Shiny, bouncy tresses are at the top of our wish list pretty much always. And while we’re no stranger to trying different beauty products in order to get us one inch closer to Blake Lively-esque locks, we’ve never thought about using what’s in our kitchen to boost our hair health. But according to nutritionist Frida Harju-Westman, what you eat can have a significant impact on your mane. Here, nine foods to add to your diet for beautiful hair and three to avoid.
“As strands of hair are made up of protein fiber, it only makes sense that for healthy hair, protein has to be a part of your diet,” Harju-Westman tells us. Not getting enough of this nutrient in your diet means that your body will limit the amount available for hair follicles. Translation? Dry hair that’s more prone to breakage. Get your protein fix from animal products like meat, poultry and fish (or beans and legumes for vegetarians).
Sure, you know them for their aphrodisiac qualities, but did you know that oysters are also a great source of zinc? “The zinc found in oysters keeps the hair glands that produce sebum working, preventing the hair from becoming dry and brittle,” says Harju-Westman. Extra bonus? Oysters also contain protein, which as you now know, boosts hair health.
Ever wonder why so many fancy shampoos and conditioners list “almond oil” in their ingredients? Our favorite snack is a great source of vitamins and nutrients—just don’t go overboard since they’re also high in fat (think: a small handful and not the entire bag). “A quarter cup of almonds will give you almost half of your recommended intake of vitamin E and manganese, both of which can promote hair growth,” Harju-Westman explains.
This juicy fruit isn’t just good for your immune system—it also boosts your hair and skin. “Vitamin C helps the body produce more collagen, while vitamin A helps the hair stay hydrated by increasing the production of sebum,” Harju-Westman tells us.
No surprises here—this leafy green contains iron (great for hair strength) and zinc (which keeps hair follicles strong). It’s also a good source of potassium and calcium, two more nutrients that work to keep your hair healthy.
Not only is this creamy food rich in protein, but it also contains vitamin B5 (aka pantothenic acid), which increases blood flow to your scalp, thereby helping hair grow. Pretty cool, right?
Our bodies are pretty amazing, but one of the things they can’t do is produce omega-3 fatty acids, whose anti-inflammatory properties help prevent hair from falling out. Salmon is an especially good source, since according to a Finnish study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Risk, hair loss has been linked with insulin resistance and this tasty fish is one of the foods that helps the body process insulin faster, says Harju-Westman. (Vegetarian? Avocados, pumpkin seeds and walnuts are good omega-3 rich alternatives.)
Our favorite way to start the day is chock-full of biotin, which not only helps the hair to grow, but also prevents nails from breaking. That’s what we call a double win.
“A well-known superfood, sweet potato is great for keeping your hair healthy, as it is rich in beta-carotene,” Harju-Westman explains. Beta-carotene promotes hair growth by increasing the skull’s production of sebum. (Psst… other orange fruits and vegetables like carrots and pumpkins have the same hair health-boosting qualities.)
“Mackerel is great in small portions, however, avoid overeating it if you are concerned about hair loss,” warns Harju-Westman. That’s because this oily fish contains mercury, which can cause hair to fall out. “In general, the rule is that the bigger the fish, the more mercury it contains; but there are exceptions to this rule, so make sure to read food labels before buying,” she advises.
Sorry, the sweet stuff won’t just hurt your teeth, but it can also have a negative impact on your hair. How so? Sugar slows down your body’s absorption of protein, which—you guessed it—is essential for healthy hair. (But you knew this one already, right?)
Well, here’s another bummer—alcohol reduces the levels of zinc in your body. “Additionally, while dehydrating your body, it also follows that alcohol dehydrates the hair, making it more prone to breakage,” says Harju-Westman. No happy hour for you.
“Whenever the body is constantly functioning with a calorie deficit and lacking essential vitamins and minerals, it really damages overall hair health, leaving it damaged for months after the diet is finished,” Harju-Westman tells us. So skip the crazy diet fads and focus on loading your plate with healthy, nutrient-rich foods instead. Here are some ideas to get you started.