30 Best and Worst Foods for Healthy Hair
There are some major factors that influence your hair—genetics, age, hormones, nutrient deficiencies, and more—but what you eat is one of the few things you can do to control your hair’s behavior. After all, if you are predisposed to thin, so-so hair, you wouldn’t want to make it worse by consuming the wrong foods, would you? And even if you belong in a hair commercial, you’d like to protect that look, right? That’s where picking the right healthy foods for hair growth comes in.
By eating nutrient-rich foods that are scientifically proven to help your hair—and avoiding those that only do harm—you can influence your hair’s thickness, its growth or shedding, how shiny it is, and even its likelihood of greying. Compare the list below with what you usually have in your pantry, and cross-check that list to make sure you don’t have any of the unhealthiest foods of 2018 in there.
First, The Best Foods for Hair
Almond butter contains a wide variety of nutrients—including protein, healthy fats, and certain vitamins—that have all been linked to hair health. It’s the vitamin E content in the nuts that researchers say is particularly good for keeping your locks thick and lustrous. One eight-month trial published in the Tropical Life Sciences Research journal found men who supplemented daily with vitamin E saw an increase in hair growth by as much as 42 percent. Just a tablespoon of almonds provides nearly two-thirds of your RDA for fat-soluble vitamin E.
The benefits of tangerines affect your hair in a big way: Its vitamin C content makes it easier for your body to absorb iron, such as from spinach.
Also known as Indian gooseberry, amla is a sour fruit native to India. High in antioxidants, it is prescribed by Ayurvedic doctors for glowing skin and hair. It’s easiest to purchase frozen amla berries online.
In some cases (particularly in women), a mineral deficiency is the cause of hair loss. “It’s important to make sure you don’t have a lack of something in your diet that could be leading to hair loss,” says dermatologist Dr. Carolyn Jacob. “We check protein levels, iron, iron storage, vitamin D and a number of other labs to make sure you don’t have deficiencies.” Spinach is iron rich and it contains sebum, which acts as a natural conditioner for hair. The leafy green also provides omega-3 acids, magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron. All of these fit the bill for best foods for hair growth because they help keep locks lustrous, shiny and, most importantly, out of the drain.
Ever notice what sits atop nearly every ancient Greek statue? A mop of thick, full, wavy hair. An artistic choice? Perhaps. But maybe it’s due to the thick, protein-rich yogurt that Greeks and other cultures have been eating since 500 B.C. Greek yogurt is rich in vitamin B5 (known as pantothenic acid), which helps with blood flow to your scalp and hair growth.
The human body can do a lot of crazy stuff, like turning sunlight into bone-strengthening vitamin D. Something it can’t do, however, is make omega-3 fatty acids. “Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory. They can help if you have inflammation that’s causing hair shedding,” says Jacob. It’s best to get omega-3s from natural sources, such as salmon and cold-water fish like sardines and mackerel. In addition to helping you stay fit and disease free, omega-3’s enable you to grow hair and keep it shiny and full. According to nutritionist Dr. Joseph Debé, CD, CDN, both male-pattern balding and female hair loss is often associated with insulin resistance. Salmon is one food that helps the body process insulin more efficiently. But avoid farmed salmon at all costs!
It smells like the holiday season and improves circulation, which brings oxygen and nutrients to your hair follicles. Sprinkle this evocative spice on your toast and in your coffee, or sprinkle it on top of your oatmeal. Speaking of…
Oats are rich in iron, fiber, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which stimulate hair growth, making it thick and healthy.
Vitamin C prevents hair from becoming brittle and breaking. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, researchers tested an oral supplement containing vitamin C in women with thinning hair. They found the supplement promoted “significant hair growth in women with temporary hair thinning.” Although we often think of oranges as the best source of vitamin C, one guava packs four to five times as much.
Eggs are packed with a B vitamin called biotin, which helps hair grow and strengthens brittle fingernails. Not having enough of this vitamin can lead to hair loss. Other good sources of biotin: almonds, avocados, and salmon.
Full of protein, iron, zinc and biotin, lentils have plenty of folic acid. The body needs folic acid to restore the health of red blood cells that supply skin and scalp with hair-improving oxygen. Foods rich in folic acid are also good for healthy sperm.
Zinc is an important mineral for overall health. When you don’t have enough, you can experience hair loss…even your eyelashes! You can also find rich stores of zinc in beef, crab, and lobster.
