Eating enough dietary protein in the day to meet one’s unique protein requirements, is an easy and natural way to support hair, nail and skin health. Plant-based proteins in particular are especially beneficial as they offer nutrient-rich, heart-healthy options for vegans and vegetarians alike. Here’s four ways protein provides beauty benefits:
1. Structural Support
Hair is primarily made up of keratin, which helps to regulate its strength, volume, moisture and prevent graying along with collagen.
Nails are made mostly from keratin, which regulates their strength and helps prevent brittleness.
Collagen and elastin provide skin’s smoothness and elasticity while keratin keeps skin firm. Collagen specifically requires the amino acids lysine, proline and glycine of which lysine is the only essential amino acid. This means that is has to be obtained from the diet–the body cannot produce it. Additionally, vitamin C and copper are needed for collagen production.
Collagen production declines with age affecting the integrity of hair, skin and nails. Skin becomes increasingly thin, dry and wrinkly; hair starts to thin and gray and nails get weak and brittle.
What plant protein foods are rich sources of lysine?
Legumes, like peas and beans or legume-based protein powders are a rich source of lysine, an essential amino acid which cannot be made by the body.
What about collagen supplements?
Collagen supplements are powders made exclusively from animal sources, which some preliminary studies suggest may help reduce wrinkles. However to date, there are no plant-based or vegan collagen supplements.
2. Protection from Harmful Free Radicals
The amino acids cystine and methionine (the latter of which is an essential amino acid) are associated with antioxidant properties. They are known so because without those AAs, the body cannot make glutathione, a potent antioxidant which helps to protect cells from free radical damage which can be caused by a myriad of things including sun or UV exposure.
What plant foods are a rich source of methionine?
The protein found in whole grains such as brown rice, oats, wheat contains rich amounts of the amino acid methionine. From methionine the body can make cystine and with both the protective glutathione.
3. Moisture and Smoothness
Hair, skin and nails may become dry and skin may develop more wrinkles due to lowered production of collagen as well as changing hormones especially in women. While collagen keeps hair and skin smooth and firm, essential fatty acids like Omega 3s play a key role in their health by providing much needed hydration and protection from dryness.
It is a lesser known benefit of omega 3s, but a few studies to date have shown protection from sun, dryness and reduction of hair loss.
What plant foods are rich sources of omega 3s?
Seed-based foods or protein powders such as hemp, sacha inchi and walnuts are rich sources of plant-based omega 3 fatty acids.
4. Healing and Recovery
Protein and amino acids are essential for healing and repairing damaged tissue, including that of hair, skin and nails. They also increase cell turnover (the sloughing off of old skin/hair/nail cells to make room for new cells). Supplementation of the amino acids glutamine and arginine along with other nutrients has shown to improve wound healing in some studies.
Minerals like copper, zinc and iron also play a key role in wound healing.
Plant-based proteins are typically rich in iron while specific foods like sesame and pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc.