Updated: Aug 9, 2020
One of the main concerns that people have about a vegan diet is that they're worried about how the change will affect their health. In fact, there is this long-standing myth that vegans do not get enough—or any at all—vitamin B12 in their diet. This is simply not true - it is a myth that needs to get debunked!
While it's true that this essential vitamin is more challenging to find in a vegan diet, it is not impossible to get what our body needs. There are several vegan B12 sources available, such as fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, and vegan milk. Some vegetables and fruits also contain vitamin B12, such as seaweed and shitake mushroom.
And this is where it gets interesting. Unlike animal-based B12, vegan-friendly vitamin B12 is not bound to protein, giving it better bioavailability. In other words, the absorption rate through the gut lining becomes easier, as it doesn't rely on the efficiency of the hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes in the stomach to break it down into smaller components. This makes it easier to pass through into the bloodstream.
What is Vitamin B12 and what does it do?
Vitamin B12, also referred to as cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin that contains the mineral cobalt. It plays an important role in cell metabolism, nerve function, and red cell blood formation, as well as the production of DNA.
Vitamin B12 is important for the support and maintenance of the essential processes that keep our body healthy. Getting a sufficient amount of this vitamin can help prevent you from developing pernicious anaemia, a condition that affects the quality of red blood cells produced.
However, unlike most other vitamins, vitamin B12 can only be formulated by bacterial symbiosis. This means only specific types of bacteria can produce the vitamin. It is naturally present in some foods or added to others. It is also available as a dietary supplement, especially for those on a vegan diet.
Don't worry. Taking a vegan B12 supplement doesn't mean that you have a poor diet. Anyone—whether you're on an animal-based or vegan diet—can take dietary supplements. It's completely safe and normal. Learn more about how to take vegan supplements and which ones you actually need to be healthy.
Vitamin B12 deficiency: Signs and symptoms
Being vegan is not an excuse not to get enough vitamin B12, as there are still plenty of options where you can get vegan B12 sources. Plus, a deficiency in this vital nutrient can lead to serious consequences to your health, such as anemia, reduced healing and growth, and certain neurological disorders.
Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of people with vitamin B12 deficiency:
Fatigue and weakness
Tingling in your feet and hands
Breathlessness and feeling dizzy or faint
Loss of appetite
Tinnitus (buzzing, hissing, or ringing sounds in the ear)
Mental problems, such as memory loss, depression, or behavioural changes
Constipation, diarrhea, or gas
Although there aren't that many vegan B12 sources, you can still get all that your body needs by consuming fortified vegan foods and dietary supplements.
Vegan sources of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal-based foods, such as eggs, meat, and dairy products. So you might be wondering how to get B12 as a vegan?
Some of the best B12 foods vegan sources include:
Nori. Nori, or purple laver, is a good source of vitamin B12. It is more common in Asian countries, but those living in the West can easily find some in most Asian stores. Experts recommend eating about 4 grams of dried nori to meet your required daily B12 intake.
Shitake mushroom. Shitake mushroom is another rare plant food that contains vitamin B12. However, these fungi may not be enough to supply all your B12 dietary needs - but it's still a good source. Take note that you will need to consume at least 50 grams of dried shitake mushroom to satisfy your daily B12 requirement.
Banana peel. Would you believe us if we tell you that banana peel is edible? Though it's not very common in the West, it is considered a delicacy in many other parts of the world. And the best part is, it is packed with vitamin B6 and B12, as well as potassium, magnesium, fiber, and protein.
Fortified plant milk or fruit juice. Today, most plant-based milk is fortified with vitamin B12, among other essential nutrients. If you make your milk at home, take note that it won’t inherently have vitamin B12.
Fortified cereal. Cereal is also usually fortified with vitamin B12 and other essential nutrients. Add your plant-based milk to your plant-based cereal, and you’ve met most of your B12 requirements in breakfast alone!
Nutritional yeast. This delicious topping with a cheesy taste is generally fortified with vitamin B12, but check the label to be sure before relying on it as a source.
These are just some of the foods high in b12 to add to your plant-based diet. Getting your required daily intake of B12 on a plant-based diet is not impossible, knowing that there are some vegetables and fruits that contain this essential vitamin. Of course, you can always supplement your diet with vitamin B12 fortified foods. There's also nothing wrong with taking B12 dietary supplements.
Talk to Nicole, your health and wellness coach, to get the full rundown on B12 and you!