Better-looking hair can start at your next meal.
"Just like every other part of your body, the cells and processes that support strong, vibrant hair depend on a balanced diet," says New York nutritionist Lisa Drayer, MA, RD, author of The Beauty Diet.
It can take longer to notice changes (both good or bad!) in your hair than in your skin. For example, "just one week with a poor diet can yield acne flare-ups or dry, sallow skin within days," says New York City dermatologist Cybele Fishman, MD, "but with hair, it can take a few months for a nutritional deficiency or the effects of a crash diet to show up."
The nutrients you eat today help fortify the hair follicle -- from which each strand is born -- and the scalp that surrounds it. "Healthier follicles? Healthier hair. Healthier scalp? Healthier hair!" Drayer says.
Of course, there's more to your hair than what you eat. Smoking, hormonal imbalances, and not enough sleep can also affect how your hair looks and feels. No magic nutrient can make up for those concerns.
Still, you have a lot more leverage than you might think. If you eat a balanced, varied, protein-rich diet that focuses on the following 10 foods, you'll be giving your hair the TLC it needs and deserves.
Besides being rich in protein and vitamin D (both are key to strong hair) the omega-3 fatty acids found in this tasty cold-water fish are the true superstar. Your body can't make those fatty acids, which your body needs to grow hair. About 3% of the hair shaft is make up of these fatty acids, Drayer says. Omega-3s are also found in cell membranes in the skin of your scalp, and in the natural oils that keep your scalp and hair hydrated.
Other options: If salmon doesn't thrill you, you can also get essential fatty acids from fish like herring, sardines, trout, and mackerel, as well as avocado, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts (see below for more wonderful things about walnuts.)
These are the only type of nut that have a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids. They're also rich in biotin and vitamin E, which helps protect your cells from DNA damage. Since your hair rarely gets much shielding from the sun, this is especially great, Drayer says. Too little biotin can lead to hair loss. Walnuts also have copper, a mineral that helps keep your natural hair color rich and lustrous, Fishman says.
Other options: Try using walnut oil in your salad dressing or stir-fry instead of canola or safflower, Fishman says.