Vegan Deli

Vegan Deli  by Jo Stepaniak

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Raising Vegetarian Children
by Jo Stepaniak, M.S.Ed., & Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D.

Raising Vegetarian Children

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Do you have questions about being vegan? Send them to Jo using this easy form. She would be happy to address your individual concerns as well as general inquiries about vegan ethics, philosophy, practical applications, and living compassionately. Jo cannot respond to questions about nutrition or answer questions that have already been addressed in the Archives

Jo will make every attempt to answer each question personally, however, due to her schedule, this may not be possible. If a reply is forthcoming, it could take up to a few weeks, so please be patient. It is also possible that your question will be answered directly in the "Ask Jo!" column rather than an individual response.

If you'd like to view previous questions Jo has answered, visit the Ask Jo! Archives.

Can a Vegan Diet Damage Your Hair?

question.gif - 1.4 K I have been a vegan for about six months and haven't looked back since the scales fell from my eyes. I just do NOT eat animals nor do I consume eggs, milk etc. -- there's no temptation. I enjoy selecting the foods I purchase, preparing the meals, eating my meals, and I believe I am choosing foods that include all the vitamins and minerals that I must have to remain healthy.

Effortlessly, I went from 137 pounds and have normalized at 123 pounds, which is "just right" for my 5"3" frame and 58 years of age. Friends do a double take when they see me, and I have to agree, I look darn good!

My only concern, so far, is my crowning glory -- my head of hair. I have noticed the beginnings of "strange hair" -- a shiny, synthetic look. It's not falling out, but it's as if each hair is getting thinner and, therefore, brittle. And, it isn't growing as fast as it used to. I've always had a head of healthy hair; I believe there's a problem here. You know my question: What must I include in my diet to ensure that my hair stays healthy?

answer.gif - 1.3 K Congratulations on your successful transition to a totally plant-based diet! You're right -- a well planned vegan diet should provide us with all the nourishment our bodies need. However, sometimes our diets are not as varied or nutrient-rich as we might like to think they are. And, regardless of how good a diet is, there are times when our bodies simply do not absorb the nutrients from our food adequately due to lifestyle changes, age, illness, metabolic disorders, or general health problems.

Protein is important for the growth of strong hair and nails, among many other things. When people consume enough calories in their diet, protein deficiency is essentially nonexistent. Nearly all foods contain protein (except fats and alcohol) including grains, legumes (peas, beans and lentils), nuts, seeds, and vegetables. These are the staples of a vegan diet; hence, if you are eating sufficient quantities of these foods, protein should not be a concern. In cultures where protein deficiency exists, it is nearly always due to inadequate amounts of food (i.e. starvation) rather than inadequate protein intake.

As we age, protein may be used less efficiently. As a result, older vegans may need even more protein than when they were younger. It becomes even more important, therefore, to regularly consume high-quality, protein-dense foods (such as soy products and other legumes). Low calorie intake can minimize the amount of protein in the diet as well. So if you are not getting enough calories, your protein needs may be even higher.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been attributed with many amazing properties including improving the texture of hair. These essential fatty acids are lacking in most people's diets (omnivores as well as vegans and vegetarians). Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include tofu, canola oil, and walnuts, among others. The richest vegan source of omega-3 fatty acids can be found in flaxseed oil which is available in the refrigerated section of natural food stores. Flax oil is a pure vegetable fat and, like all fats, should be used in moderation (about 1 tablespoon per day). Flax oil should never be heated or used to cook with. It is best drizzled over foods (such as salads, vegetables, or baked potatoes) or used in salad dressing. Flax oil must be stored in the refrigerator (or freezer, to extend its life) and should be used up by the expiration date on the bottle.

Many factors can contribute to hair problems, and diet may not necessarily be the issue. Most people's hair changes as they age. Gray hair tends to be thinner and more brittle (even if it's gray hair that has been colored). Inadequate sleep, fresh air or exercise can also affect the vitality of hair. Stress takes a major toll on our bodies, most notably affecting our gastrointestinal system, skin, and hair. The consequences of intensive stress may not even be apparent for a year or more after a crisis has passed. So, even though things may seem calm at the time hair problems occur, it's valuable to take into consideration past events.

Hormonal imbalances and natural life cycles (such as menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause) can affect the quality of hair. Even shampoos, conditioners, and colorants can change our hair's characteristics. Certain detergents used in commercial hair care products (yes, even those labeled as "natural") can damage the follicle of hair and cause it to fall out.

Hair loss can be a complicated matter to sort out. Before tackling the problem on your own, get a complete physical examination to rule out any specific organic causes for the change. Then, if all is well, you may want to consult a registered dietician familiar with vegan diets to evaluate your current eating plan. Supplements may be advised in certain circumstances. This doesn't mean that a vegan diet is inadequate. However, your age, lifestyle, health, or a combination of factors may necessitate special attention to particular nutrients.

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