There’s that woman in the shampoo commercial—all thick, glossy locks tumbling effortlessly down her shoulders—and then there’s the rest of us. There is obviously a lot of work that goes into achieving the perfect model mane in the TV world, but without a glam squad, how can you give your hair a boost?
There are plenty of products on the market that offer hair benefits (find our guide to vegan and cruelty-free shampoos and conditioners for every hair type here), but diet also plays a big role in hair health. Eating nutritious plant-based whole foods could help you prevent hair loss, and grow a healthier, stronger mane.
Can Going Vegan Prevent Hair Loss?
In the past, reports have linked a vegan diet to an increased risk of hair loss. But actually, the link is really with poor nutrition.
Telogen effluvium, characterized by excessive shedding, is the second most common form of hair loss. A number of factors can lead to the temporary condition. These include hormones, physical trauma, some forms of medicine, and nutritional deficiencies. This is why some vegans with poor nutrition may be more vulnerable to developing telogen effluvium.
“If you’re not eating enough of the correct foods, or your body is not absorbing enough of the nutrients, this can result in excessive shedding,” trichologist Anabel Kingsley told Business Insider. “Even if you’re only slightly deficient in a nutrient, the body withholds this from the hair first.”
But it’s not just vegans that suffer from nutritional deficiencies. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that almost 10 percent of Americans have at least one.
Eating a healthy, balanced plant-based diet, rich in whole foods, is beneficial for your hair because it’s high in essential vitamins and minerals, says physician Dr. Angela Eakin. It may reduce the risk of hair loss and help you grow stronger, healthier hair.
“You can be vegan and eat Oreos, Twizzlers, and vegan Ben & Jerry’s ice cream all day long, and you can be very unhealthy and be deficient in multiple vitamins and minerals,” Eakin told Vice. “But eating a whole-food, plant-based vegan diet is not associated with hair loss whatsoever.”
She added: “You’re going to be getting all of the vitamins and minerals, specifically the ones that people are concerned about for hair growth, like iron, zinc, and biotin.”
What Vegan Foods Help Hair Growth?
Are you feeling inspired to add more plant-based foods to your diet? Here are five examples of plant-based whole foods with hair-boosting vitamins to help get you started.
Sprinkle them on your oatmeal, add them to smoothies, or simply snack on them straight out the pack: seeds are a great addition to a healthy plant-based diet. They’re rich in vitamin E, zinc, and selenium: three nutrients that your hair loves. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to promoting hair growth.
Seeds are also a good source of protein—100 grams of chia seeds, for example, contains around 17 grams of the nutrient. Protein is crucial for healthy hair; this is because hair is made up of a protein called keratin.
“As hair is made of protein, ensuring you have enough in your diet is crucial for making hair strong and healthy,” Nutritionist Jo Lewin writes for BBC Good Food. “If you are not consuming enough protein in your diet, your hair is likely to become dry, brittle, and weak. Extremely low protein diets may result in restricted hair growth and even hair loss.”
Another good source of protein, nuts are an easy snack to add in to your daily routine. If you don’t like them as they are, you could try spreading them on your toast in butter form, or blending them up with some banana and dairy-free milk in a shake.
Nuts are also a source of vitamin E, which is linked with healthier, stronger hair. According to skin specialist Dr. Kiran Sethi, this may be because the vitamin helps to increase circulation in the scalp.
“With pollution, environment, and sun exposure, our hair strands cumulatively get damaged, causing more breakage, discoloration (greying), roughness, and even hair fall,” Sethi told Vogue India. “Vitamin E has been shown to increase capillary circulation in the scalp, thereby helping to increase hair growth.”
Lentils are very high in protein. They also contain zinc and biotin; the former helps hair tissue growth and repair, reducing the chance of hair loss. The latter is linked with improving the infrastructure of keratin.
It’s important to note that while biotin has often been pedalled as a magic fix for growing super long luscious locks in the supplement world, it’s thought that taking extra won’t really help, unless you are deficient.
Trichologist Bridgette Hill told Cosmopolitan: “Biotin can only impact hair growth if there is an existing biotin deficiency. Taking extra biotin supplements does not lead to extra nutrient-based hair growth.”
Plenty of nutritious foods contain biotin, including lentils. Not sure what recipes to make? You could try this vegan lentil shepherd’s pie or this red lentil dhal. It’s important to note that on a healthy, well-balanced diet, biotin deficiencies are rare.
Spinach is loaded with hair-healthy vitamins and minerals, like vitamin A, C, folate, and iron. The latter is particularly important for stimulating hair growth.
Medical writer and nurse Rachell Nall explains: “doctors are not sure why some people who experience hair loss have low iron stores. They do know, however, that iron is an essential component in an enzyme called ribonucleotide reductase that helps cell growth.”
She adds: “According to some research, hair follicle cells can be particularly sensitive to decreasing levels of iron and may not be able to grow new cells as effectively when iron stores are low.”
Loaded with antioxidants, berries are a super healthy addition to your diet. Antioxidants are important because they help to neutralize free radicals. Unchecked, free radicals can cause serious damage to cells, which can lead to premature aging and disease.
Berries are particularly high in antioxidant vitamin C, which is linked with improving hair growth. Registered dietician Kayla McDonell notes: “Free radical damage can block the growth and cause your hair to age. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect against the oxidative stress caused by free radicals.”
Add berries to smoothies, desserts, oatmeal, or simply snack on them straight out of the packet.
They’re not just good for your hair, they’re good for your skin too. For more information on the skin benefits of berries, see here.
So, when it comes to healthy, strong hair, the right products are helpful. But it’s important not to overlook what you’re putting into your body too. Eating a wide variety of healthy plant-based whole foods might just help you put that extra bounce in your hair flip.