Your diet plays a massive role in your hair health. Most people have around 100,000 active scalp hair follicles, each of which requires an adequate and consistent supply of nutrients to produce strong, healthy hair .
Eating a balanced diet can boost hair growth, improve the condition of your hair, and minimise the risk of vitamin deficiency-related hair loss.
So which are the best foods for hair growth? In this article, you’ll learn:
While it’s widely agreed that the food you eat has a significant impact on your hair, the link between diet and hair growth is complex, with several factors at play. Let’s look at four of the key ways diet can affect your hair.
Hair follicles are made up of rapidly dividing cells . This cell division is what causes hair to grow. The micronutrients found in food give hair cells the energy and molecular building blocks they need to proliferate and make your hair grow .
Not getting the right nutrients from your diet can impact both the structure and growth of your hair . Studies have shown that a lack of vitamins and minerals can contribute to the development of hair loss conditions, including:
It’s not just micronutrient deficiency that can impact your hair health. The food you eat affects your gut microbiome, which researchers believe may be linked with the development of female pattern hair loss, male pattern baldness, and alopecia areata [7-8].
Your gut flora can impact hair health in three ways:
Not eating enough calories can also lead to hair loss, as seen in many patients who suffer from eating disorders like anorexia nervosa [2-3].
Anyone who restricts their caloric intake can experience hair loss. Low carb diets may lead to hair loss, and intermittent fasting has also been linked with slower hair growth. So if you’re planning to lose weight on a calorie-controlled diet, find out how to stop hair loss due to weight loss.
Hair is often the first thing to suffer if you’re not eating well. Dermatologist Dr. Sharon Wong explains:
“Because hair is not an essential structure for our body to survive, it doesn’t actually prioritise nutrition to our hair. So if we are having a different diet, we’re having exclusion diets, and nutritionally we’re being deplete, your body will not prioritise those nutrients to your hair. It will prioritise it to other essential organs.”
That means there’s no quick fix. Make sure your diet is healthy, balanced, and contains enough energy and nutrients that your body can supply them to your hair, as well as the rest of your body.
These key nutrients are essential for hair growth:
Plenty of foods that can support hair growth are easy to include in an everyday balanced diet. According to the UK government’s Eatwell Guide, here’s what a well-balanced diet should consist of:
The remaining 1% can include sugary or snack foods, but aim to keep this to a minimum. High sugar diets can lead to type 2 diabetes which has been linked with hair loss.
Nutrient-rich foods are good for your body, so it’s no surprise they’re also the best foods to support and regulate hair growth. Here are 15 hair growth foods that can promote healthy hair as part of a balanced diet.
Oily and fatty fish are packed with healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These are the healthy fats that your body can’t make, so you need to get them from the food you eat.
The best oily fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
There’s approximately 25g of protein per 100g of salmon and sardines, and 19g in the same amount of mackerel. So as well as giving you the essential fatty acids you need for your general health, these fish also provide around half your daily protein intake, which is essential for strengthening your hair.
Be wary of tinned tuna, as this often contains high mercury levels that have been linked with hair loss . Find out more about foods that can contribute to hair loss.
Even though your hair is mainly made up of keratin, eating keratin directly doesn’t help, as the body can’t absorb this protein . Topical keratin for hair treatments can help, but there are some risks involved in using these. Instead, you need to eat the component parts of keratin: amino acids.
Protein-rich foods supply amino acids that promote keratin production. Greek yoghurt is a great source of protein, containing approximately 2.6g of protein in a 45g serving.
Greek yoghurt also contains Vitamin B5, which has been shown to help with hair follicle cell proliferation in animal studies .
A derivative of vitamin B5, panthenol, is commonly incorporated into shampoos, as it’s known to promote cell growth and reduce cell death .
Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach are packed full of vitamins and minerals like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, beta carotene, and iron. These vitamins are all great for nourishing your follicles and preventing brittle hair.
It’s especially important to get vitamin A from your food rather than supplements, as too much vitamin A can actually cause hair loss [1, 3]. While it’s still possible to get too much vitamin A from food sources, this is much less common than for people who take supplements.
Fortified cereals contain vitamins and minerals that have been added to help you get your recommended daily intake (RDI). Some fortified cereals contain 100% RDI of specific nutrients.
