While many shampoos at packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, you can't nourish your hair from the outside, says Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Eat Your Way to Sexy. “All those ‘nutrients’ are only rubbed on the outside, then washed off at the next shampoo. Instead, nourish your hair (along with your skin, eyes and nails) with a healthy diet that delivers nutrients to the hair shaft while it is still inside the scalp and also remove toxic substances.” However, because what you eat only affects new hair growth, you'll need to be patient to see results. Here are the foods to add to your daily diet today to get a gorgeous head of hair in six months to a year.
Hair is mostly composed of protein—a key macronutrient that must be consumed every day since it’s not stored in the body, says Elisa Zied, RD, CDN, author of Nutrition At Your Fingertips. And poultry is a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids needed to support the adequate growth and maintenance of hair.
If you want your hair to shine, choose this spud, says Zied. Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A, which promotes the production of sebum, an oil substance secreted by hair follicles to protect them from drying out.
Vitamin C works with vitamin A to produce sebum (the natural hair conditioner), says Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, author of Bread is the Devil, and it also helps your body absorb hair-healthy iron. One guava contains 125 mg of vitamin C—almost double what you need daily.
Known for their aphrodisiac properties, oysters can also boost your hair’s sex appeal. These shellfish are one of the top dietary sources of zinc, a mineral that binds proteins to strengthen hair follicles, says Zied. “Zinc also helps support the oil glands that fill the hair follicles with sebum to maintain moisture and prevent dryness.”
Lean red meats are great sources of heme iron, which is more easily absorbed than nonheme iron—the kind in plant foods. Iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen to hair, says Joy Bauer, RD, in her book Joy Bauer’s Food Cures. As a result, deficiency has been linked to hair loss.
B vitamins such as B6, B12 and folate help build red blood cells, which carry oxygen and other nutrients to cells, including those that make up the scalp and hair, says Somer. In her book, Bauer adds: “Without enough B vitamins, these cells can starve, causing shedding, slow growth or weak hair that is prone to breaking.” Chickpeas contain a healthy amount of B6, shellfish are great sources of B12 and lentils provide plenty of folate.
“The omega 3 fatty acid’s found in salmon aren’t just good for your heart—they also nourish your hair,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD. “The omega 3s help maintain the natural oil that keeps your scalp and hair from drying out.”
This colorful veggie will help bolster the amount of biotin in your body. Once referred to as vitamin H (“h” for hair), biotin is actually an essential B vitamin that helps produce keratin—a protein that has been shown to prevent premature graying and hair loss, says Zuckerbrot.
Don’t be confused by the name, hemp seeds are actually very good for you—and your hair! They contain gamma-linoleic acid, an omega 6 fatty acid that helps stimulate hair growth as well as maintain its overall health, says Ashley Koff, RD, co-author of Mom Energy.
“One of the easiest and best things you can do to ensure good health and enhance overall beauty is to drink plenty of water,” says Zuckerbrot. “Not only does water help to move toxins through and out of your body more quickly, it also keeps skin plump and dewy and prevents hair and nails from becoming dry and brittle.”