The gorgeous-hair diet

Softer! Shinier! Fuller! Your hair can be all these things if you don't scrimp on a nutrient-rich diet. We've got the dish.
© Self // © Self

For strands like these, put down the blow-dryer and pick up a fork. "Healthy foods can feed hair the same way they nourish your body," says Elizabeth Cunnane Phillips, a trichologist at Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic in New York City. But there's a but: Organs like your heart and lungs get first dibs on the good stuff, so hair is left limping by on scraps if your diet is deficient in key nutrients.

Click through for our healthy hair diet—you could see results in about three months.

1 of 14 © Terry Doyle

Touchable softness

eat blackberries, blueberries, cherries, pomegranate

Free radicals from the sun, air pollution and even your blow-dryer attack hair, drying it out. Your best defense against the assault are antioxidants—particularly the potent type called polyphenols found in deeply colored fruit, says Whitney Bowe, M.D., a dermatologist in NYC. There's no set dietary mandate for maximum radical-fighting power, so mix our picks generously into your five daily servings of fruit and veggies to keep hair silky.

2 of 14 © Mike Lorrig

Touchable softness: Insta-fix

Bandage damage and give strands a satin finish by using a weekly treatment with natural oils, vitamin E or proteins such as hydrolyzed elastin and keratin. We like Organix Moroccan Argan Crème Sheer Opulence Masque, $8.

3 of 14 © Devon Jarvis

Bonus

The Viatmin A in sweet potatoes and carrots can help soften, too.

4 of 14 © Terry Doyle

Growth, please

eat red pepper, strawberries, oranges, grapefruit

Hair grows slooowly. We're talking about a centimeter per month. And if your vitamin C levels are below the RDA of 75 milligrams, it could take even more time. “The body uses vitamin C to build collagen, which is essential for producing new hair cells,” Dr. Bowe says. Hitting that 75 mark is simple with these: 1/2 cup red bell pepper (95 mg), 1 cup strawberries (89 mg), a medium orange (70 mg) or 1/2 grapefruit (39 mg).

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Growth, please: Insta-fix

Scalp buildup and poor circulation can also inhibit growth. Cedar extract in Carol's Daughter Fortifying Scalp Spray, $22,clarifies, while camphor stimulates blood flow.

6 of 14 © Devon Jarvis

Less breakage

eat eggs, avocado, salmon

Keeping your biotin (vitamin B7) intake up could toughen fragile hair, Dr. Bowe says. There's no definitive research, but clinicians have observed that the hair of biotin-lacking patients breaks more easily—reason to get the suggested 30 micrograms per day. Biotin-rich foods include an egg (13–25 mcg), an avocado (2–6 mcg), and 3 ounces salmon (4–5 mcg).

7 of 14 © Ethan Palmer

Less breakage: Insta-fix

Smooth a leave-in conditioner that contains proteins such as wheat or soy, like Pureology Essential Repair InstantRepair, $24, onto damp strands before styling to reinforce weakened hair shafts.

8 of 14 © Devon Jarvis

Thicker strands

eat lean red meat, dark-meat turkey, kidney beans, oysters

Hair growth happens in three phases—growth, transition and rest. The more strands you have in the growth phase, the fuller your head of hair looks, says Elise Olsen, M.D., director of the Duke University Hair Disorders Research and Treatment Center. Keeping hair “active” requires protein, which makes up 97 percent of hair; iron, to help blood ferry oxygen to follicles; and zinc, which helps enzymes build and repair hair. Aim for 46 grams protein, 18 mg iron and 8 mg zinc daily; the above contain all three, so grab at least two servings.

9 of 14 © Romulo A Yanes

Thicker strands: Insta-fix

Stylers that have vegetable protein or acacia gum temporarily increase strand width, says Ni'Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist in Woodland Park, New Jersey. Try Sally Hershberger Plump Up Collagen Boost, $13.

10 of 14 © Devon Jarvis