have a smoother, silkier look and feel. Your hair will have a healthy, beautiful shine.
- More hair. While protein on its own will probably not reverse thinning hair, you still may experience more fullness, texture, and volume to your hair when you are getting enough protein.
I can definitely say that when I started eating a diet which was richer in protein, I noticed the benefits in the texture and appearance of my hair!
How Can You Get More Protein In Your Diet?
For that reason, you are going to want to augment the amount of protein you are getting in your diet in order to support optimum hair health! I can definitely say that looking back over my life, there were times when I was not getting nearly enough protein. For example, there was a stretch of time when I was a vegan, and I wasn’t supplementing to make up for the lack of meat and protein in my diet. I simply didn’t know any better at the time, but that meant that I was probably getting way less of it than I needed to support my hair health (not to mention the rest of my bodily health!).
A lot of people balk at getting more protein in their diets because they are afraid of eating foods which are also high in fats and calories. There are many delicious and healthy foods however which are high in protein and great for your hair. Some of these foods are vegan-friendly too!
But real quick, before I jump in, here is a general guideline:
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.
So as a general example, let’s say that you weigh 140 pounds. That is equivalent to roughly 64 kilograms. Since you need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, if you weighed 140 pounds, you would need to eat around 51 grams of protein per day.
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1. Whole eggs
Whole eggs have been on and off of the “healthy food” list many times over the years. I can clearly remember when I was a child and there were considered one of the worst things you could eat. They are now widely acknowledged as one of the best! Whole eggs contain an abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, good-for-you fats, and an incredible amount of protein. In fact, egg whites are comprised almost entirely of protein!
There are 6 grams of protein in a single large egg. That protein makes up 35% of the calories in the egg. Note that if you are eating eggs, you should eat the yolks. Yolks have gotten a bad name over the years for their high cholesterol content, but a lot of the nutrition in the egg is found in the yolk, so in moderation, the whole egg is best!
How much to eat: You can safely eat up to three eggs per day. More than that and you are asking for cholesterol problems. Three eggs per day is plenty though when it comes to addressing your protein needs; you’ll have taken care of more than a third of your protein needs (on average) for the day during your first meal!
Here is a great vegan option for getting the protein you need for your hair. As a bonus, you’ll also get other important nutrients like manganese, magnesium, fiber, biotin, and vitamin E. Incidentally, both biotin and vitamin E are really good for your hair, so that makes almonds an excellent choice all-around.
How much to eat: There are six grams of protein in a single ounce of almonds. A handful each day will deliver up plenty of protein, biotin and vitamin E for your hair. Almonds make for a healthy, delicious snack!
3. Chicken breast
If you are looking for a lean meat source of protein, you are not going to beat chicken. Chicken is also rich in a number of other nutrients, including vitamin B6, niacin, selenium, and phosphorus. If you take the skin off before you eat it, you will be removing a lot of calories. Most of the calories that remain will come directly from protein.
How Much to Eat: A single chicken breast contains 16.1g of protein. That is roughly a third of the daily value that most people need.
4. Lean beef
This is one that you might not want to hear, but lean beef really is very nutritious. Yes, it is high in cholesterol (even the lean stuff), but you do not need to steer clear of it altogether. In fact, while you do need to limit your portions to protect your heart health, the dangers of beef have been somewhat exaggerated. Here is an article which provides some excellent perspective.
How Much to Eat: One beef bottom sirloin trimmed to "0” fat contains 156 g of protein, which is about three times the daily value that most people need! Eating red meat in moderation is probably fine for your overall health, and will really increase the protein in your life. Just don’t chow down a huge steak every day!
You will find few better options for upping your protein intake without harming your health than tuna. A single can of tuna delivers an astounding amount of protein along with very high amounts of vitamin D, vitamin K, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B12, potassium, iron, magnesium, and selenium. It is definitely an unsung superfood. To top it off, you also get a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
On the downside, there is some fat content and a hefty dose of calories, though most of it comes directly from the protein. Plus, compared to the beef, it isn’t much. The sirloin roast above included 1141 calories. The cup of tuna contains 289 by comparison.
