Vitamin B12 is one of the most important micronutrients of all, essential to the function of almost every cell in your body. It’s a hot topic in the vegan world - how to get it, which vegan foods high in vitamin B12 we should be eating, and what happens if we don’t get enough… But what exactly is this magic vitamin and why is it so important? And why is it especially important for those following a plant-based diet? Stick with us to find out!
Here at PlantX, we’ve got everything you need to ensure you are getting enough of this essential vitamin, from fortified plant milks and dairy-free cheeses to vegan B12 supplements.
So what is vitamin B12, and why do I need it?
Part of the B vitamin complex, B12 is an essential nutrient for many different aspects of wellbeing. It is produced by certain bacteria (not by animals, as some people mistakenly believe).
Vitamin B12 is needed to form red blood cells and DNA synthesis. It is also key to the function and development of brain and nerve cells. Your body cannot produce absorbable B12 by itself so it has to be obtained through diet.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of vitamin B12…
- Helps with healthy red blood cell formation and prevents conditions like anemia.
- Supports healthy pregnancy outcomes.
- Supports brain health, cognition and memory.
- Supports healthy skin, nails and hair.
- May help support strong bones and lower your risk of osteoporosis.
- May support eye health and lower the risk of macular degeneration.
- May improve mood, boost energy levels and reduce risk of depression.
- May improve heart health.
What is B12 deficiency?
While most of the B vitamins can be found in plant-based foods, B12 is an exception. B12 is found in animal-based foods like shellfish, fish, eggs, poultry, meat and dairy products. It does not naturally occur in plant-based foods in an absorbable form. This is why those of us following a plant-based diet need to keep this essential vitamin on our radar and make sure we don't become deficient.
Keep in mind, it’s not just us vegans who are at risk from vitamin B12 deficiency. Older people, people with gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn’s and those with pernicious anemia all have to supplement their B12 intake as well.
Untreated vitamin B12 deficiency is not only suboptimal for your health and wellbeing, it can also be very dangerous and can lead to permanent nerve damage.
Signs of vitamin B12 deficiency to look out for are…
- A pale yellow tinge to your skin
- A sore & red tongue
- Pale skin
- Pins and needles or a tingling sensation in your hands & feet
- Mouth ulcers
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty walking & balancing
- Disturbed vision
- Irritability & depression
- Decline in mental abilities
But don’t worry! So long as you know what to look out for and which fortified vegan foods high in vitamin B12 to eat regularly, you shouldn’t have any problems! The RDA of vitamin B12 for people over 18 is 2.4mcg.
If you have any concerns regarding your vitamin B12 levels, consult with your primary care provider and they will be able to advise you on which supplement regimen is best for you.
Note: It’s especially important to get enough vitamin B12 if you are pregnant or breastfeeding! Talk to your doctor about a plan to ensure that you and your baby are getting enough vitamin B12.
Best plant-based foods rich in vitamin B12
So, we’ve heard about lots of animal-based sources of vitamin B12, but what about plant-based ones? Is there any vitamin B12 in vegan food?
While vitamin B12 is thought to occur naturally in some plant-based foods such as crimini mushrooms, tempeh, seaweed and chlorella, the evidence is not strong to suggest that this naturally occurring vitamin B12 is reliably bioavailable.
Medical professionals and nutritionists agree that the most reliable non animal-based source of vitamin B12 is from fortified foods and supplements. Fortunately, there is plenty of fortified vegan food rich in vitamin B12 to incorporate into your diet!
1. Nutritional Yeast
Cheesy, umami and oh-so-flavorful, nutritional yeast (or nooch) is a vegan staple. From topping salads to whipping up your own vegan cheese, it’s something us plant-powered peeps are probably familiar with. What you might not know is that nutritional yeast is a great vegan source of vitamin B12. Obviously, you consume nutritional yeast in small amounts so this shouldn’t be your only source, but every little helps!
2. Fortified Plant Milks
Here at PlantX, we have plenty of delicious plant-based milks which have been fortified with vitamin B12, as well as other essential micronutrients. This is an easy and ultra-absorbable way to help reach your daily intake. Whether you prefer oat milk, hemp milk or almond milk, just look out for vitamin B12 in the product description or ingredients and drink up!
3. Fortified Plant-Based Meat Substitutes
Always check the packaging because your favorite plant-based meat substitutes just might be fortified with vitamin B12, just like these tasty burgers!
4. Vegan Cheese
Delicious, melty and versatile, dairy-free cheese is an essential part of any vegan diet. Why go without pizza, lasagne, grilled cheese and mac n cheese if you don’t have to?! To mimic the high vitamin B12 content in dairy cheese, many vegan cheeses such as Violife are fortified with B12.
Vitamin B12 supplements
As well as eating plenty of vegan food high in vitamin B12, incorporating a vitamin B12 supplement into your wellness regime is also a super convenient way to reach your RDA. Both vitamin B12 sprays and pills are an effective, easy and reliable way to up your intake and enjoy the many benefits of vitamin B12.
If you’re not sure which supplement to go for, consult with your primary care provider to choose a form that works for you.
How to get enough vitamin B12 on a plant-based diet
So what have we learnt? Vitamin B12 is a very important vitamin - essential to our health and wellbeing. It can be found in animal-based products, however there is no vitamin B12 in vegan food that naturally occurs. However, there are plenty of ways to get your RDA (2.4mcg) of vitamin B12 through vegan foods that have been fortified with vitamin B12 and vitamin B12 supplements.
Here at PlantX, some of our favorite vegan foods rich in vitamin B12 are fortified plant-milks, vegan cheeses, cereals and meat substitutes (not forgetting nutritional yeast!). Plus, there are plenty of convenient B12 supplements available to incorporate into your wellness regime.
If you keep your vitamin B12 intake in mind, it’s completely possible to get enough of this essential micronutrient while leading a cruelty-free and sustainable plant-based lifestyle!
All you need to do is B(12) aware!