Vegan Nutrition with Dina Aronson, M.S. R.D.
Dina Aronson, MS, RD is a vegan dietitian whose specialties include chronic disease prevention, vegetarian/vegan nutrition, and lifestyle management. She is the founder and director of VeganRD.com, a nutrition consulting company. Active in many vegetarian nutrition organizations, Dina was the recipient of the American Dietetic Association's Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year Award in 2002.
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Since becoming vegan my hair has become dry and straw-like. What am I lacking in my diet?
Without a complete medical examination and diet history, there is no way to know for sure what is causing the change you're seeing in your hair. However, I can make a few suggestions.
The first possibility that comes to mind is that since becoming vegan you've dropped your calorie intake, and may not be getting enough food. Many new vegans find the fiber in the diet is so filling that they don't eat enough calories. Indeed, vegans can meet their calorie needs on huge volumes of food, especially when the diet is based primarily on vegetables. If you've noticed weight loss, then this may be your problem. Be sure to get plenty of all four food groups: whole grains, legumes (beans, nuts, seeds), fruits, and vegetables.
Your hair's dryness may indicate that you're not getting enough essential fatty acids. The best whole food sources of fats in the vegan diet are nuts, seeds, avocadoes, olives, and coconut. Whole soybeans and full-fat soy products are also a good source. The best refined food sources are cold-pressed vegetable oils and non-hydrogenated margarines. Be sure to get 2-4 servings of fat a day, and aim for a healthy balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fats (this issue is addressed specifically elsewhere on this site).
Are you getting enough protein? If you are eating enough calories from a wide variety of foods from all 4 groups, then you're likely meeting your protein needs. However, if your diet is based on refined foods like bread, sweets, and juice, or if you're not eating enough food, you might not be getting enough protein. The best protein sources are beans, nuts, seeds, faux meats, whole grains, and vegetables.
Healthy hair (and nails and skin) need optimal amounts of all nutrients. Be sure you're getting plenty of whole foods; they're the best source of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. If you're having trouble eating enough food, take a multi vitamin-mineral supplement.
Finally, I recommend a vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplements for ALL vegans, and unless you're getting plenty of dietary omega-3 fats (addressed here www.vegfamily.com/dietician/0804b.htm), I recommend a DHA (omega-3) supplement as well.