Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old system of holistic healing from India, is becoming increasingly popular among spas, beauty salons and skin and hair care manufacturers worldwide because of the efficacy of its skin and hair care solutions. Ayurvedic recommendations for your hair are not only effective at maintaining hair strength, color and luster, they also steer you away from chemicals-based hair care that can create health problems in the long term.
Healthy Hair Starts on The Inside
Like your skin, your hair needs nutrition from the inside out. If your diet is deficient in hair-friendly foods, or your digestion is not efficient, all the expensive shampoos and hair treatments in the world won’t be effective at maintaining the color and longevity of your hair. So if you want a healthy, shining crown of hair, start by taking a hard look at what you eat, when you eat and how you eat.
What to Eat for Healthy Hair
Instead of focusing on specific nutrients or rigid quantities, Ayurveda recommends a medley of wholesome, natural foods as the best and most palatable way of delivering a variety of nutrients to your hair. The key is to eat foods that are whole, natural, organic and fresh.
Include lots of vegetables in your daily diet. Dark leafy greens, beets, summer squashes, broccoli, carrots and white daikon radish, and fresh green herbs such as cilantro, mint and basil are excellent choices for a varied and rich supply of nutrients to your hair. Dice or chop vegetables and cook them until fork-tender for better digestibility. Add hair-friendly spices such as cumin and turmeric to vegetable dishes. Spices not only offer their own healing wisdom; they also help transport the nutrients from other foods you eat to the cells and tissues of the body. Vary the vegetables you eat from day to day.
Include lots of fruits in your daily diet. Choose from different types of berries, citrus fruits, melons and sweet grapes. Again, vary the fruits you eat from day to day. Soak a handful of raisins in warm water for about 30 minutes and eat them every morning to promote regularity, essential for hair health.
The coconut is revered in Ayurveda for its ability to nourish the hair and scalp. Premature falling of hair or graying is associated in Ayurveda with an imbalance in Pitta dosha, the heat principle in the body. To balance the fieriness of Pitta, add fresh grated coconut to vegetable or grain dishes, and drink the fresh juice of the young tender coconut. This juice is not only delicious and refreshing, it offers a variety of nutrients for your hair. Plus, coconut contains oil that prevents excessive drying out of the scalp and hair.
Dairy products are very nourishing for your hair. Ayurveda recommends in particular whole milk, fresh (not aged) cheese and lassi (a drink made by blending fresh yogurt and water). Milk is traditionally boiled and cooled to a comfortable temperature before it is drunk to improve digestibility. A type of fresh cheese, called paneer, can be easily made at home by bringing whole milk to a boil, curdling it with fresh lemon juice, and straining the mixture through cheesecloth. Lassi can include a variety of ingredients in addition to the yogurt and water. To make hair-friendly rosehips lassi for one, blend together 1/3 cup yogurt, 1 cup water, 3-4 rosehips and raw sugar or honey to taste. If you choose honey, add it after pouring your lassi into a glass, and stir it in with a spoon—heat created during blending can destroy the healing qualities of honey.
Whole grains and smaller legumes also offer nourishment to your hair without overtaxing your digestive system. Mung dhal (split hulled mung beans) cook quickly and are easy to digest while offering rich nourishment. Vary the grains you eat, and combine grains, beans, vegetables, herbs and spices into intensely flavorful, nutrient-rich one-dish meals that offer a cocktail of nutrients for your hair.
Include nuts in your daily diet. Soak 8-10 almonds in hot water, blanch and eat with breakfast every morning. Soaked walnuts are also good for hair health and color. Ayurveda recommends soaking nuts before you eat them so that they do not tax your digestion.
There are some ayurvedic herbs that are called keshya rasayanas—herbs that promote the overall health and longevity of your hair. Amla, or Indian Gooseberry, is particularly revered for its ability to maintain hair color and strength. Amla is widely available in tablet or powder form to be taken as a dietary supplement. Triphala, a traditional Ayurvedic combination of three fruits (of which Amla is one) is also good as a digestive toner and internal cleanser.
When and How to Eat
A balanced nutritious diet is definitely your first step towards hair health and longevity. But step two—eating correctly—is equally vital in order to give your body the ability to convert the foods you eat into a form your hair can assimilate and use to stay lustrous, vibrant and young.
Eat the heaviest foods in your diet–those that make your digestion work hard—in the middle of the day. That’s when, according to Ayurveda, your body’s digestive ability peaks. Heavy grains, cheese and legumes should thus mainly be eaten at lunch. Eat lighter at breakfast—enough to kick-start your digestion, but not so much that you overload it, and lighter at dinner, when your digestion is winding down for the night.
Cook your meals in a positive frame of mind. Everything is connected according to Ayurveda—if you are angry or stressed when you prepare your meal, you impart that negative energy to the food; and your body, and hair, are not likely to see the full benefit from eating those foods.
Eat in a happy, settled frame of mind. Again, if you are stressed or upset when you eat, that food will not benefit you fully. Eating in silence, with your focus on the aromas, flavors, colors and textures on your plate is best, but quiet, pleasant, nurturing company is also wonderful.
Your mealtimes are not times to multi-task. Do not work, answer the telephone, read, play video or computer games or watch television while you eat. Do not eat on the go either, as you are driving or walking or shopping—if you do not give your food your undivided attention, it will not give your body, including your hair, all of its benefit.
Paying attention to what, when and how you eat, on an ongoing basis, is the single best thing you can do to maintain the health and beauty of your hair naturally. Not only do good foods and good eating habits promote hair health, they also help build resilience so your hair can better withstand the damaging effects of environmental pollution, day-to-day stress and less-than-perfect topical hair care products.
Note — This material is educational and is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. If you have a medical concern, please consult your physician.
Shreelata Suresh is a yoga teacher and writer from the Bay Area. She writes for various publications on Indian culture, yoga and Ayurveda.