Keep Hair Healthy by Avoiding These Vegetarian Diet Mistakes
A look at some common vegetarian diet mistakes that can be damaging to hair growth and health, along with how to avoid them.
Undertaking a vegetarian diet can have many health benefits, including potentially lowering one’s risk for some chronic and serious diseases — from heart disease to certain cancers. However, like anything else, vegetarianism has its pitfalls if it’s not approached in a deliberate and thoughtful manner. Below, we’ll look at some common mistakes vegetarians — especially those new to the diet — might make that can impact hair health and hair growth, and offer tips on how to best avoid them.
Eating lots of refined carbohydrates, fried foods, processed foods.
Just because you aren’t eating meat doesn’t mean you should give yourself free reign to eat a ton of foods that are otherwise considered less than healthy. Processed foods, especially those containing lots of refined carbohydrates (sugars and “white” flour), can contribute to inflammation. As can fried foods. That’s a problem, because studies have found that inflammation can harm hair growth.
In addition to being inflammatory, refined carbohydrates are also lighter on nutrition than their whole food counterparts, so you’re filling up on calories, but not packing the most into them. You may end up skimping on some of the vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and protein that help keep your scalp and hair follicles in good condition.
For best overall health and to support hair growth, choose mostly whole grains and products without a large amount of added sugar whenever possible. Limit sugary snacks and desserts, instead of treating them as daily staples. Opt for cooking methods such as baking, steaming, or roasting.
Not diversifying your diet
As an extension of the above, a vegetarian diet should not consist of only a handful of foods or ingredients. Some — especially newer — vegetarians may opt for non-meat based foods they already enjoyed when they were omnivores, and just fill the meat void with more of those same things instead of taking the opportunity to introduce new foods and ingredients into their diets. This is problematic because it could mean missing out on key nutrients for hair growth that are found in foods they’re not including in their vegetarian diets.
For instance, while cheese (in moderation) and low fat dairy products like yogurt contain vitamin B12 and protein, both of which are essential for hair growth, they contain far less biotin and vitamin A — both also crucial vitamins for hair health — than, say, sweet potatoes. For that and other reasons stated above, a diet of mostly cheese and other dairy products, “white” pasta, and potatoes wouldn’t be a great way for vegetarians to get the nutrients they need to keep their hair healthy.
It’s important to diversify the sources of the nutrients you do get, as well. If your main source of fat is a daily giant bowl of guacamole, then you’re not getting many Omega-3s, which support healthy hair growth and have been shown to reduce or reverse hair loss. Those hair-boosting fats are more abundant in nuts and seeds.
Instead, make your meals colorful and varied. Include leafy greens like spinach and kale for iron, vitamin C, and biotin; robust oranges like sweet potatoes and cantaloupe for vitamin A (beta-carotene); brown nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts and flax seeds for protein and good fats; plus beans and chickpeas for a host of nutrients from protein to zinc.
Low iron levels and iron deficiency (anemia) are linked to hair loss. Iron that can be easily absorbed by the human body is hard to get from non-meat sources, so one may need to be extra deliberate about getting this critical mineral. There are a number of good vegetable sources of iron — such as tofu, tempeh, lentils, and many nuts and seeds — but remember to also pair them with high-vitamin C foods for optimal absorption.
Looking only at short-term benefits and results
Keep in mind that a diet’s impacts on your hair growth and health may not be felt right away. While cutting out meat may make you feel different within a week or two, it can take many months to notice any significant difference when it comes to hair. So if you begin noticing hair loss, thinning, or changes in hair texture what seems like a long time after going vegetarian, take a look at what you’ve been eating and what you might be lacking.
Not considering a supplement
The reality of modern life is that sometimes we don’t have the time, or the inclination, to get all the right nutrients from our diet. We can do our best and should strive to get the majority of vitamins and minerals in the foods we eat, but there may be days and weeks when we’re too busy to cook or even grocery shop. A supplement, even something as simple as a basic multivitamin that offers 100% of all your daily recommended nutrients, can help ensure that you are consistently getting the nutrients your body need for hair growth and health, along with the functioning of other bodily systems.
A quick word of caution on supplements, though, as too much of an otherwise good thing can be a very bad thing. For instance, while an adequate intake of vitamin A is important for hair health, too much vitamin A from supplements can be toxic and actually lead to hair loss. It’s therefore necessary to be aware of the dosage of each of the nutrients in your supplements, and talk with your physician before adding anything new to your diet or health regimen. In the case of vitamin A specifically, it’s worth mentioning that when you get vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene from food, it’s not likely to lead to toxicity.