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What to Eat (and What to Avoid) for Healthy, Shiny Hair

By Isadora Baum
February 8, 2021
Photo Credit: Ivan Gener

Everyone wants a gorgeous head full of healthy hair. In reality, dry, dull, brittle, or breaking hair, and even hair loss, are fairly common.

“The health of your hair is largely determined by a combination of genetics, levels of nutrient and trace elements, hormonal effects, as well as your age,” says Robert Glatter, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital.

Though we don’t control our genes, fortunately, we are in charge of what we eat. Here are some of the foods experts recommend for beautifying and strengthening your locks.

5 Foods to Eat for Healthy Hair

1. Fish

“Salmon, mackerel, sardines and other cold-water fish are ideal sources of omega-3 fatty acids,” Glatter says. “Since omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, they may help to reduce hair loss, while also keeping it healthy, retaining its shine, and enhancing fullness.” Omega-3 fatty acids also help your body process insulin more efficiently, which is important because hair loss in women and male pattern baldness may be associated with insulin resistance.

Pro tip: Beware of tuna and swordfish, whose higher levels of mercury can increase hair loss, among other health issues, Glatter says.

2. Liver

Liver is a rich source of iron, an essential mineral for healthy hair. The hair follicle and root need to be fed by an iron- and protein-rich blood supply, says registered dietitian Natalie Rizzo. “If a person becomes deficient in iron, the growth of the follicle may be disrupted and hair may begin to shed.”

Liver can be a hard sell for anyone who didn’t grow up eating it. If you just can’t do it, reach for other sources of iron such as spinach, seafood, beans, and beef.

3. Nuts and Seeds

Certain nuts and seeds, like almonds and sunflower seeds, are rich in vitamin E. Not only is vitamin E essential for hair growth, it may also protect your scalp from UV rays, which can damage skin cells and lead to hair loss and thinning, Glatter says.

Pro tip: “You can even topically apply vitamin E oil to your scalp to get rid of flakiness and dryness,” says chiropractor and clinical nutritionist Dr. Josh Axe.

4. Eggs

“Eggs are an ideal food to help grow hair, since they are a good source of biotin,” says Glatter. This B vitamin, found in abundance in egg yolks, helps to strengthen the hair follicle. A biotin deficiency may lead to hair loss.

5. Sweet Potato

Orange vegetables and fruits are excellent sources of beta-carotene, says Glatter. Our bodies convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, which stimulates oil glands to make sebum. Sebum keeps hair shiny and reduces breakage and dryness.

3 Foods to Avoid for Healthy Hair

Of course, there are also some foods to leave out of your grocery cart to keep up your hair health.

“Diet soda, which contains artificial sweeteners, has been linked to hair loss,” says Glatter. But this is not carte blanche to grab the sugar-filled soda instead. Sorry! Sugar reduces absorption of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins into cells, so it’s also harmful to hair.

Another buzz kill: Drinking alcohol can hinder absorption of zinc, an important mineral for healthy hair, says Glatter.

Beyond food, stress is also hard on hair, according to Rizzo. Managing stress through meditation, yoga, adaptogens and other techniques may help.

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