Nutritious vegan/vegetarian diets, containing all essential vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats can be healthy, energising and fulfilling. As with any diet, it is beneficial to optimise nutrient intake through the foods available to you in order to keep hair healthy and strong. Balanced and varied vegan and vegetarian meals will help sustain healthy hair growth and can help prevent hair shedding and hair loss.
A vegetarian and vegan diet should try to include a wide-range of high-protein foods in order to obtain adequate proteins for hair cell renewal and bodily nourishment. Hair is made of protein, and proteins provide energy needed to sustain tissue growth. Not just for your hair tissue, but for essential tissues such as your heart, liver and lungs, which your body will always prioritize. This means that if your diet lacks protein, your hair will be the first thing to suffer.
Proteins are the building blocks for your hair. They consist of amino acids – some of which are ‘essential’, while others are ‘non-essential’. By ‘essential’ we mean proteins that have to be ingested every day as the body cannot synthesise them alone. ‘Non-essential’ amino acids can eitheir be eaten or made by the body by utilising the ‘essential’ ones!
Essential amino acids are most plentiful in animal proteins and are also more easily absorbed by the body this way. They include Argimine, Histinide, Isoleucine, Leucine, L-lysine, Methionine, Phenylalamine, Threonine, Tyrptophen and Valine. While proteins are also found in many grains and vegetables, a larger qauntity and more varied range of them should try to be incorporated in order to obtain adequate amino acids for hair growth. This is particularly true with teenagers, as they are still growing and developing.
The following are some examples of the best plant-based sources of protein to include in a vegetarian/vegan diet.
Best plant-based sources of protein:
- Tofu and soy products, such as edamame and tofu burgers
- Tempeh Beans
- Peanut butter
- Chick peas
- White beans
If you are a vegetarian, and can tolerate lactose, we suggest you try to take advantage of cheese and milk products for extra protein. Fish and eggs are also excellent sources of protein if your vegetarian diet allows them. Eggs in fact contain all essential amino acids, as does Quinoa and Whey. We refer to these as ‘perfect proteins’.
Good iron and ferritin (stored iron) levels are essential to the growth and health of hair. Red meat contains the most iron, but they are not suitable for vegetarian or vegan diets. The following are examples of the best plant-based sources of iron. However, as iron from plants is not as easily absorbed by the body, approximately 10%, you may want to consider taking an iron supplement if your levels are low.
Best plant-based sources of Iron:
- Dark leafy greens such as spinach, okra, kale and broccoli
- Fruits such as dried apricots, prunes and figs
- Prune juice
- Dark treacle or molasses
- Soy beans
- Cereals fortified with iron
Vitamin B12 is also an essential nutritent for hair growth, and is not found in vegetable or plant sources. However, it is present in milk and eggs – so if your vegetarian diet allows, these are good options. If you are a vegan, there are many good soy milks and cereals that are fortified with B12. You may also wish to take a supplement.
It can be difficult for anyone to eat a balanced diet all the time. As with any diet, the vegan and vegetarian diet is often supported and aided by including vitamin and mineral supplements. The most common deficiencies we see in a vegan/vegetarian diet are calcium, iron, protein, zinc and vitamins D, B12 and B6. This is especially true if you have been unwell or have absorption problems or allergies. However, we suggest you take care in choosing the right combinations and also are careful not to take too much of any supplement. Too much vitamin A, for example, can cause hair loss. Blood tests will tell you how much iron, zinc or B12 to take so that you consume the correct amount.