Medically reviewed by Shahzadi Devje, Registered Dietitian (RD) & Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
Believe it or not, the foods we consume can play a significant role in our hair's look, health, and feel. Discover the foods shown to help hair growth and hair loss in this ultimate guide to the best foods for beautiful hair.
The first time I let down my hair, I felt totally exposed. I know it sounds bizarre, but I grew up in a home that was authoritarian and restrictive, where loose hair in public—or anything at all to do with physical beauty—was perceived as alluring and indecent. At a tender age, I learned that practicing inner beauty was deemed the way to cultivate worthiness.
I can see why I became rather self-conscious of the way I looked.
For me, as a Muslim woman, preserving my family's honour was a dominant theme in my life. I couldn't shrug it off; it seemed that either I was worrying about it or lectured on it by almost everyone around me. I guess you could say that the entire notion of physical beauty and aesthetics was taboo at home. I was careful not to look beautiful—in order to avoid drawing attention. Not to mention, to evade the wrath of an enraged parent.
Money struggles meant that we had to be frugal and prudent; I witnessed my beloved mother's bravery holding it together and hustling to keep the house running. Those defining moments made me realize that she would always be my hero.
We could only afford the simplest of things, and I wouldn't complain. To be honest, I made a conscious effort not to. Of course, like most children, there were times when I felt disappointed not being able to have what I wanted. But, I'd pretend it didn't' matter all that much.
Sometimes, mum would give us a bit of pocket money for treats. I'd secretly use my one pound to buy a cheap hair gel from the flee market to tame my curly crown—anything to quieten the class bullies and chameleon my way through school. The turquoise gel formula promised "extra firm" hold and transformed my frizz into stiff, glistening locks that wouldn't budge the entire day. Unfortunately, my struggles with hair and my home culture's negative aspects went on for a long while—until I moved out and declared no more.
I think leaving home was a turning point. And that's when my dig-deep journey also began.
It took years of work to deal with the sharp labels and judgmental mind chatter. I knew that in order to move forward, I had to whittle down my own beauty definition. Why? Because I desperately needed to unload the fear. I couldn't live the rest of my life worried about what other people thought of me. It was time to show up for myself; to practice compassion, respect and kindness towards me.
The truth is that I no longer felt exposed. I felt liberated. I realized that it's okay to feel beautiful—from the inside out.
Yes, I also figured that it was about time to stop having a wrestling match with my curls and show them some much-deserved love. And so, I looked for ways to fix the dryness, the damage, and control the fly-aways.
I dreamt of having defined, bouncy and beautiful hair. Many of us, it appears, have the same desire.
A recent study of 1,000 women aged 18-35 found that an astounding 59 percent are unhappy with their current hairstyle. That same number of women wish they had someone else's hair. To add, when it comes to achieving beautiful hair, they also had some common goals in mind: taming frizz, getting more substantial locks and reducing dryness.
Hair seems to hold significant value in society. According to a study conducted at Yale University, "bad hair days" take a psychological toll. And, this goes beyond not feeling good about our appearance. In fact, "bad hair days" influenced individuals' self-confidence, raised self-doubt, and intensified social insecurities—ultimately leading them to become more self-critical.
So, how can you instill that confidence and love what's on top of your head?
Like it or not, it isn't merely about what you slather your strands with. Just like skin, your hair's condition is an outward sign of inside health. And in case you're wondering, yes, a nutritious diet is vital for healthy hair.
I think it's easy to lose sight of the amount of ultra-processed foods in our diet, especially in a "convenience" culture. Granted: it isn't easy, but consider substituting heavily processed and packaged foods—low in nutritional quality—for more wholesome foods as close to nature as possible. This is because eating large amounts of ultra-processed foods, over time, can inflict havoc on your gut. To be clear, maintaining a healthy gut is necessary for aiding nutrient absorption to nourish and sustain your hair.
In this guide to gorgeous locks, I dive into foods for healthy hair and the best food for hair growth. I also discuss what's recommended for making a big difference when it comes to texture, shine, strength, and more. Keep reading!
One of the most important things your body needs to make beautiful hair is protein. In fact, protein is a building block of your locks, so having an optimal intake is key to healthy and robust hair.
Not enough protein can sometimes contribute to reduced hair growth and even hair loss! On the other hand, a balanced, protein-rich diet can contribute to growing that long, strong hair of your dreams. Like me, if you are looking to minimize damage and dryness—protein may help.
So, what foods are included in the protein category? Luckily, there are lots, so you've got plenty of options. Some of the best sources of protein include:
- Beans and legumes
I mentioned "balance" above for a reason. Too much protein, known as protein overload, is equally damaging as too little for your hair. Excessive amounts of protein may add too much weight to your hair, compromise the moisture balance and result in brittle hair—prone to breakage.
When it comes to fat, it isn't so clear-cut. Research demonstrates that a unique set of compounds, called prostaglandins, play a crucial role. These compounds are derived from either omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids and appear to have hormone-like effects in our bodies. Various prostaglandins have distinct and sometimes opposing functions. For example, a subset of these prostaglandins, PGE2, promote hair growth in mice and humans. Plus, PGE2 has been shown to encourage hair shaft elongation. On the other hand, a prostaglandin subset, D2, not only inhibits hair growth but has shown to result in hair thinning and balding.
If you look at the research—it's scarce—but here's what I found. These 3-month and 6-month randomized trials found that taking fish oil supplements with antioxidants lessened hair loss, enhanced hair growth and improved hair density.
