Before you buy a hair vitamin or gummy, read this.

By Tessa Petak
Updated Mar 25, 2021 @ 1:42 pm
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Food for Healthy Hair
Credit: Nate Miles/Unsplash

It's no secret that we all want luscious, shiny, and healthy hair — but many of us don't realize that the food we eat can help us get it. The truth is, the key to healthy hair is making sure you're getting (and absorbing) all the nutrients you need from your diet — before reaching for a hair gummy or supplement.

"Diet has a tremendous influence on the health and appearance of our hair, in so many ways," says Molly Kimball, registered dietitian and host of the podcast Fueled. "Nutritional deficiencies of almost any type can negatively impact hair health. Too little protein or fat, for example, can lead to hair loss," she tells InStyle. "The same goes for deficiencies in micronutrients like vitamins C, D and E, iron, zinc, niacin and biotin."

If you suspect that you're deficient in any of these macro or micronutrients, Kimball suggests seeing your doctor for nutrient deficiency testing to find the root cause of the issue and correct any imbalances.

On the flip side, loading up your diet with key nutrients and compounds that have been identified to support hair health can go a long way. Vanessa Rissetto MS, RD, CDN, co-founder of nutritional coaching program Culina Health, stresses the importance of a healthy, balanced, and holistic diet. "We want to balance proteins, fat, and carbs in the right amounts so we don't omit any one macronutrient," she says.

Here, the diet changes nutritionists recommend for obtaining and maintaining your dream hair.

Protein-Rich Foods

Kimball tells us that a deficiency in protein can result in hair thinning and loss, which is why a protein-rich diet is so important when it comes to hair health. Plus, "amino acids like cysteine and methionine [from protein] are essential in the synthesis of keratin, a type of protein that gives our hair elasticity and shine," she explains.

So how can you assure that you're receiving all the protein your body needs?

"An easy rule of thumb is to aim for at least half a gram of protein per pound of healthy body weight, up to one gram of protein per pound," suggests Kimball. Lean meats and eggs (which are also a good source of biotin, she adds) are great options, she says. If you're avoiding animal protein, just make sure you're loading up on ample amounts of plant-based protein sources like beans and tofu, as well as nuts, seeds, and whole grains, to make sure you don't miss out on nourishing your hair, Rissetto adds.

Here, a list of some RD-approved, protein-rich foods you should add to your diet:

  • Fish
  • Greek yogurt
  • Lean meats
  • Skinless Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, green beans, green peas and more)
  • Quinoa
  • Tofu and other non-GMO soy-based products.
  • Bone broth
  • Collagen peptides

Fats

Fats get a bad rap, but Kimball says you shouldn't be afraid of getting the necessary, healthy fats your body needs. But how do you know which fats are good and which to avoid? Kimball suggests looking for the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, like omega'3s. Stock up on the following foods to ensure you're getting the right fats in your diet.

  • Salmon
  • Flax
  • Walnuts
  • Olive oil
  • Avocados

Vitamin D

This one definitely takes some more work. Kimball says it's highly unlikely that you'll receive enough vitamin D — experts suggest getting 800 IU to 1,000 IU daily — from diet alone to satisfy your body's need.

"Only a few foods are naturally good sources of vitamin D. For example, a single tablespoon of cod liver oil provides 1360 IU vitamin D (but how many of us do that?), a three-ounce serving of wild-caught sockeye salmon has about 570 IU, and fortified milk has a mere 100 IU per cup," she says.

So assuming you're not eating cod liver oil every day — how the heck are you going to get your vitamin D supply? "The sun is our best source of vitamin D by far," says Kimball. "Most people need about 10 to 15 minutes in direct sunlight (at a time of day when your shadow is shorter than you are)." But, of course, too much UV exposure can cause both skin and hair damage, so it's crucial you limit your time in the sun's rays. (And we always recommend wearing an SPF — may we suggest Supergoop Vitamin C + SPF 40 sunscreen or Ilia Super Serum Skin Tint with SPF 40.)

But life (WFH, kids, etc) can get in the way, so if you don't get a chance to soak up the sun every day and you're still deficient in vitamin D, you can try some supplementation here. Kimball suggests supplements that contain vitamin D3, which will efficiently and effectively increase your levels of vitamin D (Like this Nature Wise D3 1,000 IU supplement).

Vitamin E

Another nutrient that Kimball says is critical to hair health is vitamin E. Getting enough vitamin E can lengthen and thicken your hair, as well as improve scalp health.

"Adding 100 mg daily has been shown to increase total hair count," says Kimball. "And while this is easier to achieve by supplementing with vitamin E, every little bit helps."

A few of the best vitamin E food sources include almonds (7.5 mg per ounce), sunflower seeds (9.3 mg per ounce), and wheat germ oil (20 mg per tablespoon).

Probiotics

We all know probiotics can support a healthy digestive system, but Rissetto says they can also impact your immune system (a whopping 70% of your immune system is in your gut) and also, yes, your hair. "As with most functions of the body, hair health is influenced by multiple factors, one of which is the availability of certain nutrients that can come from our diet," Rissetto tells us.

Because it can be hard to find foods that naturally contain a probiotic strain, Rissetto recommends taking a probiotic supplement, like the Align 24/7 Digestive Support, which she says contains the correct amount of bacteria your body needs in each dose.

The bottom line on food for healthy hair:

"Focus on clearing out the stuff that you probably know isn't so great anyway," which Kimball notes includes sugary drinks, refined carbs (white pasta, rice, potatoes, chips, crackers, and sweets.

"Instead of obsessing about not having these foods, put the emphasis more on what you are having instead," Kimball advises. "When we plan to have ample colorful produce throughout the day, along with protein and plant-based fats at each meal and snack, we're automatically edging out the other stuff. "

Bottom line: If you want to achieve a good hair day every day, it starts from the inside out.