Vitamin B12 Vegan Sources: Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in many body functions. Unfortunately, it is not found in plant foods, making it a nutrient of concern for vegans and vegetarians. This comprehensive guide will provide an overview of vitamin B12, explain why it is important, and offer solutions for the best vegan vitamin B12 sources.
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 goes by several different names including cobalamin, cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin. It is a water-soluble nutrient required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, DNA synthesis, and more.
Vitamin B12 is unique because it is only produced by certain bacteria and archaea. It is found naturally in animal products because the bacteria in animal guts produce B12 that is then stored in tissues. This makes it challenging for vegans to get enough active B12 through diet alone.
Why Do Vegans Need Vitamin B12?
Vegans and vegetarians are at a greater risk for B12 deficiency because plant-based diets do not provide a reliable source of this essential vitamin. Studies show that 92% of vegans and 47% of lacto-ovo vegetarians are deficient in B12.
Without adequate vitamin B12 intake, vegans can experience fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, neurological changes, and megaloblastic anemia. B12 deficiency is also linked to depression and dementia.
Getting 2-3 mcg per day of a supplement or fortified food will meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) and prevent deficiency in most people. The body stores B12 in the liver and it takes years to become deficient after stopping intake.
Vitamin B12 Vegan Sources
Since active B12 is not available from plants, vegans must rely on supplements, fortified foods, or saltwater seaweed to get enough. Here are the top vegan vitamin B12 sources to choose from:
1. B12 Supplements
- B12 supplements are the most reliable and convenient way to obtain enough of this nutrient. Tablets, sprays, lozenges, capsules, and liquid drops are all effective options.
- Look for a supplement providing at least 25-100 mcg per day. Sublingual tablets or liquid B12 tend to be better absorbed.
- Cyanocobalamin is the most stable supplemental form and efficiently converts to active methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin in the body.
2. Fortified Foods
- Many common foods are fortified with vitamin B12 including non-dairy milks, breakfast cereals, energy bars, and nutritional yeast.
- Read labels closely to determine if a product contains B12 and how much per serving. Shoot for at least 25% DV.
- Some examples of fortified vegan food sources include soy milk, oat milk, pea milk, orange juice, cereal, bread, and meat substitutes.
- Certain types of edible seaweed contain active vitamin B12 made by bacteria. However, the amounts can vary considerably.
- The seaweeds with the highest B12 levels include purple laver (nori), sea spaghetti, and agar. Kelp, spirulina, and chlorella contain analogs that are not bioavailable.
- To rely on seaweed for B12, the recommendation is to eat 4 servings providing at least 10 mcg per day.
4. Nutritional Yeast
- Nutritional yeast is a popular B12-fortified food. However, it’s not a reliable source unless verified by the manufacturer.
- Some brands are much higher in B12 than others. Check the label for cyanocobalamin in the ingredients list and aim for a minimum of 25% DV per serving.
- Use fortified nooch as a supplement by mixing 2-3 tablespoons into food or drinks rather than counting on smaller amounts that may not be enough.
How Much Vitamin B12 Do Vegans Need?
The RDA for vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg for adults, 2.6 mcg for pregnant women, and 2.8 mcg for women who are breastfeeding. However, vegans are recommended to supplement with higher doses.
- Taking 25-100 mcg daily or 2000 mcg weekly will provide adequate intake without the risk of toxicity. Higher doses are often divided for better absorption.
- Vitamin B12 from fortified foods or seaweed should provide a minimum of 5-10 mcg per serving. Consuming these sources 2-3 times per day will meet needs.
- Vegans getting less reliable B12 from fortified foods should aim for the full 100 mcg as supplementation.
- Infants should be supplemented with B12 starting at birth and pregnant/nursing mothers need sufficient intake to pass on stores.
Signs of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Since B12 reserves can take years to deplete, by the time deficiency symptoms show up, levels are already dangerously low. Here are some key signs to watch out for:
- Fatigue, weakness, lightheadedness
- Pale skin, mouth sores
- Poor memory, depression, neurological damage
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
- Disturbed vision, eye twitching, jaundice
- Shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat
- Menstrual disturbances
- Enlarged liver
Testing B12 levels and supplementing at the first signs of deficiency is important to avoid long-term complications.
Answers to Common B12 Questions for Vegans
Switching to a vegan diet often brings up many questions about how to meet vitamin B12 needs. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:
Is there B12 in vegetables or fruit?
No. There are no reliable plant-based food sources of active B12 except for fortified foods or certain types of seaweed.
Can the body make B12?
