There are few sounds that cause me more heartache than hearing my hair snap. It’s like hearing a puppy whimper. Or listening to Adele sing an acoustic version of “Someone Like You.” (Still gets me. Just me?) Anyways, you get the picture.
So when I stumbled upon a small trial in the International Journal of Trichology that found that non-meat eaters (like vocal vegan Jenna Dewan-Tatum and the greater part of the Allure digital staff) have slightly weaker hair than those who eat meat, I launched into full investigation mode.
First, I dialed New York City dermatologist Joshua Zeichner. He explained that there’s no reason to run to my local butcher. The trial was small (just 120 volunteers), and the finding wasn’t statistically significant, which means that even though researchers noticed a difference in vegetarians’ hair, the dietary restriction doesn’t pass the test for being the root of all hair breakage, especially when you take other factors into account.
There was also a bright spot: Even though the tensile strength of vegetarian’s hair was lower than that of meat-eaters (meaning it takes less force to break a strand of a vegetarian’s hair than a meat-eater’s), researchers didn’t notice a difference in elasticity (hair’s ability to bounce back). Zeichner also pointed out that diets are often the very least of his patients worries, as long as they’re reasonably well-balanced. What really kills the hair’s cuticle and leaves it vulnerable to breakage is coloring, curling, relaxing, or perming your hair.
Still, since hair is primarily made up of protein, and iron plays a role in its growth cycles, it made sense to me that skipping meat (a mega source of both nutrients) would have some negative effect. But, much to my relief, Wendy Bazilian, a registered dietitian in Escondido, California, says it’s entirely avoidable. “A well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet can be completely nutritionally adequate,” Bazilian says.
“However, nutrients that we need to pay particular attention to with a vegetarian or vegan diet include protein, vitamin B12, omega-3 fats, calcium, vitamin D, iron, and zinc, and sometimes iodine.” She specifically recommends including protein-rich foods like beans, edamame, nuts, or NOW brand whey or sprouted brown rice or pea protein powders from a health-food store, as well as dark leafy greens like kale, mustard greens, and spinach for added iron. I’ll definitely be stocking up on all of them — and laying off the curling iron.