Vitamin B12 on a Plant-Based Diet

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I wanted to address vitamin B12 deficiency and its concerns by consulting a nutrition professional. To do so, I asked Brenna Allard, a registered dietitian based in Aurora, Colorado. She described vitamin B12 in general, talked about B12 deficiency and gave me examples of vegan B12 foods.

While you can get most everything you need from a plant-based diet, there is one nutrient that you will want to look out for and that is Vitamin B12. The good news is, it’s still possible to find plant-based sources to fit in your diet! In today’s post, we will be covering:

·      What Vitamin B12 is and why it’s important

·      What a B12 deficiency looks like

·      And finally, examples of vegan B12 foods

Vitamin B12 and Why it is Important

Primarily, Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that your body is unable to produce on its own. It is absorbed in the stomach with the assistance of a protein called intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor requires an acidic environment and binds to vitamin B12 to help with absorption into your blood. 

Vitamin B12 plays a key role in creating DNA (our genetic material). It keeps nerve cells functioning normally, and is also involved in the formation of red blood cells. 

This means it can impact energy levels, heart health, and even your memory and brain function. 

How to Know if You Have a B12 Deficiency? 

The recommended daily intake for teens and adults is 2.4 mcg per day. It is slightly higher for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

You may be at risk of a B12 deficiency if you are: 

·      an older adult (>65 years or older),

·      someone with gastrointestinal issues (Crohn’s, IBD, etc.),

·      an individual who is taking anti acid medication,

·      following a vegetarian/vegan diet and aren’t getting it from vegan b12 sources, or

·      taking Metformin for diabetes 

Symptoms of low vitamin B12 include fatigue, numbness, weakness, tingling in hands and feet, memory troubles, and poor balance.

Because vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, it’s very unlikely to consume too much of it. Your body also stores excess B12 in your liver for future use.

Sources of B12

Interestingly, plants or animals do not contain B12 naturally. You will rather find it in the bacteria living in the soil. Meat, shellfish, and animal byproducts (especially those from cows and sheep) are good source of B12. This is due to their unique digestive system and diet of plants that includes soil and occasionally animal droppings, which contains the B12-producing bacteria.

Although it’s found in the soil, often-times a plant-based diet doesn’t have enough to meet our needs, as we aren’t directly eating the soil to ingest the bacteria. Some excellent B12 foods to incorporate for plant-based eaters include:

·      Nutritional Yeast 

·      Fortified Fortified Cereals

·      Non-dairy Milk

·      Nori (seaweed)

·      Shiitake Mushrooms 

If you have any concerns about not getting enough in your diet, ask your doctor to test your levels of serum B12 and homocysteine. Based on your result, you may find taking a B12 supplement is the best option for you. 

I hope this helped ease any worries you may have had and cleared up any misinformation about your nutrient needs being met on a plant-based diet. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments!

For more health related posts, check out the Health section of the blog.

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About the Author

Brenna Allard, MA, RD, is a registered dietitian and freelance nutrition writer based in Denver, CO. She holds a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and a master’s degree in health communication. She’s spent a majority of her career educating patients and clients on leading a balanced lifestyle. Check out her website or Linkedin for more information!