You eat whole, nutritious foods to help nourish your body. But what you may overlook is that food also nourishes what sits on top of your head: your hair. Without the proper nutrients, your hair can become weak and brittle — just like your bones if they're not properly fueled.
But your hair is not your body's top priority, says Shani Francis, MD, MBA, medical director and chief wellness officer of Ashira Dermatology. "If your body does not have what it needs for normal functioning, your hair will not take it first. It only gets what is left over," Dr. Francis explains on her website.
That makes eating a balanced diet — including 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day — and getting enough nutrients even more important.
In addition to protein, omega-3 fatty acids and iron, fiber, vitamins A, B, C, D and E and zinc are all important for hair growth, according to a January 2017 report published in Dermatology Practical & Conceptual. There are certain fruits and veggies that are especially high in these essentials. While dietary supplements may be effective in helping you meet recommended intakes for certain nutrients, your best bet is to load up on whole foods, Dr. Francis says.
Enjoy Sweet Potatoes
Not only are sweet potatoes high in potassium and fiber, they're a rich source of vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant, which can help protect your hair from environmental toxins.
"Vitamin A is the workhorse of dermatology," Dr. Francis tells LIVESTRONG.com. "And people always forget that the scalp is skin. The scalp is like the dirt and the hair is like a plant. The better your dirt, the better your plant."
Eat Your Carrots
These root veggies are known for supporting eye health because of their high levels of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A, which, according to a January 2012 report in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, can help produce sebum, oily secretions on your scalp that can encourage healthy hair growth.
Dr. Francis points out that you can have too much vitamin A, which is a fat-soluble vitamin. That means if you consume high amounts — usually through supplementation, not from food — it gets stored in your liver and fat cells, and it can't be processed.
Read more: 3 Seeds to Eat for Healthy Hair
Order the Avocado Toast
Load up on this high-fat fruit. Avocados are not only an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, which promote hair growth, they also contain 2 to 6 micrograms of biotin, a B vitamin, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. The recommended daily intake of biotin for adults is 30 micrograms.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, Dr. Francis says, and it can help offset the damage caused by the pollutants in the air. "I like to emphasize that the healthier environment for your hair, the healthier the hair you produce," she says.
Pop a Few Raspberries
The rich color of raspberries is a dead giveaway they're high in antioxidants, which can help boost your immune system and fight inflammation. Raspberries are also rich in biotin to help support healthy hair growth.
Biotin, Dr. Francis says, is often marketed as promoting hair thickness, or density, but that's not exactly true. "Biotin makes hair stronger so it grows longer and more quickly, but there's no improvement in density," she says. "The number of the trees in the forest doesn't change."
Opt for Leafy Greens
Load up on leafy greens, like kale and spinach, and you'll get fiber, potassium and fat-soluble vitamins K and E. But perhaps the best nutrient in leafy greens for hair health, Dr. Francis says, is iron.
"Iron really supports the machinery to build," she says. "The body uses iron to fortify the blood, to keep you from being anemic." Women dealing with hair loss are frequently found to be iron deficient, according to a March 2019 review published in Dermatology and Therapy.
That means eating an iron-rich diet can help ensure your body is getting the amount it needs for important bodily functions and hair growth. Dr. Francis also points out that pairing vitamin C and iron can increase absorption — a good reason to squeeze a bit of lemon juice on your next kale salad.
Try Kiwi for Vitamin C
Yes, citrus is known for its high levels of vitamin C, but the small kiwi fruit can be a nice change of pace to get your intake of the hair-healthy nutrient. A deficiency in vitamin C (a very rare occurrence in the U.S.) can lead to scurvy, which is marked, in part, by bleeding around hair follicles and corkscrew hair, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Slice Up Some Red Peppers
Bell peppers are another excellent source of vitamin C, which also helps produce collagen, according to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). Collagen is a protein that's also involved in making yet another protein, keratin, which supports strong, healthy hair. A half-cup of sliced raw red pepper supplies about 59 milligrams of C, according to the USDA. For adults, the recommended daily intake for the vitamin is 65 to 90 milligrams, according to the ODS.
- Ashira Dermatology: "Let's Talk Hair Nutrition"
- Biochimica et Biophysica Acta: "Endogenous Retinoids in the Hair Follicle and Sebaceous Gland"
- Medline Plus: "Scurvy, Corkscrew Hair"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin C"
- Dermatology Practical and Conceptual: "Diet and Hair Loss: Effects of Nutrient Deficiency and Supplement Use"
- Linus Pauling Institute: "Biotin"
- Dermatology and Therapy: "The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review"