As mentioned, iron deficiency can lead to hair loss, most notably in women. Iron is plentiful in our ol’ friend spinach (and other dark leafy greens), soybeans, lentils, fortified grains, and pasta. Liver may sound much less appetizing, but if you like pâté, your hair will benefit. Organ meats like liver have iron in abundance.
Notice how your muscles don’t grow (and sometimes even shrink) when you’re not getting enough protein? The same thing might happen to your hair. Without sufficient dietary protein, hair essentially goes on strike. Less new hair will replace what’s falling out (about 50-100 hairs a day), and you’ll experience an overall loss of hair. To get protein from meat, pick lean foods for hair growth like chicken, fish, grass-fed beef, or pork loin.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can actually absorb damaging UV light and protect skin cells. It also repairs sun damage on the scalp, which can cause hair to thin. In one study, “Tocotrienols, or different types of vitamin E supplements, were studied for eight months in patients with hair loss,” says Debé. Thirty-eight people received the supplement, and some received a placebo. The supplemented group had a 34 percent improvement in hair growth.” Debé notes that although the amount of tocotrienols used in this study is difficult to get from diet alone, barley is a very good source.
Nuts and Seeds
Pistachios have been linked to helping with male pattern baldness, cashews have biotin, and walnuts contain oils that add to the amount of elastin in your hair. Elastin keeps hair supple and stops it from breaking.
Beta-carotene protects against dry, dull hair and stimulates the glands in your scalp to make an oily fluid called sebum. So where do you find this elixir of the locks? Orange-colored fruits and vegetables are your best bet: Carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, mangoes and sweet potatoes!
Along with iron, another important mineral for keeping the shine off your dome is magnesium. Halibut has plenty of magnesium, as do several other types of fish.
Copper may help hair maintain its natural color, regardless of your color, according to a 2012 study. Shiitake mushrooms are rich in the mineral, as well as seaweed and sesame seeds.
Chickpeas contain some of the highest concentrations of vitamin B9. A cup of them packs a whopping 1,114 micrograms of B-9, nearly three times the RDA of 400 micrograms.
Although the highest concentrations of copper are found in the livers of various animals, the highest amount of non-animal-derived copper can be found in spirulina. It’s nicer sounding than “pond scum,” but that essentially is what it is: A type of blue-green algae that grows naturally in oceans and salty lakes in subtropical climates.
This yeast-extract spread looks like tar and has a unique and powerful odor all its own. Even its British manufacturers admit that Marmite — typically spread on hot buttered toast at breakfast — is an acquired taste. But if want to fend off the greys, you may want to give it a try. According to the USDA, yeast extract tops all foods in folic acid content. One small schmear of Marmite (about 4 grams) packs a whopping 100 micrograms of folic acid, or 25 percent of your recommended daily allowance. Although it was once smuggled into the U.S. by the families and friends of British expats, Marmite can be found at Whole Foods and Amazon.
Dermatologists treating hair loss look at the level of ferritin in your blood, because they can deduce what your body is doing with all the iron they told you to add to your diet during your initial consultation. If you’d been eating plenty of iron-rich bok choy, they would likely see a spike in your ferritin levels.
Now, the Worst Foods for Hair
High levels of mercury can lead to hair loss; the overarching rule (but there are exceptions) is that the bigger the fish is in nature, the higher levels of mercury it has in it. Steer clear of fish like swordfish, mackerel, and even some tuna.
Yet another reason that diet isn’t any better than regular: The artificial sweeteners—specifically, aspartame—has been linked to hair loss.
It’s officially the year of “stop the sugar!” and your wannabe-luscious locks are yet another reason why sugar hurts your health. It’s really pretty basic: Protein is super important for your hair and sugar hinders the absorption of it. Steer clear of added sugar and surprising foods that have sugar, like these restaurant items with crazy-high sugar.
This one goes hand in hand with sugar, since white bread, cakes, pastries, white pasta, and other refined, over-processed starches are converted into sugar, which causes your hair to thin. So step away from the croissant and stick with whole wheat whenever possible.
Greasy food translates to greasy skin, including on your scalp. As your noggin’s pores wind up clogged, hair loss can occur.Gross, right? Fast food burgers, fries, and onion rings are some of the worst foods for hair growth.
Alcohol slows the levels of zinc in your body, which is a necessary mineral for healthy hair and growth. It also dehydrates your hair, making it more brittle and likely to break. Alcohol does a number on your skin, too, which is why it’s one of the 20 foods that age you 20 years.