Eating for beauty health
The vegan food hacks to unlocking healthy hair, skin and nails By Yvonne O'Halloran, plant-based dietitian
Are you seeking ways to improve the health and strength of your hair and nails? Do you want to
know how you can improve the health and appearance of your skin? Good nutrition may help you!
New vegans can experience an unusual and sometimes worrying transitional period where their hair seems to thin out. Many attribute this to their new lifestyle.
This is, in part true, because when someone suddenly cuts out animal products, they may experience hair shedding more than usual particularly if they were big consumers of dairy.
This is because the body experiences a reduction in estrogen, a hormone that has a positive effect on scalp hair growth. The traditional western diet causes unnaturally high levels of estrogen which could potentially be a factor in many women's health problems.
When you transition to eating only plants, it brings estrogen (and other growth hormones like IGF-1 and insulin) back down to normal levels.
The hair follicles may initially go into a withdrawal state, resulting in increased hair shedding, but gradually adapt to the reduced (normal) hormone levels and hair growth returns to normal.
This issue usually resolves itself withing a few months of the dietary change. If you lose weight rapidly or you are not consuming a healthy and well-balanced diet, this can trigger hair loss.
Telogen Effluvium is a temporary scalp disorder that can be triggered by rapid weight loss, hormonal changes and nutrient deficiencies.
Aim to lose no more than two pounds per week for a nice steady and sustainable weight loss. So, let's take a look at the nutrients that are touted to promote healthy hair, skin and nails and discover if they are necessary.
Protein is important for growth and repairand so, plays a big part in the health of your hair, skin and nails. However, insufficient protein is extremely unlikely if you are consuming adequate calories and a varied diet.
Protein deficiency is usually seen in less economically developed countries or in those who suffer with anorexia nervosa. Furthermore, the theory of protein combining has now been debunked and there is no need to worry about doing this once you eat a variety of plants every day.
Most adults require about 0.8g/kg per day (or 0.36g per pound per day). Ensure you are including foods such as nuts, nut butters, lentils, beans, tofu and soya products, green vegetables, quinoa and hemp seeds.
Omega-3 fatty acids may protect your skin. Pollution, stress and a poor diet can lead to inflammation, and when this happens the collagen in your skin may suffer, too, making it harder for your skin to bounce back like it usually would.
Including ALA rich foods such as chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxmeal, spinach and kidney beans will help with your skin's elasticity along with a marine algae supplement containing DHA and EPA.
There is a phenomenon known as the gut-skin axis. Basically, a poor diet can lead to unhealthy changes in our gut bacteria which may disrupt the quality of our skin.
Highsugar, high-fat diets that are traditionally low in fibre have been shown to alter the gut microbiota leading to higher insulin levels which has been linked to acne (Bowe et al, 2014 & Kim et al, 2017).
Omega-3 fats have been linked to an improved gut microbiome so taking a marine algae supplement may be a good idea along with daily intakes of ALA rich foods listed above.
Biotin is a type of B vitamin that is important for the metabolism of fats in your body. Biotin essentially, helps turn the carbohydrates, fats and proteins you eat into the energy you need. Though biotin is constantly pushed as a magic fix for brittle hair and nails, the research is very limited.
So, instead of rushing out to buy supplements, ensure that you consume adequate biotin through your diet. Plantbased sources include seeds, nuts, sweet potatoes, oatmeal and bananas. However, if biotin intake is poor, supplementation may assist with brittle nails, scaly skin or thinning hair.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin meaning our body does not store it. Therefore, we must eat vitamin C rich foods daily such as different citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, papaya, guava and kiwis.
Vitamin C is an important aspect of your diet, particularly because vitamin C is involved in collagen production. Collagen is a vital component of our skin, tendons, ligaments, bones, blood vessels and our gut.
Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant which neutralises free radicals and therefore can slow the aging process by keeping wrinkles, fine lines and dryness at bay.
Studies have found that collagen promotes gene expression and decreases the appearance of wrinkles (Pullar, Carr and Vissers, 2017). Vitamin C also aids the absorption of non-haem iron which ensures we have healthy and strong hair.
Zinc may help prevent acne flare ups. Pimples develop when a build-up of oil, bacteria and skin cells block pores, causing the skin around the pore to turn red, swollen and tender.
Zinc can help boost immune function, and therefore may help control that inflammatory response. As zinc's job is to regulate cell production and cell turnover it can help reduce the amount of natural oil your skin produces potentially preventing pores from clogging in the first place.
We don't need much zinc, men require about 11mg and women need about 8mg. However, zinc can be a little harder to absorb for vegans due to the phytic acid zinc-rich plant-based food contains.
Aim to include foods like chickpeas, nuts, seeds, oats and tofu daily. Fermenting, soaking, sprouting and heating will help with increasing zinc absorption from vegan food sources.
In summary, a healthy, well rounded plantbased diet will ensure strong and healthy hair skin and nails. Supplement with B12, Marine algae and vitamin D (if necessary) and care for your mental health as much as your physical health to minimise stress which can hinder the health of your skin hair and nails.
Find Yvonne on Facebook @livingvegandietitian and visit her website yvonneohalloran.com