By Isadora Baum
Everyone wants a gorgeous head full of bouncy hair—just like those slo-mo shots of swingy, shiny strands we see in TV ads. In reality, many of us suffer from brittle, breaking hair, heat damage and even hair loss.
“The health of your hair, to a great extent, 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.
How It Helps: “Salmon, mackerel, sardines and other cold-water fish are ideal sources of omega-3 fatty acids. 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,” Glatter says. And as hair loss in women and male pattern baldness may be associated with insulin resistance, eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids—known to help your body process insulin more efficiently—may not only help improve your hair health, but also normalize your blood sugar, he adds.
When choosing fish, beware of tuna and swordfish, however, whose higher levels of mercury can increase hair loss, among other health issues, Glatter says.
How To Eat It: Add a few sardines to a salad, order mackerel at a sushi bar, or make a quick roasted salmon for dinner.
How It Helps: Along with the biotin it has, liver is also a rich source of iron, an essential mineral for keeping hair healthy, advises Glatter.
Here’s why: 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.”
How To Eat It: Liver can be a hard sell for anyone who didn’t grow up eating it, though there are some creative ways to incorporate it. But if you just can’t do it, reach for other sources of iron such as spinach, seafood, beans, and beef.
NUTS AND SEEDS
How It Helps: Certain types of these nutritional stars are rich in vitamin E, which, “while essential for hair growth, may also prevent UV rays from the sun from damaging skin cells on the scalp, which can lead to hair loss and hair thinning,” Glatter explains. Along with food and supplements, “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. Other sources of vitamin E include seeds, leafy greens, mango, and avocado, Axe says.
How To Eat It: Here’s another good reason to snack on almonds or sprinkle sunflower seeds on your salad. A 1-oz. serving of either has more than one-third of your daily vitamin E.
How It Helps: Add improving hair health to the list of eggs’ superpowers. “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 and organ meats, as well as in avocado, nuts, and legumes, “helps to strengthen the hair follicle, and a deficiency may lead to hair loss,” he adds.
How To Eat It: Scramble an egg or two with some smoked wild salmon for a double shot of hair-benefiting nutrients.
How It Helps: Orange vegetables and fruits are excellent sources of beta-carotene, says Glatter, which stimulates the oil glands to make a chemical known as sebum that keeps hair shiny and reduces breakage and dryness.
FOODS TO AVOID
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, he notes.
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, Rizzo says. Managing stress through meditation, yoga, adaptogens and other techniques may help. Natural, chemical-free hair products also may boost hair health.