Some argue that omega-3s specifically regulate oil production in the hair (and skin), moistening them and keeping them bright. Too little of these fats may contribute to dryness or exacerbate dandruff.
Although it's tempting to add salmon to your entire week's meal plan—hold your horses. At this point, more research is needed in order to offer expert recommendations.
Wondering what some healthy sources of fat are? Check out the list below!
- Fatty fish: salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, sardines, shrimp, tuna
- Seaweed: wakame (raw)
- Omega-3 eggs
- Nuts & seeds: walnuts, pecans, flaxseeds, chia, hemp
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Avocados and avocado oil
There are several different vitamins and foods within those groups that you can consider adding to your diet. Many of the vitamins have a plethora of benefits beyond hair, but that's the icing on the cake!
Vitamin A, which is fat-soluble, has several benefits, and adequate amounts of it can prevent deficiency symptoms, which may lead to hair loss. Besides being a requirement for growth, vitamin A also supports skin glands to make sebum, an oily substance that helps moisturize your scalp to keep hair healthy.
Some of the richest foods sources of vitamin A include:
- Beef liver
- Sweet Potato
- Ricotta cheese
- Peppers (red)
- Breakfast cereals
The list goes on (and on!).
Vitamin B is complex, containing eight different varieties.
Some excellent sources of vitamin B include:
- Leafy, cruciferous greens
- Oysters, clams, and mussels
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Nutritional yeast
This list of foods is certainly not exhaustive, so if you don't see something you love here, keep looking!
Another great source of vitamin B for hair is biotin. A biotin deficiency may even lead to hair loss. Though research is limited, it appears that it's commonly prescribed. Dermatologist Wilma Bergfeld, MD, told Cleaveland Clinic, "Biotin improves hair growth and helps with inflammation."
Since B-vitamins leave the body through urine, it's important to take them semi-regularly, such as daily. Experts typically recommend 2.4 mcg of B12 per day for both women and men. However, older people or those who follow a vegan diet are most vulnerable to vitamin B-12 deficiency. It's always a good idea to consult with your doctor and dietitian for more insight.
Free radical damage is a hair-killer.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that could help protect against the stress caused by these free radicals. It also helps the body produce collagen, which is foundational for your hair's structure. Not to mention, vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, a mineral with its own advantages concerning hair health.
Some great sources of vitamin C include:
- Acerola cherries
- Kiwi fruit
- Citrus fruits
Find more top sources of Vitamin C here.
A lack of vitamin D can sometimes contribute to hair loss. Low vitamin D levels are associated with alopecia areata—though research is limited. If you've got thin or thinning hair, you may need to check your vitamin D levels.
Find vitamin D in supplements—or by eating fatty fish, cod liver oil, fortified foods, portabello mushrooms, and more.
Just like vitamin C, Vitamin E plays a role in preventing oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
Find vitamin E in:
- Vegetable oils
- Sunflower seeds
And last but certainly not least is our minerals!
It seems the data is conflicting. Based on this small study's results, low serum ferritin (and vitamin D!) levels are associated with female hair loss. But, the debate is ongoing. Researchers of a recent review argued that iron's role during the hair growth cycle has not been well studied and hypothesized that iron deficiency may alter the hair cycle's normal progression.
In case you're wondering, you can find iron in several food sources, such as clams and oysters, eggs, spinach, and even red meat.
Zinc is an indispensable trace element, which means that the body cannot produce it independently; it must be supplied through the diet. Some dietary sources are fish and meat. Interestingly, zinc is a necessary cofactor for various functional enzymes involved in the hair follicle.
Alopecia, also known as spot baldness, is linked to zinc deficiency — with hair re-growth occurring with zinc supplementation. It's crucial to find an appropriate balance when ingesting zinc, as too much may contribute to hair loss.
Zinc has shown to not only help with hair growth but could work in repairing damaged hair too. It optimizes the hair's oil glands' function and keeps them from distributing too much oil to the hair. This is important because an excessive amount of oil can clog up your hair follicles and lead to hair loss.
One way to find this balance with zinc is by obtaining it through whole foods such as lentils, pumpkin seeds, oysters, spinach, and beef.
The Recipe for Beautiful Hair Is Here
Having the hair you've always dreamed of doesn't have to mean hundreds of products, hours of styling, or several trips to the salon. With a nutrient-rich diet, you can have beautiful hair—and a healthy body to boot.
The Desi~licious RD blog is full of delicious recipes to help you achieve a healthy, wholesome diet — incorporating these vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and more. If you're at a loss on how to use the foods listed above, I'm here to help!
I've curated meal plans perfect for a wide variety of tastebuds. Click here to peruse the many options, and don't forget to sign up for our newsletter, where you'll receive tips, recipes, and advice straight to your inbox.
Bear in mind, besides diet, your hair's health and how fast it grows also depend on factors like age, health, and genetics.
What's your routine for beautiful hair? Share your topmost hair struggle with me in the comment section below!
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Shahzadi is an award-winning registered dietitian (RD) regulated by the College of Dietitians of Ontario and certified diabetes educator (CDE), approved by the Canadian Diabetes Educator Certification Board. A YouTuber and notorious foodie, she's dedicated to helping you end your cooking wars, transform your health, and be the best version of yourself! Shahzadi is an on-air nutrition expert for CTV Your Morning and a regular contributor for Global News and other national media outlets.