Vitamin B12 is one of the most talked about nutrients for those on a vegan diet. The importance of vitamin B12 comes from the fact that the human body is incapable of synthesizing this vitamin, and it must be consumed as part of our diet.
Related: 11 Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
So, does a 100% vegan diet provide vitamin B12?
Even if it is not entirely true, you will read in many places that vitamin B12 is “naturally” found in animal-based foods. This claim favors the dairy and meat industries, but overlooks the simple fact that it is merely the bacteria present in the natural diet of animals that produces vitamin B12 (source).
Now imagine a dairy or meat farm where the animals are fed a manufactured diet and treated water. Will those animals get any natural supply of bacteria, which is essential to form vitamin B12 in their bodies?
It is also a fact that the dairy and meat farms feed B12 supplements to the animals so that their milk or meat will contain vitamin B12. I have read somewhere that “90% of all B12 supplements produced worldwide are fed to farm animals.” If that is correct, then should anyone claim that vitamin B12 is “naturally” found in animal-based foods? It would seem that people just find it more convenient to make that claim.
Anyway, and fortunately for those on a 100% vegan diet, there are quite a few easily available plant-based sources of vitamin B12.
Before I list the vegan sources of vitamin B12, let us see some quick facts about this vital nutrient:
Vitamin B12 Facts
- It is a water-soluble vitamin, also known as Cobalamin.
- It is an essential micronutrient for the healthy functioning of the brain, the nervous system and the formation of red blood cells.
- The daily requirement of this vitamin is small and varies according to the life stage of the individual (You will read the specifics later in the article.)
- Prolonged deficiency of this vitamin can lead to weakness, fatigue, anemia, depression, nerve problems, and even memory loss (Source.)
Sources of Vitamin B12
As said earlier in the article, animals get their supply of bacteria from their natural diet and untreated water. These bacteria then produce vitamin B12 in their bodies.
On the other hand, human food is highly sanitized and devoid of any good bacteria, making it difficult for this vitamin to form in the body. Moreover, as you will read in the source article linked above, even if human foods were to include the necessary bacteria that can form vitamin B12, it would live in the large intestine where the vitamin can’t be absorbed.
As a result, humans have to depend on external sources of vitamin B12. And since the most common external sources of this vitamin are fish meat, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy products, it is generally believed that individuals who eat only plant-based foods are likely to have a deficiency of vitamin B12. But that is not necessarily true.
Vegan Sources of Vitamin B12
A 2014 study published by the National Library of Medicine showed that fermented grains, germinated foods such as sprouts and certain types of mushrooms such as dried shiitake mushrooms can be good vegan sources of vitamin B12 (Source.)
Another related source link.
Vegan Supplements for Vitamin B12
The best vegan and natural supplement for vitamin B12 is fortified nutritional yeast. This is a good overall supplement for those on a 100% vegan diet. One particular brand of nutritional yeast (Bragg) is fortified not only with vitamin B12, but also B6, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and provides five grams of protein per serving. Vitamin B12 found in fortified nutritional yeast is industrially produced from bacteria cultures and is 100% vegan.
The pharmaceutical variant of vitamin B12 supplement is called Cyanocobalamin and is usually a part of any “B-Complex” formulation. Those, however, may or may not be vegan.
If you are thinking of taking supplements, it would be a good idea to get tested for vitamin B12 deficiency and also to consult a qualified healthcare provider to ensure that the supplement does not interfere with any medication that you may be taking.
Daily Requirement of Vitamin B12
The daily requirement of vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4 micrograms. However, for pregnant teens and women, it is 2.6 micrograms and for breastfeeding teens and women, it is 2.8 micrograms (Source.)
For some individuals, the capacity to absorb vitamin B12 from the diet is limited. Again, only a proper test can determine an individual’s requirement for a supplement, And if you are on a 100% vegan diet, you need to be extra careful.
Related: 11 Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
The info given in this article is not expert or medical advice. It is merely intended to increase awareness about vitamin B12 among those who are on a vegan diet. Please do further study and when in need, consult a qualified healthcare provider.