That said, fortified cereals can also be loaded with sugar and preservatives, while some non-fortified cereals contain exclusively healthy ingredients. So look at the nutrition as a whole, rather than just focusing on the fortified nutrients.
These fortified cereals have a low sugar content, while also containing high nutritional value:
You can also boost your protein intake at breakfast time by adding a scoop of peanut butter, a handful of almonds or walnuts, or a scattering of chia seeds to your fortified cereal.
If you’re not getting enough protein in your diet, your hair will go into rest mode while the body distributes the protein you are getting among more vital organs. That’s why it’s important to eat plenty of protein-rich food sources like chicken and turkey.
Lean poultry like chicken and turkey are excellent hair-growth foods. With around 31g of protein per 100g of chicken breast and 27g per 100g of turkey mince, these foods help feed your hair follicles with the protein they need.
Poultry is also low in saturated fat compared with other types of meat, especially if you remove the skin. It also contains significant amounts of zinc, selenium, and B vitamins, all of which contribute to a good diet for healthy hair.
Eggs are another great source of protein, but they’re also rich in biotin. Biotin, or vitamin B7, is an essential hair growth nutrient, as it helps metabolise proteins and fatty acids that contribute to cell division.
Eggs also supply zinc and selenium, both of which are necessary for healthy hair. Many other zinc-rich food sources aren’t suitable for vegetarians, so eggs are especially important for those who don’t eat meat or fish. Research suggests eggs are one of the best hair growth foods to eat for optimal hair health .
If you have dull and dry hair, consider incorporating more sweet potatoes into your diet. Sweet potatoes contain a powerful antioxidant known as beta-carotene.
The body uses beta-carotene to create vitamin A, which in small doses can promote healthy, shiny hair. Eating foods high in beta carotene may be a safer way to get your required intake of vitamin A, as excessive consumption of preformed vitamin A (via sources like supplements and liver) is more likely to lead to telogen effluvium (a hair loss condition characterised by hair thinning) .
Beta carotene may also help produce scalp sebum, which nourishes the hair and prevents it from drying out . Research suggests beta carotene can reduce inflammation in people with alopecia areata .
Beta carotene is the element that gives orange fruits and vegetables like carrots, pumpkins, and mangos their vibrant colour, so you can also eat these to take advantage of this healthy hair nutrient.
A Japanese animal study also suggests the oil byproduct of sweet potato shochu (a type of liquor distilled from sweet potato) can promote new hair growth . While eating sweet potato is unlikely to have the same effect, this paves the way for future research into how different food preparation techniques can help discover more hair growth solutions.
Mussels, oysters, and other shellfish are excellent sources of zinc. Zinc helps your hair follicle cells proliferate, boosting hair growth. So it’s important to add zinc-rich foods to your diet.
A 100g serving of mussels can contain up to 15% of your recommended zinc intake, while just two to three oysters can give you 100% of your zinc RDI . Prawns, scallops, and crab are also good sources of zinc.
Zinc deficiency may also lead to dandruff and other scalp conditions . So even if you’re using an anti-dandruff shampoo that contains zinc, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough zinc in your diet, too. Adding a portion of shellfish to your diet can help keep give you a healthy scalp, which is essential for hair growth.
Cinnamaldehyde, an organic compound found in cinnamon, has been shown to promote hair growth by increasing skin thickness and follicle density . That’s why applying topical cinnamon oil for hair may be an effective way to stimulate growth.
Cinnamon can also improve your blood flow, ensuring your hair follicles get the oxygen and nutrients they need to thrive .
Cinnamon is often associated with sugary foods, which shouldn’t make up a significant proportion of your diet. To add cinnamon to your diet without resorting to sugary treats, you could try:
Avocado is full of healthy fats that help the body absorb fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin D. They’re also a great source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps protect your scalp. Antioxidants are important for hair growth because they neutralise free radicals that can harm hair follicle cells. One avocado contains around 20% of your RDI of vitamin E .
Avocados also contain lots of vitamin C. One avocado contains approximately 12g, which is 13-15% of your recommended intake. Vitamin C is essential for iron absorption, so you can get as much nutritional value as possible from the iron-rich foods you eat.
Lentils are one of the best hair growth foods, especially for vegetarians and vegans looking for healthier, thicker hair.
