Who else remembers when washing your hair with Mane n' Tail (a shampoo and conditioner combo originally designed for horses) became all the rage for growing your own, well, mane? While it's tempting to believe that one product can be the turnkey for growing luscious, long locks, the truth is more complicated. A wide range of factors — from genetics to hormones to nutrition — help determine how fast your hair grows. So take your healthy hair goals one step at a time starting with what you eat. Below, experts discuss the best food for hair growth by breaking down the essential nutrients and vitamins that contribute to healthy, long hair. (More: How to Eat Healthy Without Giving Up Anything)
"Eating for optimal health and healthy hair go hand-in-hand," says Samantha Cassetty, M.S., R.D., nutrition and wellness expert and co-author of Sugar Shock. "In both cases, getting sufficient protein while also focusing on wholesome plant foods will help ensure that you get the nutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds tied to healthier hair." In other words, a diet that's diverse and rich in vitamins and minerals from foods that help hair growth will give you your best shot at avoiding hair loss related to nutrient deficiencies. (Related: A Guide to the Essential Nutrients — and Why Your Body Needs Them)
That said, there are six major nutrients found in the best foods for healthy hair that are most responsible for promoting hair growth, according to Cassetty. "Healthy hair depends on certain nutrients, such as protein, biotin, vitamin A, and vitamin C," she says. Iron and omega-3 fatty acids are two other major players in the hair growth game, she adds. Here's why each nutrient is so important for staving off hair loss and promoting hair growth. (Related: What You Need to Know About Covid-19 and Hair Loss).
Vitamins and Nutrients In the Best Foods for Hair Growth
Protein: "Protein is vital for healthy hair, and while a protein deficiency isn't common in the United States, people who are vegan or trying to reduce their meat consumption need to pay more attention to their protein intake," explains Cassetty.
Biotin: Biotin is one of the most well-known hair nutrients for a reason, according to Cassetty. "A deficiency can promote hair thinning and loss. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are at higher risk for deficiency [due to impaired absorption during pregnancy]," she says.
Vitamin A: "Low vitamin A status is associated with hair loss in animals, but too much vitamin A is also tied to hair loss in humans. Appropriate vitamin A intake can help maintain the health of cells that surround the hair follicle, which is needed for healthy hair growth," explains Cassetty.
Iron: An estimated 10 million people in America live with iron deficiencies — a key nutrient for healthy hair growth. "An iron deficiency can produce hair loss, and iron deficiency isn't that uncommon. It's associated with certain GI conditions, a vegan diet, an unhealthy diet, and a heavy period," says Cassetty.
Omega-3 fatty acids: "The phenomenons of [psychological] stress, inflammation, and oxidative stress may contribute to hair thinning, so antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, like omega-3 fatty acids, may help to promote healthy hair," and hair growth, says Cassetty.
Now that you better understand how important nutrition is for your hair health, it's easy to see why the best way to make sure you're getting everything you need in your diet is to focus on the foods that help hair growth. Just keep in mind that nutrition is just one piece of the healthy hair pie. So if you feel like you're losing more strands than usual, or just aren't growing hair as fast as you'd like, it's best to consult an expert. Schedule an appointment with a trichologist, a type of specialist who can evaluate your hair and scalp for issues and recommend treatment, or your doctor who can look into any potential underlying health issues related to hair loss.
Foods That Help Hair Growth
You'll find protein and iron in Greek yogurt, making it an ideal food for hair growth. Cassetty prefers kefir, a drinkable, on-the-go option that you can pair with your regular breakfast for an extra kick of energy, and nutrients to help your hair grow long and stay healthy.
If you're vegan, you can still get in on the hair growth benefits of yogurt by opting for a plant-based version like almond or cashew. Just make sure you choose a high protein option and opt for one that contains plenty of hair growth nutrients such as protein and iron.
"A cup of strawberries has more than a day's worth of vitamin C, says Cassetty. "This nutrient is needed to form collagen, which is the main component of your hair." Spoon your berries on top of your yogurt for a nutrient-dense breakfast that also contains more than one key nutrient for hair growth.
Brussels sprouts have diverse nutritional benefits that make them stellar food for hair growth. "A cup of Brussels sprouts meets your daily vitamin C requirements, says Cassetty. "Vitamin C helps to form collagen as well as helps with plant-based iron absorption. It's also an antioxidant that combats oxidative stress. So vitamin C has multiple roles in maintaining healthy hair."
