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Vegans, Are You Getting Enough Vitamin B12?

Updated on September 28, 2014
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Why Are Animal Products Sources of B12?

Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria. When animals consume this bacteria, their meat and eggs become "contaminated" with B12, making those animal products a source of B12 for omnivores.

Because vegans do not consume animals or animal products, they need to make sure they have other, reliable sources of this critical vitamin.

Most nutrients are readily available in a vegan, plant-based diet. Vitamin B12, however, is only found naturally in meat, dairy, and egg products, making it an area of concern for vegans.

Vitamin B12 is important for the proper functioning of the nervous system and blood formation. It helps to build protein and provide the body with energy. Low levels of B12 can result in anemia and contribute to increased risk of dementia.

Insufficient amounts of vitamin B12 in the body causes elevated levels of homocysteine, a by-product of protein metabolism. A greater quantity of homocysteine, in turn, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Consuming an average of only 6 micrograms (mcg) of B12 per day allows vegans to maintain healthy levels of homocysteine in their bodies.

Studies have shown that vegans who do not supplement their diets with vitamin B12 have significantly lower levels of the vitamin in their bodies than their vegetarian and omnivorous counterparts and may be at risk for developing a B12 deficiency. Signs of B12 deficiency can include feeling lethargic or experiencing numbness or tingling in the arms or legs.

Our bodies are able to store B12 for an extended period of time, and we do not require a great quantity of the vitamin. However, small amounts of B12 are excreted from the body daily, so that over time a deficiency can slowly develop. Because a B12 deficiency can have serious health consequences, it is imperative to make sure that we, as vegans, are actively supplementing our daily diets with vitamin B12. The United States government recommends that adults have 6 micrograms per day of vitamin B12.

Are you concerned about getting enough vitamin B12?

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Foods Fortified with Vitamin B12

Most cereals and non-dairy milks are fortified with B12, though they most likely do not provide the body's entire daily requirement.
Most cereals and non-dairy milks are fortified with B12, though they most likely do not provide the body's entire daily requirement. | Source

Vegan Sources of B12

The good news is that it is not difficult to obtain sufficient amounts of B12. Most commercially available cereals, non-dairy milks, and energy or protein bars are fortified with B12, as are some other processed foods. Foods fortified with B12 do not necessarily provide the recommended daily intake of the vitamin in each serving. My soymilk, for example, provides 50% of the daily amount needed per serving, according to the nutritional label. My cereals tend to provide 25-35%.

Nutritional yeast is a great food source for vitamin B12 for vegans. It has a delicate cheesy flavor and can be used in a variety of dishes. Not all brands are fortified with adequate levels of B12 to meet the dietary guidelines, so it is important to check the label for nutrient information.

Vitamin Supplements

Taking a daily vitamin containing B12 will ensure that you have plenty of B12 in your body. This is a good idea if you are not certain whether or not you're consuming enough B12 in your diet. (Remember to check the label to make sure that the vitamin itself is vegan and does not contain gelatin or other animal products.)

Vegan Vitamin Supplement

Deva Vegan Vitamins Daily Multivitamin & Mineral Supplement  90 tablets (Pack of 2)
Deva Vegan Vitamins Daily Multivitamin & Mineral Supplement 90 tablets (Pack of 2)

Taking a daily vegan vitamin provides plenty of Vitamin B12, as well as other vitamins and minerals. This is the daily vitamin I use.

 

Basic Facts at a Glance

  • A daily intake of 6mcg of vitamin B12 is the recommendation of the U.S. government.
  • B12 does not occur naturally in vegan food sources.
  • Vegans must consume foods fortified with vitamin B12 or take a vitamin supplement containing B12 in order to maintain healthy levels of B12 in their bodies.
  • Many brands (but not all) of nutritional yeast are excellent sources of vegan vitamin B12.

Because vitamin B12 is not naturally present in plant-based foods, vegans need to take precautions against developing a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Getting a sufficient amount of B12 is not difficult, though it does require some awareness of which foods and supplements we are consuming.


© 2014 Valerie Bloom

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    • profile image

      mumsgather 3 years ago

      Interesting. We are not vegans but occasionally we like to have a week or two of vegetarian so this is good to know.

    • Valerie Bloom profile image
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      Valerie Bloom 3 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Thank you, sachin001! There are many nutrients that the body needs, some in large amounts and some small. A deficiency in any of them can cause serious health problems.

    • sachin001 profile image

      Sachin 3 years ago from India

      Vitamin B 12 is undoubtedly the most needed vitamins for body. Thanks for your useful hub Valerie, it will going to help many.