If you’re vegan, then you know that we have a lot to boast about like our beautifully high levels of fiber, folate, and nearly every vitamin. Even with a well balanced plant-based diet, vegans still struggle with getting a few key nutrients such as vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and Vitamin B12. Today we’re uncovering everything you need to know about vitamin B12.
It’s usually not a challenge to get your daily dose of vitamin B12 if you regularly eat animals products, but if what if you’re vegan? How can you get enough vitamin B12?
Fortunately, there are many vegan vitamin B12 foods and supplements available. Thankfully, none of them suggest digging up your garden and cooking with dirt.
Use this article to brush up on you B12 knowledge and get all your questions answered. We’ll get into everything you need to know about this essential vitamin such as what is it, why it’s necessary, and where you can get it. There’s no need to eat your animal friends.
We’ll even cover vitamin B12 vegan supplements in case you aren’t getting as much as you should--because the last thing your body needs is a B12 deficiency.
By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be a self-proclaimed B12 expert. Time to get educated.
Vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient to the human body. It’s used in everything from the development of cells to the neurological system.
Vitamin B12 is sourced from the naturally occurring bacteria cobalamin or cyanocobalamin. This bacteria is often found in the soil but is also produced in the digestive tracts of many grazing herbivores like cattle and sheep.
Where Is It Found?
We know that omnivores get it from animal products such as red meat, milk, and other dairy products, but where are the animals getting it?
When animals graze, they consume soil which contains the B12 bacteria. The bacteria stays in their bodies and continues to reproduce, so when humans consume them, they also consume the B12 vitamin.
Sure us vegans could go straight to the source, but who wants mud for breakfast? Fortunately, we have some better ideas that don’t contain soil or killing animals. Sounds like a win to us.
Why Is It Important?
Vitamin B12 is essential for several processes in the body such as the synthesis of fatty acids, DNA synthesis, blood functions, and neurological operations.
You’ll often hear that a B12 deficiency is linked with anemia. This is because B12 is crucial to the formation of red blood cells which carries oxygen around our body.
B12 is also vital in protein metabolism, how our body breaks down carbs for energy and the protection of the cells in our nervous system. This vitamin is certainly something we don’t want to be without.
Vegan Sources of Vitamin B12 Foods
If you’re avoiding animal products, there are ways to absorb vitamin B12 through plants that have been exposed to bacterial action or contaminated by soil or insects. However, often in today’s age, our over-washing of produce and use of pesticides removes any remnants of soil containing vitamin B12.
Small amounts of B12, though some are inactive and unable to be used by the body, are found in spirulina, tempeh, mushrooms, sea vegetables, and miso. To get a sufficient amount of B12 you’d have to eat massive amounts of these vitamin B12 foods.
The American Dietetic Association does not consider these vegan sources of vitamin B12 as an active and reliable source of the vitamin on their own. For this reason, experts suggest vegans incorporate a B12 supplement to a well-balanced diet to prevent developing a deficiency.
Many foods these days are fortified with B12 to avoid suboptimal levels in vegans and vegetarians. These B12 foods can include soy milk, nutritional yeast, cereals, and meat analogs. When shopping for these foods, be sure to check the label that it contains the active form of vitamin B12 called cobalamin or cyanocobalamin.
In the event you don’t want to consume several servings of cereal or heaping tablespoons of nutritional yeast at every meal, there are supplements. Let’s explore the B12 supplement option further.
Vitamin B12 Vegan Supplements
Vitamin B12 vegan supplements are made from live strains of bacteria: either methylcobalamin (naturally occurring form) or cyanocobalamin (synthetic form). We use the naturally occurring Methylcobalamin bacteria in our vegan supplement because it has a higher retention rate and may be better for your body to consume.
A recent study tested vegans that don’t supplement their diets---the results were scary.
As many as 92% were found to have suboptimal levels of Vitamin B12.
This is why the Medical Journal of Australia states that "Vegans require vitamin B12-fortified foods or supplements."
Experts from Examine.com recommend that people adhering to a vegan diet or people above 50 take 100 - 400 mcg of B12 per day. It’s important to know that your body will only consume what you need and larger doses aren’t known to be toxic. Consult your doctor for the recommended dosage if you are elderly, pregnant, or nursing.
Be sure that when you choose a nutritional supplement that it is from a quality source and that it’s, of course, vegan. Most are, but double check the capsule doesn’t include lactose or gelatine.
Are You at Risk for a B12 Deficiency?
If you’re a vegan who doesn’t supplement your diet with additional nutrients, then there’s a strong chance you could be suffering from low levels of a few things such as vitamin D, omega-3s, and most importantly, vitamin B12.
Suboptimal levels of B12 over time could lead to a deficiency, and that’s where things get dangerous. We’re talking permanent nerve damage and reduced cognitive function here.
Often, vegans who regularly eat fortified B12 foods avoid a clinical deficiency, but they may still suffer from suboptimal levels. Raw vegans (or macrobiotic vegans) and long-term vegans are especially at risk.
Unfortunately, you’re not off the hook quite yet (even if you do stick to fortified B12 diet). Most vegans in these studies showed reduced activity of B12 related enzymes, which leads to elevated homocysteine levels.
High homocysteine levels run the risk of heart disease, stroke, and pregnancy complications. Combat this by upping your folate levels with leafy greens as well as taking a B12 supplement.
Although B12 is stored in the liver for two to five years, if the supply is depleted even low levels of B12 can cause health issues. Here’s what to look out for...
Low Levels of B12 and Deficiency Symptoms
If you’re suffering from suboptimal levels of B12, you may experience symptoms such as extreme fatigue, confusion, muscle aches and weakness, poor memory, vision problems, mood disorders like anxiety and depression, tingling and numbness, cognitive impairment, and even blood disorders like anemia.
These symptoms will start gradually over months before they are often diagnosed as a B12 deficiency. If caught early enough, most of these symptoms can be treated and reversed.
B12 is essential to the function of your nervous system. Clinically low levels of B12 for several years often lead to irreversible nerve damage and other severe health issues.
How Are Your B12 Levels?
If you’re worried about your nutrition, the first step of getting in control of your health is to ask your doctor for a specific B12 status test, called methylmalonic acid (MMA) testing.
Standard blood tests prove to be very unreliable for vegans, especially if you are consuming or taking algae supplements. Algae and other plant foods contain B-12 analogs that can recreate false positive B12 levels in blood tests. Also, if your folate levels are high, as vegans generally are, it may suppress anemia symptoms such as abnormal blood counts.
Are You Getting Enough Nutrients in Your Diet?
Although the vegan diet has tons of health benefits, there are a few nutrients we could use a little help with. Thankfully, there are vegan supplements along with vegan vitamin B12 foods on the market designed just for us which avoids a B12 deficiency.
If you’re looking for a vegan B12 supplement, consider our Future Kind Multivitamin. It’s a perfect blend of vitamin B12, Vitamin D3, and Omega-3 fatty acids; all organically sourced, vegan, and designed just for you.
It’s everything your vegan body needs, and nothing it doesn’t. Check out our ingredients here; we’re pretty proud of them.
Interested in more vegan health information? Check out this incredible guide on the top three nutrients every vegan should be taking: 3 Supplements Vegans Need To Take To Ensure A Healthy Body.