How Much to Eat: one cup of tuna canned in oil will give you 42.5 grams of protein. That’s most of your daily value. The FDA further recommends that you keep your fish and shellfish intake down to around 12 ounces per week, which amounts to roughly two meals. This will prevent you from getting an overdose of mercury (tuna contains moderate amounts).
Peanuts and peanut butter both have gotten kind of a bad name. This is probably because a lot of peanuts are salted, and a lot of peanut butter contains added sugar. You don’t have to buy salted peanuts if you are worried about your blood pressure, however, and you can easily forego sugar-added peanut butter and stick with the organic stuff with nothing added. As it happens, peanuts are really high in protein, and make an awesome snack food to support your hair health!
How Much to Eat: One ounce of peanuts contains 7.1 g of protein, which is around 14% of the typical DV. Peanuts are also high in folate, riboflavin, thiamin, magnesium, copper, manganese, and phosphorus. Watch out for the high calorie content; along with that healthy dose of nutrition, you also get 158 calories, most of which come from fat. Still, a handful in the middle of the day makes for a great snack. The protein gives you energy and promotes hair health, and peanuts are a lot healthier than a lot of other midday snacks!
7. Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt has become a very popular food with health aficionados, and no wonder: it is packed with nutrition, including pantothenic acid and protein, both of which are very important for your hair!
How Much to Eat: If you eat a cup of non-fat Greek yogurt, you will be getting 23 grams of protein. That’s close to half of the average DV. So just consider eating a cup of yogurt as a snack several days out of the week. You will be delivering plenty of nutrition to your hair!
Those are just a few of the very best protein sources you can add to your diet to support hair health! Other foods and drinks which are high in protein include:
- Cottage cheese
- Pumpkin seeds
- Brussels sprouts
- Assorted lentils and legumes
- Other types of fish
Adding some of the foods listed above to your diet is a fast and easy way to introduce more protein into your life, but it is not the only option you have. You can also choose to supplement using a whey protein product.
What is whey protein? This is simply the protein which is contained in whey. You have heard the term “curds and whey.” Basically, whey is a byproduct that emerges during the process involved with making cheese. It is the watery part of the milk which is separated from the curds.
Whey supplements are usually marketed toward bodybuilders, who use them to deliver a higher dose of protein to their muscles to help fuel new growth and repair. Even if you are not a bodybuilder, you can benefit from whey supplements, especially if for example you are a vegan or vegetarian. While there are vegan sources of protein you can add to your diet like almonds, many vegans still struggle to meet their protein needs.
How much to eat: The amount of protein you will get from a single serving of whey protein depends on the brand that you buy. A typical range is somewhere between 20g and 50g. So you may be able to get either half or all of your protein needs for a day satisfied through supplementation. You should still try to get protein through actual food as much as possible. But on a day you know you are not going to be eating enough protein through diet, a whey supplement can help you keep up with your needs!
Additional Health Benefits of Protein
While I have focused in this article on the benefits of protein for hair growth, getting more protein in your diet has a number of other health benefits as well:
- 75% of your total body weight is comprised of protein: Protein is in pretty much all your body tissues, so when you eat plenty of protein, you are literally giving your body the building blocks you need to survive.
- Protein not only enhances your hair, but your skin as well: Collagen, the connective tissue which makes your skin firm and supple, is made up of protein.
- Eating more protein helps you to build muscle: If you work out, you will see the full benefits if your diet includes ample protein.
- Getting enough protein is essential for regulating your hormones: Your hormones in turn regulate your other vital functions.
In short, protein is awesome and you need it! When you eat a diet rich in protein to support your hair, you will also be bolstering your inner health. Your hair and skin will be beautiful, and you will feel as fantastic as you look!