13 Unexpected Ways Your Diet Affects Your Hair Health

You are what you eat, especially when it comes to your hair.
Written by Kaitlin Clark
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13 Unexpected Ways Your Diet Affects Your Hair Health Bash Visual/Unsplash

Dealing with thinning hair and hair loss can be a huge stressor for anyone, and pinpointing an exact cause can be tricky. Genetics are one thing, but studies have shown that there is a strong connection between hair health and lifestyle choices, especially when it comes to food. “Diet can absolutely impact hair growth,” says Denver-based nutritionist Sydney Greene, MS, RDN. As she explains, hair health is dependent on adequate nutrient intake, particularly B vitamins, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and fat-soluble vitamins (think: A, D, and E). “If your diet is deficient in these nutrients, you will be susceptible to hair loss, limp hair or thinning,” Greene notes.

If your hair suddenly feels thinner or is shedding more than the average 50 to 150 strands per day for no apparent reason, you may want to start paying closer attention to your food choices, says Gretchen Friese, a BosleyMD certified trichologist. Diet “plays a very important role in scalp health and hair growth,” she shares. Without a healthy scalp as the foundation, a head of full, healthy hair is pretty unlikely.

So, do you think your diet could be to blame for your hair concerns? Check out this list of common (but little known) nutrition missteps that could be having a huge impact on hair.

1. Reconsider Your Low-Fat Diet

“Gone are the days of fat-free living,” declares Greene. If you’ve ever adopted the fat-adverse food trend, you may have noticed that your tresses took a turn. “Women on intensive low-fat diets can see their hair become brittle and lifeless, so forget about all the low-fat foods and seek out full, healthy fats instead,” recommends Lars Skjoth, founder and lead researcher at Harklinikken. It’s not just your strands that will enjoy the benefits. ”Your hair, your skin, and your overall health will thank you,” he says.

2. Evaluate Your Processed-Food Intake

You knew this was coming. Greene is reluctant to label any good as “bad,” but she is quick to note that “consuming foods that lack nutrients — like highly processed snacks, high sugar foods, alcohol, empty carbohydrates — can take the place of nutrient-dense foods in a diet.” Those substitutions “will affect hair health,” she says.

When working with clients, Greene works to shift their perspective of their evolving diet. Rather than “eliminating” anything, she focuses on “adding nourishing foods.” That mindset usually makes the transition easier. In fact, it might even occur without you noticing. “By adding in more plants, complete proteins, and healthy fats, less nutritious foods will likely be crowded out of someone’s diet,” she says, which is a win-win for the entire body.

3. Rapid Weight Loss Is Not Beneficial (for many reasons!)

“Fad diets, crash diets, and substantial weight gain or loss usually result in some type of hair or scalp disorder and, sometimes, both,” warns David Adams, a New York City-based trichologist and co-founder of FOURTEENJAY Salon. A key piece of the consultation process is evaluating what someone eats. “When I have a client with hair or scalp issues, one of the things we discuss is their diet,” he says. “Everyone says they have a healthy diet, so I ask them to keep a food diary for two weeks.” That journaling tends to turn up some unexpected results. “When we read the diary together, quite often, the first comment is, ‘Oh, my diet is not that great!’” he notes.

4. Embrace a Protein-Rich Diet

Proteins are the “building blocks” of keratin, which support hair strength. “A protein-rich diet is so important to help grow strong hair,” Skjoth says. “Your hair loves nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods, like healthy fats found in avocados, fatty fish, nuts, and yogurt.”

He recommends fatty fish, like wild-caught mackerel, herring, sardines, bluefish, and salmon, because “these fats heal and are great for your hair.” An added bonus? The omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood will also help give your hair megawatt shine, according to Greene, who tells her clients to eat fish at least twice a week.

If fish isn’t your thing, Skjoth says to opt for lean, grass-fed meat, eggs, plain Greek yogurt, lentils, and beans instead. All of these foods will “arm your body with protein to promote strong and healthy hair,” he shares.

Equally important is ensuring your body is well-positioned to soak up all these nutrients from lean proteins and green leafy goodness. “In order to make sure you are properly absorbing vitamins A, E and D, it’s critical that you include healthy fats in your diet,” Greene explains. She likes to add a handful of nuts, seeds, or olives to meals, and she says to cook with olive oil when necessary. All of this works to support vitamin absorption.

