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 appearance. 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.
Before you spend yet another year shelling out loads of cash on professional treatments or products to get the glossy locks you want, consider this. Although the thickness and strength of your hair is largely hereditary, the foods you eat (or don’t get enough of) can affect the status of your hair just as much as that fancy conditioning treatment can.
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 use it to inform your next grocery shopping trip.
The Best Foods for Healthy 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 small eight-month trial published in the journal Tropical Life Sciences Research found participants who supplemented daily with 100 milligrams of vitamin E saw an increase in hair growth by as much as 34 percent.
Just a tablespoon of almond butter provides nearly 3.87 milligrams of Vitamin E. The recommended daily Vitamin E allowance is 15 milligrams, so almond butter will put you well on your way, especially if you eat more than one tablespoon.
Don’t like almond butter? Regular almonds will help, too. According to the NIH, almonds are one of the best dietary sources of vitamin E. An ounce of dry roasted almonds provides one-third of your DV for fat-soluble vitamin E.
The benefits of tangerines affect your hair in a big way. Their vitamin C content makes it easier for your body to absorb iron, which is found in foods like red meat and spinach. Iron deficiency has been linked to hair loss, according to a study published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of it. And vitamin C foods will only help your body absorb that iron even more.
Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have a number of health benefits.
“Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory. They can help if you have inflammation that’s causing hair shedding,” dermatologist Dr. Carolyn Jacob told EatThis.com when speaking about the best foods to prevent hair loss. Some other great sources of omega-3s include walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
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.
Plus, salmon and other fatty fish are teeming with follicle-stimulating vitamin D. Per a study printed in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, vitamin D may also help stimulate hair follicles that have become dormant. In other words, there’s evidence to suggest the nutrient may help prevent thinning hair and even bald spots.
Spinach contains a variety of nutrients and minerals that can benefit your hair, as well as your overall health.
“It’s important to make sure you don’t have a lack of something in your diet that could be leading to hair loss,” Jacob told EatThis.com. “We check protein levels, iron, iron storage, vitamin D and a number of other labs to make sure you don’t have deficiencies.”
In addition to having a high iron and magnesium content, spinach can help your hair produce sebum, too.
Eggs are packed with 10 mcg of a B vitamin called biotin, which may help hair grow and strengthen nails. Other good sources of biotin include almonds, avocados, and salmon.
Plus, eggs are a great source of vitamin D (11 percent of your DV per egg) to help your hair grow strong and shiny. According to a study that was published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, the sunshine vitamin can help create new hair follicles: little pores where new hair can grow. This, in turn, may improve the thickness of your hair or reduce the amount of hair you lose as you age.
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 for hundreds of years. Greek yogurt contains vitamin B5 (known as pantothenic acid), and B vitamins can help you maintain healthy skin and hair.
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.
Guavas, like tangerines, are high in vitamin C. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, a vitamin C supplement was found to promote “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.
If you find your hair thinning or falling out completely, it could be because you’re not getting enough zinc in your diet. Thankfully, research has shown that hair loss related to zinc deficiency can be reversed simply by eating more of the all-important nutrient. According to a review in the journal Dermatology Research and Practice, 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight was sufficient to induce hair growth in patients with alopecia. One way to boost your zinc intake is to load up on oysters. Just six of the shelled seafood will give you 30 milligrams of zinc, which is double the DV of the nutrient! Some other foods high in zinc include meat and beans.
As we 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.
Oxidative stress has been linked to hair loss and unhealthy scalps per an International Journal of Cosmetic Science review, so to keep your scalp and hair happy it’s important to load up on antioxidants, which counteract oxidative stress. And blueberries are rich in antioxidants, including vitamin B and proanthocyanidins.
Like almond butter, barley is rich in vitamin E. It can help with hair growth, so eating foods high in this nutrient is always a good idea if you’re looking to add more foods for hair growth to your diet.
According to a review published in a journal called Dermatology Practical & Conceptual, deficiency of the polyunsaturated essential fatty acids linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) can cause hair changes including loss of scalp hair and eyebrows, as well as lightening of hair. To prevent any of that from happening to you or your hair, eat foods packed with linolenic and alpha-linolenic acids, such as walnuts.
When converted to vitamin A, 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: Sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cantaloupe, and mangoes.
Halibut is high in magnesium, which helps the body maintain healthy insulin levels. And diabetes has been linked to hair loss, so keeping your insulin levels regulated is important for a number of reasons. Yes, halibut is one of the best foods for hair growth, but it has plenty of other health benefits, too.
Copper is essential for keratin fiber strength, according to a Dermatologic Clinics report. The trace mineral may also help hair maintain its natural color and prevent graying, according to a 2012 Biological Trace Element Research study. A cup of cooked shiitake mushrooms contains 1,299 micrograms of the mineral, which is 145 percent of your RDA. Seaweed and sesame seeds are also great sources.
Chickpeas are high in folate, which helps your body’s red blood cells function, as we mentioned with lentils.
Spirulina is high in protein and magnesium, as well as copper. “Spirulina” is 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.
Marmite is a spread made from yeast extract, and it’s high in folic acid. Marmite contains 100 micrograms of folic acid per serving, a quarter of the 400 micrograms of folic acid the CDC recommends women get each day.
Like almond butter, peanut butter is rich in vitamin E. If you love adding nut butters to your diet, it could help your hair, too.
Fortified Whole Grain Breakfast Cereals
Check your cereal’s label, but most servings will provide 100 percent of your DV of iron. As mentioned, an iron deficiency could lead to thinning hair.
Kiwi is rich in vitamin C. It can help your body absorb iron and could promote hair growth on its own, as mentioned. So dig into your favorite citrus fruits, like this one.
Clams and linguine anyone? The vitamin B12 in clams has been found to promote hair growth, reduce hair loss, and slow down the graying process, according to a review in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. Just a three-ounce serving of clams contains 1,402 percent of your daily value of vitamin B12, according to the NIH.
These veggies pack a punch in the vitamin C department, which means they’ll help your mane stay long and strong. Just half a cup of red peppers contains more than the entire DV of vitamin C, an antioxidant that is necessary for the growth and development of hair and beyond. Because the body can’t produce the vitamin on its own, eating foods packed full of the nutrient is the number one way to get your fix and strengthen your hair. What’s more? When the red pepper’s vitamin C syncs up with the dietary iron from something like spinach, the result is that your body can absorb the iron much more easily, which will make your mane even tougher.
Lysine is an essential amino acid that may play a role in iron and zinc uptake, so, given what we’ve already told you about hair and those key nutrients, it’s not surprising that lysine has been shown to encourage the growth and development of healthy hair. In fact, a 2002 study printed in the journal Clinical and Experimental Dermatology showed that the addition of lysine to iron supplementation significantly helped some women with chronic thinning hair and hair loss who failed to respond to iron supplementation alone. Black beans, which are packed with protein, are also loaded with lysine. A half-cup serving of the legumes contains an impressive 523 milligrams of the essential amino acid.
The Worst Foods for Hair Growth
High levels of mercury may be linked to hair loss, and swordfish is higher in mercury than some other seafood options. 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.
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.
Starchy White Foods
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.
Alcohol slows the levels of zinc in your body, and zinc is a necessary mineral for healthy hair and growth. Alcohol also dehydrates you, which can make your hair more brittle. So if you do decide to ease up on the booze, your skin and hair will thank you.