No. Only bacteria and archaea have the enzymes needed for B12 synthesis. Vegans must ingest it from an outside source.
Is nutritional yeast enough?
Nutritional yeast is only a sufficient source if it is fortified with B12. Relying on non-fortified yeast can put you at risk for deficiency.
How long until B12 deficiency develops?
It can take 3-5 years of zero B12 intake to become deficient because the body recycles and stores what it has. Don’t wait for symptoms before correcting intake.
Can probiotics provide B12?
Probiotic foods and supplements do not provide enough bioavailable B12 to meet needs on their own. Get B12 from fortified foods or a supplement.
Does cooking destroy vitamin B12?
No, B12 retains its potency after heating, freezing, drying, and even irradiation so cooked foods are still good sources.
Can vegans get B12 from eggs or dairy?
Lacto-ovo vegetarians can obtain B12 from eggs and dairy, but vegans must avoid all animal products and only consume vegetable sources.
Vitamin B12 is the only nutrient for vegans and vegetarians must be vigilant about supplementing because active forms are not found in plants. Luckily, there are many plant-based vitamin B12 sources available through fortification and supplementation. Getting 2-3 mcg daily from a variety of reliable vegan sources will ensure good health and prevent deficiency.
Switching to a plant-based diet provides many benefits, but vegans must take care to avoid vitamin B12 deficiency. By understanding why this nutrient is so important, how much is needed, and the best supplementation strategies, vegans can thrive on a diet free of animal products. Variety is key – mix fortified foods and seaweed with a daily supplement to cover all the bases.
With a little knowledge and planning, vegans can obtain sufficient and reliable vitamin B12 to support energy levels, blood health, neurological function, and overall well-being. The key is to not rely solely on one source but incorporate a variety of regular vitamin B12 sources into your weekly food routine. Read labels, verify fortification, and take a supplement to get the recommended daily intake.
Frequently Asked Questions About Vitamin B12 for Vegans
- Why do vegans need vitamin B12?
Vegans need vitamin B12 because it is not naturally found in plant foods. B12 is produced by bacteria, so it is present in animal products but not plants. Without supplements or fortified foods, vegans are at high risk of deficiency.
- What are the symptoms of B12 deficiency in vegans?
Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, neurological issues like numbness and tingling, impaired mental function, and megaloblastic anemia. Deficiency can also cause pregnancy complications, depression, and vision loss over time.
- How can vegans get enough vitamin B12?
Vegans can get B12 through supplements like pills, sublingual tablets, nasal gels, or fortified foods like non-dairy milk, nutritional yeast, cereals, meat substitutes, and seaweed. Eating these 2-3 times per day provides adequate intake.
- Is vitamin B12 vegan?
Yes, vitamin B12 supplements are vegan because they are synthetically created in a lab without animal products. Popular forms like cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin are made this way so are safe for vegans.
- Can vegans get B12 from nutritional yeast?
Only if the yeast is fortified with lab-created B12. Check the label to confirm. Other yeasts do not provide enough or bioavailable B12 so should not be relied on. Consume fortified nooch in larger doses.
- Is B12 in seaweed vegan?
Yes, certain seaweeds contain active B12 made by the bacteria growing on them. Nori, purple laver, and agar have some of the highest amounts. Eat 4+ servings daily to meet needs.
- Do vegans need a vitamin B12 supplement?
Most vegans require a dedicated B12 supplement to prevent deficiency, even if consuming fortified foods. A daily dose of 25-100 mcg ensures you get enough and covers potential absorption issues.
- Can I get B12 as a vegan from probiotics?
Probiotics do not provide enough absorbable B12 to meet the 2-3 mcg per day requirement. Get B12 from fortified foods or take a supplement to prevent deficiency.
- Is vitamin B12 water vegan?
Yes, many makers of liquid B12 drops use vegan D3 and vegan vitamin B12. Check that the ingredient cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin is listed rather than gelatin capsules.
- How much vitamin B12 should vegans take?
The recommendation is 100 mcg per day or 2000 mcg per week. Smaller doses of 10-25 mcg are also effective when consumed daily. Pregnant and nursing vegans may need slightly higher amounts.
Ensuring adequate vitamin B12 intake is an important consideration for vegans. With some knowledge of the best plant-based sources and proper supplementation, vegans can avoid the detrimental effects of B12 deficiency. Variety and consistency are key – include fortified foods like plant milk and cereals, seaweed, and take a daily B12 supplement. This three-pronged approach provides a sufficient safety net to maintain optimal vitamin B12 levels.