The types of food you eat (or don’t eat) can have a big impact on the health of your hair. Having dry, brittle, or damaged hair can really affect your confidence and overall self-esteem.

If you want to keep your hair looking and feeling smooth, and most importantly, prevent hair loss, a few simple dietary changes can make a huge difference.

While there are many foods and specific nutrients that help support the healthiest hair possible, there are also foods that are equally as damaging to your hair. Eating too many of these foods cause hair damage, making your hair look dry and dull.

If you’re not happy with the current state of your hair, improving your nutrition can be exactly what you need to provide a nourishing boost to your locks.

Here are 5 foods that could be damaging your hair…

1. High Mercury Fish

Even though fish is a nutrient-dense food with a wide array of health benefits, eating too much of those high in mercury can cause hair woes. While true mercury toxicity is rare, eating high mercury fish such as swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and mackerel more than 3-4 times a week can increase the amount of mercury in your body to above ideal levels. There has been some research that has shown those with higher mercury levels may be more likely to experience hair loss and damage (1). 

This is not to say you shouldn’t eat any fish at all for hair health. Many fish are high in omega-3’s, which are healthy unsaturated fats that support healthy shiny hair by reducing inflammation. Many types of fish, particularly shellfish, are also high in zinc which helps promote hair growth. To make the most of your fish intake and not overdo it on the mercury, choose lower mercury fish and shellfish more often such as canned light tuna, wild salmon, and shrimp.

2. Sugar

Just like how sugar can damage your skin, eating too many sugary foods is also bad for your hair. This is because eating sweets like cookies, cakes, and candy causes your blood sugar to spike. When your blood sugar spikes, your body makes more insulin in response to lower your sugar levels. When your insulin levels are high, your blood levels of hormones called androgens rise, which causes your hair follicles to shrink (23). This leads to reduced hair growth and eventually, hair that falls out if it is not properly repaired and treated.

Limiting sweets and added sugars in your diet can help keep your hair strong. Keeping your added sugar intake to less than 6 tablespoons a day for women and 9 tablespoons for men can help keep your insulin levels in check. Choose more natural sources of sugar and carbohydrates such as fruit, starchy vegetables like potatoes and squash, and whole grains like quinoa and bulgur.

3. High Glycemic Foods

In addition to added sugars and sweets in your diet, high glycemic foods that break down into sugar pose a similar risk to your hair. High glycemic foods are carbohydrate-containing foods that are processed more quickly into sugar in our bodies, and therefore raise our blood sugar similarly to how sweets do. This can also lead to increased androgen levels and hair follicle damage.

Examples of high glycemic foods include white bread, pasta, crackers, and instant oatmeal. Generally, these foods are high in carbohydrates, but low in fiber. Limiting these in your diet and instead choosing lower glycemic options such as whole wheat bread, steel cut oats, and brown rice will help to keep your blood sugars steady and reduce your risk of hair damage.

4. Alcohol

Excess alcohol intake can have a negative impact on your tresses. One big reason for this may be the fact that alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it dehydrates you. If you are dehydrated, chances are your hair is more likely to be dry as well. Dry hair over time leads to broken and damaged hair. Also, too much alcohol can affect absorption of crucial nutrients needed for proper hair growth, such as protein, zinc, and iron (4).

If you choose to have alcohol, do so in moderation. That means one drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. A standard drink portion is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. If you do have an alcoholic beverage, drink an additional glass of water to keep yourself well hydrated.

5. A Diet Low in Protein, Zinc and Iron

If you are not eating enough protein, zinc, or iron, you are at risk for hair damage. This is because these are some of the top nutrients needed for proper hair growth and development. Therefore, it is important to have a balanced diet high in these crucial nutrients and instead focus on getting more protein-filled, zinc, and iron-containing foods.  

Getting enough protein in your diet from either animal or plant-based sources such as red meat, pork, chicken, fish, beans, lentils, and nuts will help your body make more keratin.  Keratin is the main structural protein found in hair follicles and is responsible for hair growth. An amino acid called cysteine that is found in pork, broccoli, and red peppers also supports keratin production.  

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it can be more difficult to get enough zinc and iron in your diet, and therefore taking a supplement may be beneficial. The best food sources of zinc are oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, and whole grains. 

The best iron sources come from animal foods such as red meats, organ meat like liver, and oysters. You can also get your iron from plant sources like spinach and beans, but it is absorbed a lot less efficiently than the iron from animal foods. Because of this, it can be difficult to meet your iron needs through diet alone if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet (5).

A Balanced Diet For Amazing Hair

A diet that is well balanced in the right nutrients, but low in the hair-damaging foods above is the best way to support your body to grow the healthiest hair possible.

Getting enough variety of hair-promoting nutrients from your diet and supplements can help you maintain luscious locks. Other nutrients involved in hair growth include the B-vitamins biotin and niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin C just to name a few.

Beautiful hair is a combination of good nutrition and using the right products. If you’re stressing out about your dry, damaged, or brittle hair – there is hope. When you follow a healthy, balanced diet, and nourish your hair with quality shampoo, your locks will be looking their best for years to come.

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