This article has been updated since its initial publish date to include more expert insight.
While hair thinning is an inevitable part of aging and can be caused by a variety of factors, it’s no secret that your diet can either strengthen and promote healthy hair or exacerbate its loss or fallout. With that said, we reached out to dermatologists and hair experts to learn more about types of processed foods to avoid if your goal is to grow stronger, fuller locks.
Read on for tips and suggestions from Dr. Yoram Harth, MD, board-certified dermatologist and Medical Director of MDhair and Ghanima Abdullah, hair expert and cosmetologist at The Right Hairstyles.
1. Sugary Foods & Refined Carbs
While these kinds of sweets and processed treats don’t do much for your overall health as it is, the long-lasting effects of eating them consistently can especially be linked to hair loss and thinning, Harth explains.
“Eating excess amounts of sugar and refined carbs can hurt hair regrowth in multiple ways,” he says. Firstly, sugary food and refined carbs are shown to “increase inflammation, further increasing hair loss.”
The increase of insulin levels caused by eating an excess of sugary food, he continues, can “also damage the blood vessels on the scale, reducing the amounts of oxygen and micronutrients reaching the hair follicles.”
Additionally, Harth stresses to avoid foods with “preservatives, artificial flavors, and food colors,” as they increase free radicals in our scalp, causing “damage to hair follicles and reducing hair reduction.”
While you might already be aware of alcohol’s potential to dry out skin and contribute to premature wrinkling, drinking it in consistently heavy amounts can also contribute to hair thinning, Harth notes.
“Excessive alcohol consumption is harmful to our hair, skin, and nails,” he says. This is because alcohol “converts into sugar and causes scalp inflammation,” while also is “found to reduce your zinc levels,” which Harth dubs an essential mineral for hair regrowth.
3. Red Meat
Another food commonly linked to hair loss, thinning and weaker strands is red meat, Harth says, especially when processed and/or paired with fried food.
“Try to reduce the amount of meat and fried food in your diet,” he says, as “eating high amounts of red meat and fried food is shown to increase inflammation and promote the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT).” This male hormone, he adds, is related to androgenetic hair loss.
4. Large Sea Fish
Mercury, found in various types of fish and packaged/ processed ones, is often “associated with hair loss” when eaten in excess, Harth says. “The bigger the fish, the higher levels of mercury,” he points out.
Harth recommends trying to “avoid or reduce the amount of fish like mackerel, swordfish, and tuna” in your diet if you’re already struggling with hair loss or thinning. “Opt for fish low in mercury like cod and salmon,” he advises instead.
What To Eat For Optimal Hair Health
As you’ve now learned, some foods are much better than others when it comes to your hair health. Abdullah explains the importance of centering your diet around keratin synthesis if your goal is to grow stronger hair. “My three picks for boosting keratin synthesis are eggs, salmon and liver,” she says.
This, she explains, is because each of them falls into the biotin and protein-rich categories. “Separately, biotin and protein both increase keratin synthesis in the body, so together, they increase the chances of having stronger hair and nails,” she adds.
Something to remember if you have thinning hair, she notes, is that foods rich in biotin are always the way to go. “The main reason biotin works so well for hair and nail growth is because it aids keratin synthesis,” she points out.
“Basically any food that’s high in biotin is going to help strengthen your hair and nails,” she continues. “Think egg yolks, salmon, liver, legumes and mushrooms if you want to boost your daily intake of biotin.” Abdullah goes on, “Your body will also absorb it better from these food sources than it will from a daily vitamin that contains biotin.”
Two other kinds of foods that she recommends for anyone struggling with hair loss is anything that is protein-rich or a good source of cysteine.
“This seems like a no-brainer, but eating protein-rich foods really does help keratin synthesis,” she says. “Keratin is the protein that makes up most of your hair and nails, so getting more of it in your system will help keep them strong despite your age.” She suggests eating more “protein-rich foods such as yogurt, meats like chicken and beef, legumes and nuts.”
She cites cysteine as another “building block for keratin production.” Foods that contain cysteine, she concludes, are sunflower seeds, soy derivatives, onions and dates. The more you know!