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Vegetarian Diet Linked to Strong Hair & Nails

author image Holly Alastra
Holly Alastra is a registered dietitian with a Master of Science in counseling. She has worked in the nutrition field since 1996, writing and editing nutrition newsletters for schools and health-care facilities. Alastra has expertise in the areas of general nutrition, weight management and eating disorders.
Vegetarian Diet Linked to Strong Hair & Nails
A close-up of a woman's fingers tossing arugula leaves in a bowl. Photo Credit: LucaLorenzelli/iStock/Getty Images

Eating a vegetarian diet can have many health advantages, but it won't necessarily improve your hair and nails. In fact, if the diet is lacking in protein, you may develop brittle hair and nails. Because protein is the building material for hair and nails, consuming an adequate amount is necessary to keep them strong.

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Protein Recommendations

The recommended dietary allowance developed by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends 0.36 g of protein per pound of body weight per day. This equates to 54 g if you weigh 150 lbs. Some experts say this level may be too low because it doesn't factor in the use of protein for energy metabolism, so you might want to consume a little more protein than currently recommended. But don't go overboard. Too much protein may lead to weakened bones.

Types of Vegetarian Diets

Of the three main types of vegetarian diets, the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is the least strict. It excludes meat, poultry and fish but includes eggs and dairy products like cheese and yogurt. The lacto-vegetarian diet excludes meat, poultry, fish and eggs but includes milk and other dairy sources. Finally, the vegan diet does not allow meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy products. You must take care to ensure your protein needs are met when following a strict vegan diet. Good sources of plant-based protein include dried beans, soy products, nuts and seeds.

Other Nutrients of Concern

Vegetarians may require more iron and zinc because these minerals are absorbed more easily from meat than from plant-based foods. Fingernails can reflect low iron in the blood, which causes the skin under the exposed nail to become depressed in the center like a spoon. A vegan diet increases your risk of deficiencies in vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Although these nutrients don't necessarily impact hair and nails, vegans should regularly consume foods fortified with them.

Benefits of Vegetarian Eating

When a vegetarian diet is well-balanced, it can promote health and lower the risk of major chronic diseases. Vegetarian diets may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and cancer. They can also help to reduce body mass and lower bad cholesterol.

How to Strengthen Hair and Nails

Hair and nail strength is likely more affected by environmental damage or certain prescription drugs than by diet, assuming you are not protein malnourished. Increased exposure to water from activities like dish washing or swimming can make nails dry and lead to breakage. Also, activities that hit the end of the nail or cause trauma can lead to splitting and breaking. Likewise, applying heat and color to hair can be damaging.

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