When I hear the saying food is fuel, it takes everything in my power not to get on my soapbox, and (with fervor and passion) ramble on about the many reasons I disagree. Of course I get the point, and while the crux of the saying is true, so is food so much more. Food is celebration, fun and pleasure. Food helps us connect and build rituals and routines in our daily life. And when you stock your fridge with the best foods for shiny hair, food can help us feel like our most alive, beautiful and confident selves.
Personally, I’ve always cited luck as the difference between my good and bad hair days. On some my strands sit exactly where I want them – and on others it takes all my time, energy and hairspray to argue with my filters. But when I questioned whether my diet played a role, well, that’s when I found the answers.
Whether you’re opting for a sleek and chic style or embracing your natural curls, there’s no doubt that achieving healthy, shiny hair is a win in many of our beauty books. And while I love to geek out over the products that make it happen, I firmly believe that our health habits and wellness practices can also play a role. I talked to Edie Horstmana dual-certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Nutrition Consultant—and, of course, our resident wellness expert—to get the scoop on achieving that glow from the inside out.
Read on for everything you need to know about getting healthy, glassy locks—plus the ultimate shopping list of the best foods for shiny hair.
Selected image of Ashleigh Amoroso.
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Hold up – canned food really make my hair shiny?
While there’s a lot more to wellness than (literally) meets the eye, Horstman confirms that dull hair can be your body’s way of signaling that something is wrong. Many factors can compromise our search for shiny threads: hormonal imbalancesgenetics and of course vitamins and lack of nutrients as a result of a gap in your diet.
And while supplements targeted at supporting healthy hair are all good (not to mention an important addition!), they should be taken as they are intended: to supplement. What’s even better? A holistic approach through food. If you’re tempted to ditch the quick fix, now is the time. Not only will eating the best foods for shiny hair lead to shiny locks, but you’ll also be doing a whole lot of good for your overall well-being.
Foods to avoid for shiny hair
While we would never tell you does not eating something (balance is the spice of life, after all) if shiny hair is the goal, Horstman recommends consciously cutting back on some of the foods below. Remember: Stress can also set you back on your journey to silky smooth strands. With that in mind, read below for a nutritionist’s take.
Fish with high mercury
Fatty fish (wild-caught salmon, herring, sardines, etc.) are great for your skin and hair. Remember that though fish with high mercury can actually lead to hair loss over time. Essentially, all heavy metals can lead to hair loss.
You have to be careful when including fish mackerel, swordfish, and certain types of tuna. As alternatives, look for fatty fish such as prawns, sardines, wild-caught salmon and canned light tuna. These all tend to be low in mercury, so eating them can help improve your hair, scalp health and eczema symptoms.
We all know that too much sugar can lead to problems with blood sugar, hormonal imbalances, sleep problems and much more. In addition, sugar can cause problems such as seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis. Sugar can cause flaky skin, itching and damage to your hair follicles because it promotes the production of androgen, a hormone that shrinks the size of hair follicles. This means that you can quickly develop dandruff, and many medicated shampoo options will not treat the source of this problem.
If you want healthy hair, try to limit your sugar intake (no need to eliminate it completely!).
Food with low protein content
Hair is made of protein. If you eat low-protein foods all the time, you’re not giving your hair the building blocks it needs. When most people think of protein, they think of animal protein. And although I encourage a well-rounded diet, there are plenty of foods – high in protein – that is plant-based. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, some protein-rich foods include tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils and beans.
Although not a food group, too much alcohol can lead to itchy skin because it reduces overall zinc levels in your body. Zinc is fundamental to healthy hair growth, so over time too much alcohol is not helpful. Alcohol is still fine for your hair in small amounts, so you don’t have to completely avoid it when trying to control your dandruff. In addition, alcohol can also dehydrate your body, which can affect conditions such as dermatitis and dandruff. Be sure to stay hydrated while drinking alcohol to mitigate the worst of these conditions.
Other toxins to avoid: sulfates, parabens and other synthetic chemicals! These are harsh on the hair, strip our natural oils, etc. See a full list here.
The best foods for shiny hair
When it comes to the best foods for shiny hair, whole, minimally processed foods will be your locks’ best friend. Healthy fats, proteins, and a host of vitamins and nutrients (Vitamin C! B6! Zinc!) will help you unlock the shiniest hair of your life. Let’s dive in – revitalized and rejuvenated hair is just a snack or a meal away.
Omega-3 fatty acids
We’re 100 percent here for the benefits of omega-3 (we’ll take any excuse to have another slice of avocado toast!). In addition to your favorite brunch food, these hard-working polyunsaturated fatty acids can be found in fish oil, seeds, almonds, and walnuts. These foods not only support hair health, but making sure you get enough omega-3 fatty acids through food and supplements can support brain health and help boost your mood.
If you’ve ever questioned a pizza’s ability to be both delicious and functional, the recipe below provides your answer. It’s festive and simple, and with its creamy, plant-based almond ricotta, you get plenty of omega-3 in every slice.
Vitamin B6 and B12
Found in salmon, oysters, leafy green, eggs, legumes and whole grains, these vitamins help create red blood cells, which, according to Horstman, transport oxygen and nutrients to the scalp and hair follicles. Both are important processes for hair growth.
Nutritious and tasty, this grain bowl is proof that when it comes to lunch or dinner, you really can have it all. It’s crunchy, creamy, leafy and of course a dream for your hair. The good news, too, is that this bowl does double duty, with superfood ingredients like salmon and avocado to keep you full and your strands happy.
Iron is a healthy hair mineral that cannot be overlooked. Horstman says it helps boost circulation and transport oxygen to your hair’s roots. In addition, an iron deficiency can lead to hair loss. Heme, an iron-rich molecule, is optimal with animal food sources, including red meat, poultry and shellfish. If you follow a plant-based lifestyle, non-heme plant sources of iron include beans, dark leafy vegetables and dried fruit.
Last but not least, Horstman adds that for optimal absorption, it is best to pair iron with sources of vitamin C. So if you’re whipping up this low-effort, high-reward green smoothie, it wouldn’t hurt to enjoy an orange alongside.
Recipe: Almond Butter Green Smoothie
Speaking of vitamin C, it is another important for hair health. Horstman cites vitamin C’s function in boosting collagen production as one of its main reasons for making this list of the best foods for shiny hair. Look for vitamin C in citrus fruits, strawberries and red peppers.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy (yet indulgent) breakfast, look no further than these sweet and tasty strawberries. It’s special, simple and oh-so-summery. Plus the color of those berries can’t be beat.
Finally zinc. “Zinc helps keep the oil glands in your scalp working properly,” says Horstman. Just as iron deficiency can lead to hair loss, so can a lack of zinc in your diet. Be sure to incorporate enough food sources of this important trace mineral into your diet. Pumpkin seeds, oysters, Brazil nuts and eggs are all good options.
As you can see from the recipes I chose to showcase on this list of the best foods for shiny hair, I start my long and strong hair regimen first thing in the morning. Store-bought pico de gallo makes this savory egg dish a breeze to whip up, and if you want to bring the healthy hair party to the night, this recipe works just as well for dinner.
Recipe: Spicy Mexican Baked Eggs