Packed with biotin, zinc, iron and protein, these legumes are dense with nutrients. Vegan and vegetarian diets are often lacking in some of these areas, particularly protein and iron. Therefore, lentils are one of the best foods to support hair growth if you follow a meat-free or plant-based diet.
Lentils are also a great source of the amino acids that are used to generate keratin, including arginine, leucine, cysteine, and alanine . So adding lentils to your diet for healthy hair can help ensure you get the nutrients you need to promote hair growth and repair.
Capsaicin, an active ingredient found in chilli peppers, can promote hair growth in people with alopecia . So if you’re a fan of spicy food, you’re in luck as foods containing plenty of chillies could help boost your hair growth. If you can’t handle the heat, applying chilli oil to your hair may have a similar effect.
In addition, chillies are high in vitamin C. One red chilli contains around 65mg, while a green chilli pepper contains a whopping 109mg. So adding some chilli to your recipes can help you easily reach your recommended vitamin C intake.
Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries are all rich sources of vitamin C. As well as helping the body absorb more iron from your diet, vitamin C helps your body produce collagen which strengthens hair and stops it from becoming brittle .
Unlike certain other nutrients, your body can’t store vitamin C. So it’s important to incorporate vitamin C-rich foods into your diet every day. Make berries part of your everyday diet by:
Animal studies suggest that a lack of calcium and vitamin D can lead to non-scarring alopecia . So it’s important that your healthy hair diet contains plenty of both. That’s why milk is an essential food for hair growth.
A 200ml glass of semi-skimmed cow’s milk contains 247mg of calcium — just over a third of your RDI. Oat milk contains even more, at around 290-300mg (each brand will contain a different calcium content). So no matter what kind of diet you follow, it’s important to drink plenty of milk to keep your calcium levels high.
Wheat germ is a fantastic addition to any diet for healthy hair, but especially for veggies and vegans. Wheat germ is a small part of the wheat kernel, and it’s jam-packed with healthy hair nutrients, including zinc, protein, and vitamin E.
Wheat germ is also one of the best sources of spermidine, an organic compound that’s been shown to promote hair growth in humans [26-27]. Spermidine prolongs the growth phase of the hair growth cycle, thereby shortening the shedding and resting phases. So adding a healthy source of spermidine to your diet may help keep your hair healthy.
If wheat germ isn’t a store cupboard staple in your house, here are some simple ways to incorporate it into your diet:
Adding nuts and seeds to your healthy hair diet is a great way to pack in more nutrients. Here are some of the best nuts to eat for hair health:
Many nuts and seeds have a relatively high fat content. But most of these fats are unsaturated, so they’re better for your general health than foods with high amounts of saturated fat.
In addition, evidence suggests some fats are necessary for hair health, as they contribute to manageability, shine, texture, and strength .
Being vegetarian or vegan is a risk factor for hair loss, as it’s often more difficult to get all the essential hair health nutrients you need from a meat-free or plant-based diet .
That said, there are plenty of readily available veggie- and vegan-friendly foods that are great for hair growth. With the exception of chicken, turkey, yoghurt, and shellfish, all the foods in the list above are suitable for both vegetarians and vegans.
Other great vegetarian- and vegan-friendly foods for hair growth include:
Most foods are fine in moderation. But there are some you should think twice about eating or drinking if you want to maintain your hair health. Foods to avoid for healthy hair include:
In general, it’s safer and healthier to get nutrients from food rather than supplements wherever possible . In fact, there’s very little evidence to suggest that vitamin supplements for hair growth are effective, unless you have a clinical vitamin deficiency.
If you have unexplained hair loss, it’s important to get a checkup with your doctor to establish the cause. They may be able to help you unearth a nutritional deficiency, in which case supplements might be the best way to reverse your hair loss and boost hair growth.
While vitamin and mineral inadequacies are fairly common, clinical nutritional deficiencies are rare in people who eat a Western diet, even if you’re vegetarian or vegan. So if your hair is falling out, it may be unrelated to your diet
There are lots of other reasons your hair could be falling out. These include:
If you’re eating a well-balanced diet but you’re still losing hair, it’s time to speak to a specialist. Talk to an experienced hair loss consultant at the Wimpole Clinic to diagnose and treat your hair loss.
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