5. Sugar Is a Protein Killer

One more time for the cheap seats in the back: Hair is made of protein. Without it, you can kiss healthy hair goodbye. “Sugar destroys protein and starch turns into sugar,” Adams cautions. If you ate well throughout the day, but ended the night with a piece of cake, you’ve essentially negated the protein you had earlier. “Hair is fed by the bloodstream,” he says, “so everything we consume ends up in our hair at some point.”

6. Drink Mineral Spring Water

Thanks to its high levels of natural, unprocessed essential trace minerals, “mineral-rich spring water is very valuable,” Skjoth says. But it should be noted that all mineral waters are not created equal. “Be selective and check for the source of the water,” he says. “Springs in France, Italy, and Iceland in particular have excellent mineral-rich springs. As such, he recommends brands like Evian, Volvic, Acqua Panna, San Pellegrino, and Icelandic Glacial.

7. Enjoy a Big Breakfast

Eating more for breakfast and lunch and less for dinner (especially late-night snacking) is very important, according to Adams. “The later we eat, the harder it is for our body to digest the food properly,” he says. That means you could be missing out on some of the benefits of that hard work you’ve put into your diet.

8. Prioritize Your Gut

We’ve already covered the relationship between gut health and skin health, but what about the hair? “Every day we are discovering more about the importance of a healthy gut and how it affects hair growth,” Friese explains. Basically, if you focus on optimizing your gut health, the rest of the body will likely follow. “Making sure you get enough fresh vegetables and fruit, incorporating antioxidant foods, and taking a daily probiotic will help keep a healthy gut,” she says. After all, there’s a reason doctors often refer to our gut as our ‘second brain.’

9. Supplements Are Not Silver Bullets

If you find your diet is still lacking, popping a hair supplement may seem like a magic wand. But Skjoth reminds us that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is. “Taking a supplement can benefit overall health, including hair health,” he explains. “However, supplements will have little to no effect on hereditary thinning, which is the most common type of thinning women experience.” It’s vital to understand the root cause of your hair loss before self diagnosing and prescribing, which leads us to…

10. Get a Blood Test Before Trying Supplements

One way to get a sense of why you may be experiencing hair loss and thinning is with blood testing. “After a blood test, you will know the areas you are deficient in,” Adams says. If an nutritional imbalance is serious, a doctor will likely prescribe supplements to bring you back to equilibrium or recommend specific vitamins and antioxidants that your body needs. “If someone has an unhealthy diet, supplements will have no effect and can even have an adverse effect on the hair,” he says. “Take supplements with medical guidance and caution.” Consulting with a board certified dermatologist can result in a comprehensive hair restoration plan that often includes hair supplements.

11. Cut Back on Alcohol

“There is a correlational relationship to alcohol intake and hair loss, as well as smoking and hair loss,” Greene warns. “Chronic alcohol intake can lower concentrations of important vitamins and minerals and can disrupt the absorption of nutrients.” Alcohol doubles as an appetite suppressant, meaning that it often replaces food in someone’s diet. On the flip side, it may also cause someone to make poor food choices, decreasing the overall, necessary nutrient intake to maintain healthy hair follicles required for growing thicker hair. Friese adds that drinking too much alcohol regularly or using recreational drugs “can affect our bodies on a cellular level and actually cause hair loss.”

12. Going Vegan or Vegetarian May Stymie Shine

When a diet changes significantly — especially switching from one that includes meat to one that is plant-based (hi, vegans and vegetarians!) — it may initiate hair loss or lead to dullness, Greene says. To avoid or minimize such a circumstance, she recommends consulting with a dietician before making any big dietary changes. This will help to ensure your nutritional intake remains adequate and balanced during and after the transition.

13. Nutrition-Related Hair Loss Can Be Reversed

Provided that a poor diet is the major contributing cause to the hair thinning or loss, tweaking your diet to become healthier and more balanced and taking doctor-guided supplements (if needed), should help hair bounce back to a healthy state, Adams says. “If the thinning hair is not due to an autoimmune issue, the hair damage or thinning can be reversed in most cases,” Friese assures — though patience will be needed. “After the excessive shedding has stopped, it usually takes two to three months for the hair to start growing back,” she notes. At that point, you can expect your locks to grow around half an inch per month.

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KAITLIN CLARKis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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