What to Eat (and What to Avoid) for Healthy Hair and Nails

Gorgeous hair and nails
Photo Credit: Jamie Grill Atlas

November 3, 2020

By Isadora Baum

Healthy hair and nails are definitely on our short list of #beautygoals, especially this time of year. And although using the quality beauty products is a super-important step, what you eat can be just as important. Here are 5 nutrients to put on your plate to make you even more beautiful.

1. Iron

If your nails are weak and flimsy or your hair is dry and thin (even beginning to fall out), iron deficiency may be to blame, says registered dietitian and nutritionist Rene Ficek. She recommends filling up on black beans (1/2 cup has 13% of your daily iron), beef (make sure it’s grass-fed; 4 oz. has 12%), poultry (4 oz. of dark meat has 8%), and salmon (4 oz. has 5%). All of the above are good sources of protein, “which functions as a building block for keratin, a protein needed for healthy hair and nail growth,” notes “Dr. Mike” Varshavski.

2. Omega-3 Fats

You already know omega-3 fatty acids are important for reducing inflammation, and these anti-inflammatory properties may also be essential in preventing hair loss and promoting healthy, full locks, says Dr. Robert Glatter, MD, from NYC’s Lenox Hill Hospital. Salmon, mackerel, sardines and other cold-water fish are terrific sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but be sure to choose fish that are low in mercury. High mercury levels can actually lead to hair loss, he advises.

3. Beta-Carotene

If you’re already fueling up on carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squash, you’re on your way to healthier hair and nails. That’s because these orange foods are rich in beta-carotene, “which stimulates the oil glands to make a chemical known as sebum,” Glatter says. “This keeps hair shiny and reduces breakage and dryness,” and can also add moisture to nails, preventing cracks and roughness. Other sources of beta-carotene include leafy greens, parsley, and basil.

4. Biotin

“Biotin helps to strengthen the hair follicle, and a deficiency may lead to hair loss,” says Glatter. Also known as vitamin B7, this nutrient also helps fight insulin resistance and some skin conditions. Get it from eggs, salmon, almonds, and avocado.

5. Vitamin E

Essential for hair growth, vitamin E may also prevent sun damage on the scalp, which can lead to hair thinning and loss, Glatter says. Almonds, spinach, sweet potato, avocado, and sunflower seeds are all good sources.

What to Avoid for Healthy Hair & Nails

As important as what you eat? What you don’t eat, namely sugar and alcohol. “Sugar reduces absorption of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins,” Glatter says. Alcohol reduces absorption of zinc, an important mineral for healthy hair, as well as water, leading to brittle and dry hair that is prone to breakage, he adds.