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Complex Carbohydrates and Hair Health

If you are not getting enough complex carbohydrates through your diet, you may experience excessive hair shedding (telogen effluvium).

Why are Carbohydrates Important for Hair?

Your body breaks down carbohydrates and converts them into energy. They are absorbed quickly into your bloodstream and shuttled around your body for fuel and repair. Among other things, carbohydrates are used to convert protein into the cells that form your hair.

Carbohydrates are important because they provide energy — and since hair cells are the second fastest-growing cells in your body, they need a lot of energy to grow. However, because hair is a non-essential tissue, its needs are not prioritised. A deficit of carbohydrates is likely to show up first in the form of excessive hair shedding.

If your diet lacks carbohydrates, your body may also start to convert stored proteins, like muscle, into energy. This can be taxing on your kidneys and liver, and can cause various problems, including hair loss.

Complex Carbohydrates vs. Simple Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates (for example, whole grains) are best for your hair and body. They are better at maintaining cell energy levels than simple carbohydrates (for example, pastries and cakes), because they give you a slower and more sustained release of energy. Sugar-loaded simple carbohydrates can raise and then drop your energy levels quickly, and can also lead to obesity and diabetes when eaten in excess. This is why you often get a ‘high’ after eating sugary foods and then find you crash and become tired.

Everyone should eat a serving of complex carbohydrates with each meal. If you exercise intensively, you will need to increase your intake. Talk to your GP or nutritionist about the best way to do so.

If you experience hair loss from lack of carbohydrates, try not to worry — this is reversible, and relatively easy to correct with adjustments to your diet. For a start, we suggest healthy snacking on a complex carbohydrate. Energy to your hair cells drops 4 hours after you eat a meal, so snack on a complex carb between meals to help sustain your levels.

Good Sources of Complex Carbohydrates

Whole grain toast

Whole grain cereal

Bulgur wheat

Baked beans

Peas

Skin-on potatoes

Parsnips

Barley

Oatmeal

Brown rice or pasta

Fresh fruit

Legumes