When I hear the adage food is fuel, it takes everything in my power not to get on my soapbox, and (with fervor and passion) ramble off the many reasons I disagree. Sure, I understand the intention, and while the core of the saying is true, food is so much more. Food is celebration, comfort, and pleasure. Food helps us connect and build rituals and routines in our daily lives. And when you fill your fridge with the best foods for shiny hair, food can help us feel like our most vibrant, beautiful, and confident selves.
Speaking 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 of my time, energy, and hairspray to wrangle my tangles. But when I questioned whether or not my diet played a role, well, that’s when I found the answers.
Whether you opt for a sleek and chic style or embrace your natural curls, there’s no question that achieving healthy, shiny hair is a win in many of our beauty books. And while I love geeking out on the products that make it happen, I’m a believer that our health habits and wellness practices can play a part, too. I spoke with Edie Horstman, a double-certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Nutrition Consultant—and, of course, our resident wellness expert—to get the scoop on achieving that inside-out glow.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about getting healthy, glass-like locks—plus the ultimate grocery list of the best foods for shiny hair.
Featured image by Ashleigh Amoroso.
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Hold up—can 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 signifying that something’s off. Many factors can compromise our search for shiny strands: hormonal imbalances, genetics, and of course, vitamin and nutrient deficiencies resulting from a gap in your diet.
And while supplements targeted to support healthy hair are all well and good (not to mention, an important addition!), they should be taken as they’re intended: to supplement. What’s even better? A holistic approach through food. If you’re tempted to ditch the quick-fix mindset, now’s the time. Not only will eating the best foods for shiny hair lead to lustrous locks, but you’ll be doing a whole lotta good for your overall wellness, too.
Foods to Avoid For Shiny Hair
While we’d never tell you not to eat 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 set you back on your journey to silky strands, too. With that in mind, read below for a the nutritionist’s takes.
Fatty fish (wild-caught salmon, herring, sardines, etc.) is great for your skin and hair. However, keep in mind that high-mercury fish can actually lead to hair loss over time. In essence, all heavy metals can lead to hair loss.
Fish to be cautious of include mackerel, swordfish, and certain types of tuna. As alternatives, look for fatty fish like shrimp, sardines, wild-caught salmon, and canned light tuna. These all tend to be low in mercury, so eating them can help you improve your hair, scalp health, and eczema symptoms.
We all know that too much sugar can lead to blood sugar issues, hormonal imbalances, sleep issues, and more. Furthermore, sugar can cause problems like seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis. Sugar can cause flaky skin, itching, and damage to your hair follicles because it encourages the production of androgen, a hormone that shrinks hair follicle sizes. That means you could quickly develop dandruff, and many medicated shampoo options won’t treat the source of this issue.
If you want healthy hair, aim to limit your sugar intake (no need to remove it, entirely!).
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 while I encourage a well-rounded diet, there are plenty of foods—high in protein—that are 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 the overall levels of zinc in your body. Zinc is fundamental to healthy hair growth, so over time, too much alcohol isn’t helpful. Alcohol is still fine for your hair in small amounts, so you don’t have to completely avoid it when trying to get your dandruff under control. Furthermore, alcohol can also dehydrate your body, which could affect conditions like dermatitis and dandruff. Make sure you 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 away 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, protein, and an array 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 meal away.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
We’re 100 percent here for the benefits of omega-3s (we’ll take any excuse to have another slice of avocado toast!). Apart from your favorite brunch food, these hard-working polyunsaturated fatty acids can be found in fish oil, seeds, almonds, and walnuts. Not only do these foods support hair health, but ensuring that you’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids through food and supplementation 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 serves up your answer. It’s celebratory and simple, and with its creamy, plant-based almond ricotta, you’ll get plenty of omega-3s in every slice.
Recipe: Butternut Squash Pizza With Arugula and Almond Ricotta
Vitamins B6 and B12
Found in salmon, oysters, leafy greens, eggs, legumes, and whole grains, these vitamins help create red blood cells, which, according to Horstman, carry 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 keeping you satiated and your strands satisfied.
Recipe: Spring Salmon & Veggie Grain Bowl
Iron is a healthy-hair mineral that’s not to be overlooked. Horstman shares that it helps boost circulation and carry oxygen to your hair’s roots. What’s more, an iron deficiency can lead to hair loss. Heme, an iron-rich molecule, is optimal, with animal food sources including red meat, poultry, and seafood. If you follow a plant-based lifestyle, non-heme plant sources of iron include beans, dark leafy greens, and dried fruit.
Last but not least, Horstman adds that for optimal absorption, it’s 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’s another important one for hair health. Horstman cites vitamin C’s function in increasing collagen production as one of its key reasons for making this list of the best foods for shiny hair. Look for vitamin C in citrus, strawberries, and red bell peppers.
If you’re looking for a quick and light (but indulgent) breakfast, look no further than these sweet-savory strawberries. It’s special, simple, and oh-so-summery. Plus the color on those berries can’t be beat.
Recipe: Macerated Thyme Strawberries & Greek Yogurt
Lastly, zinc. “Zinc helps keep the oil glands on your scalp working properly,” says Horstman. Just as iron deficiency can lead to hair loss, a lack of zinc in your diet can as well. Be sure to work enough food sources of this important trace mineral into your diet. Pumpkin seeds, oysters, Brazil nuts, and eggs are all good options.
As evidenced by the recipes I chose to showcase in this list of the best foods for shiny hair, I’m all about starting my long-and-strong strands 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 carry the healthy hair party into the evening, this recipe works just as well for dinner.
Recipe: Spicy Mexican Baked Eggs