"Here's a food that boasts both protein and biotin, both helpful for hair," says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a plant-based registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats in Stamford, CT. "I love to roast salmon in the oven and to pair with veggies." Salmon also contains those oh-so-important omega-3 fatty acids. Meaning, this one fish ticks off three essential nutrients for hair growth.
Eggs are one of the most affordable sources of protein, and they also happen to be great for your hair. One egg contains 6 grams of protein, plus biotin, both known for their hair growth-boosting potential. "I love to add eggs to a panini sandwich and to make avocado deviled eggs," says Gorin.
"A cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein plus 7 milligrams of iron," says Cassetty. "You'll maximize iron absorption if you eat lentils with a vitamin C-rich food, such as Brussels sprouts." Plant-based eaters will want to pay special attention since they're at risk for not eating enough protein and iron — key nutrients for healthy hair growth, she adds.
Tofu is Gorin's preferred plant-based source of protein because it's a complete protein. This means it contains all of the essential amino acids your body needs to function properly, but can't make on its own. And your body (and hair) need plenty of those essential amino acids and protein to prosper.
Gorin likes to add chickpeas to her plate, especially since one cup has 15 grams of plant-based protein, necessary for growing long and strong hair. "Additionally, chickpeas contain fiber — and the combo of protein and fiber nutrients can help keep you fuller for longer and help to keep your blood sugar levels stable," she says. Enjoy your chickpeas in a big salad or soup.
Anchovies are a wonderful source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, two key nutrients for healthy hair, which is why they are a favorite hair growth food of William Gaunitz, a trichologist at Advanced Trichology. You can easily add the tiny, salty, flavorful fish to pizzas, pastas, or salads to boost your protein and omegas to support hair growth.
Enjoy 20 full grams of protein when you eat just one 3 oz serving of tuna (i.e. 1/4 of a 12 oz can of tuna or a 3 oz steak). That's about 40 percent of your recommended daily value. Protein is an essential food for hair growth, and canned tuna is a convienent protein source to keep on hand.
"Beef, buffalo, lamb, liver — for the vast majority of the human population red meat is the superfood for hair," says Gaunitz. "Red meat contains the highest level of bioavailable iron by percentage than any other food. Additionally, there is an exorbitant volume of biotin, B complex, and zinc that all have a role in maintaining the health and highest volume of your hair." Animal protein is also the most common way carnivores get their suggested daily allowance for that macronutrient, another reason why plant-based eaters need to pay special attention to their protein intake within the foods for hair growth and otherwise.
Beef liver is also a great food for hair growth, as it has some of the highest concentrations of vitamin A, vitamin C, and fatty acids, says Gorin.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are small but mighty ways to pack in a lot of hair-growth promoting nutrients into almost any meal or snack.
Add sunflower seeds to your favorite salad or drizzle sunflower butter on toast for a sizable serving of protein and iron. Flax seeds are a great source of omega-3s, and you can add them to almost everything. Sprinkle them on smoothies or warm grain bowls. Omega-3s are a star nutrient when it comes to hair growth, and flax seeds are an easy way to get a vegan omega boost sans fish.
Nuts are a great source of some of the essential nutrients for hair growth — and almonds are no exception. Adding a sprinkle to your salads or eating a handful for a snack offers biotin and plenty of plant-based protein.
All nuts are a fantastic source of protein and other vitamins, but Gorin is partial to pistachios. "These are one of my favorite nuts because they're a complete plant protein," she says. "Protein is very important for the hair, as the amino acids it contains are a building block of the keratin in hair. I love to add pistachios to yogurt and to include them in vegan protein balls."
Cod liver oil
Vitamin D3 deficiency is a common issue globally, and it influences your hair, among other health concerns, according to Gaunitz.
"Cod liver oil by percentage has the highest volume of vitamin D3 that you can consume from any food," says Gaunitz. "Vitamin D3 controls aspects of the immune system, keratinization, and hormone metabolism,"all of which could influence the thickness, fullness, and length of your hair, says Gaunitz. Note: More research is needed to spell out any direct correlation.
Gaunitz is also a big fan of sardines for their fatty acids and protein, making them a great food for hair growth. While not the most popular fish choice, getting creative in the kitchen could give you a new perspective on this little fish. A single serving of sardines also contains 25 percent of your daily value of iron, making them a win, win, win.