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How To Get Vitamin B12 As A Vegan

How Much B12 Does The Body Need

How to get vitamin B12 on a vegan diet

The amount of B12 you need in your diet varies from person to person, evolving with life stages.

According to the NIH, babies, infants, and young children all require less than 1.0 mcg per day.

The amount goes up with age and unlike iron and other nutrients, the amount doesnt vary by sex. The only time it matters is if youre pregnant or breastfeeding. Those expecting or breastfeeding a child require the highest amount of B12 in their daily diet. The NIH notes that anyone who falls under those categories should take extra care to ensure that theyre receiving adequate nutrition.

B12 should be taken daily in order to meet your nutrition needs. Be sure to consult your physician before introducing any supplements into your diet.

What Is Vitamin B12 &

There is just one nutrient that isnt available naturally in plant foods and that is vitamin B12. This particular vitamin is produced in the digestive tracts of mammals, which is why it is found in animal foods such as meat, eggs and milk.

We need vitamin B12 for proper neurological functioning and red blood cell production. Its also required for the synthesis of DNA and RNA.

How Much Vitamin B12 Do I Need

How much you require each day is based on the Recommended Daily Intake . The RDI is the average daily dietary intake that meets the nutrient needs of 97-98% of the population.

For children under 12 months of age the RDI cannot be determined and therefore Adequate Intake is used. The AI is based on the average daily nutrient intake deemed to be adequate based on estimates of healthy groups.

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What Is A Vegan Diet

A vegan diet only contains plant-based foods. It forbids the consumption of foods from animals . So, if you do decide to go vegan, you have to avoid animal products at all costs and stick to a plant-based diet.

The restriction of animal products narrows down to even the condiments, sauces, and seasonings you use. Those made from animals are off-limits, for example, mayonnaise containing eggs. Similarly, honey, cheese, ghee, butter, anchovy paste, and bonito flakes are also a no-no.

Here is a list of some common foods that vegans cant eat :

  • Red meat
  • Dairy alternatives like coconut, almond, and soy milks
  • Rice, bread, and pasta

Note that just because a food is vegan doesnt mean it is vegan vitamin B12 friendly. So before we look at such foods, let us understand what and why you need this vitamin.

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Enjoy The Many Benefits Of A Vegan Diet


This article is certainly not intended to scare you aware from going vegan. Quite the opposite, in fact! Choosing a plant-based diet can be one of the healthiest ways to eat and will likely help you live a longer life and a healthier life.

Removing meat, dairy, and eggs from your diet can help dramatically lower your cholesterol levels, prevent and reverse Type 2 diabetes, prevent and reverse heart disease, and so much more. The health benefits of a plant-based diet are widely recognized by doctors, dietitians, and athletes alike. Just go vegan responsibly and take your vitamins!

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Vitamin B12 And Vegans: How To Get Vitamin B12

Finally, to wrap up vitamin B12 and vegan topic, my goal today is to answer the most important question: how to get vitamin B12.

Because low levels of vitamin B12 may lead to catastrophic changes in the human body, I will explore options for both groups those who eat animal products and those who dont.

If you read the previous article, Vitamin B12 and vegans: Are animal products reliable sources, you know that on a meat-based diet, your body has trouble keeping the integrity of vitamin B12 and absorbing the vitamin . In contrast, if you follow a raw vegan diet, you have trouble tapping into non-animal sources of vitamin B12.

Lets begin.

Signs Of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

As Vitamin B12 has wide spread use throughout cells in the body, deficiency can cause significant effects.

A 2013 systematic review investigating the prevalence of deficiency among vegetarians and found rates of 62% amongst pregnant women 32% amongst vegetarians and 30% to 76% amongst vegans

Deficiency can be common amongst vegans and those following a mostly plant-based diet.

Studies have also shown deficiency to occur in up to 40% of older adults. This has been linked to issues with absorption, gastrointestinal conditions and use of certain medications.

Sign of vitamin B12 deficiency include :

  • Megaloblastic anemia, meaning red blood cells are not produced properly and are larger than normal
  • Fatigue
  • Tingling of the hands and feet

Signs of deficiency in infants include :

  • Failure to thrive
  • Developmental delays
  • Megaloblastic anemia

Although textbooks state that deficiency can take 2-5 years, our dietitians have seen deficiency occur in as little as 6 months. It is essential to commence supplementation or ensure you are eating adequate amounts as soon as you adopt a completely plant based diet

It is also important for plant-based eaters to regularly check their blood status. Failure to do so can increase the risk of irreversible brain and nerve damage.

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Why Do We Need Vitamin B12 And How Much Do We Need

Before I get into how do vegans get vitamin B12 I would like to outline the reasons why we need vitamin B12 in our bodies and the daily recommendations.

This will help you understand why you need vitamin B12 in your body in the first place.

Below are the reasons why we need this,often neglected, vitamin.

  • Protecting the nervous system
  • Formation of red blood cells
  • Formation of DNA in the body
  • Prevents Anemia

So how much do we need?

Do not worry I have got you covered with this too. Below are the recommended daily consumption intakes.

  • Birth to infant = 0.5 mcg
  • Children = 1.8 mcg
  • Teenagers-adult= 2.4 mcg
  • Preganat women = 2.8 mcg

Best B12 Foods For Vegans

B12 on a Vegan Diet – Nutritionist The Orange Owl

You dont need animal products to get your B12, as there are numerous B12-fortified foods, including cereals, plant-based milks, and some soy products. Here are some examples from Dunn:

  • Soy milk : 1 to 3 mcg
  • Rice milk : 1.5 mcg
  • Protein bar: 1 to 2 mcg
  • Cereal : 1 to 6.2 mcg
  • Nutritional yeast : 4 mcg
  • Meat substitute : 1.2 to 4.2 mcg

There is, however, one hitch with relying on fortified foods. Not all B12-fortified foods are reliable sources, Dunn says. She points to nutritional yeast, which most people assume contains B12. Yet not all companies add it to their nutritional yeast so make sure youre checking labels frequently to see if its there.

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Why Does Vitamin B12 Matter

Your body needs B12 for DNA health, making red blood cells, and neurological function. Too little B12 and youre at risk of developing pernicious anemia .

You can stick to your veg diet and get enough B12 if you know what to munch on. Here are the best vegetarian sources of vitamin B12.

These are the B12 MVPs if youre a vegetarian:

  • nori

The deets on what to eat.

Poor Sources Of Vitamin B12

Some vegan foods claim that they contain B12. This includes tempeh, seaweed, organic foods and spirulina. Unfortunately these contain inactive analogues. This means, when analysing these compounds in the lab they may look like vitamin B12, but they are not biologically active meaning they have no use in the body and can actually interfere with the absorption of active b12.

Some plant foods, such as unwashed potatoes can contain vitamin B12 on their surface. This is due to soil residue or contamination. Unfortunately, this is not a reliable source of this vitamin for vegans. Relying solely on unwashed food products can place you at higher risk for deficiency and food poisoning.

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Dig Into Dairy If Thats Your Jam

Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese naturally contain B12 and lots of it. If you drink a cup of milk and eat 8 ounces of yogurt, youre pretty much set for a day.

Any ol cheese will have some B12, but Swiss is the superstar with 27 percent of your daily needs in one slice. Also, try feta and Brie because yum.

Vegetarian Foods High In Vitamin B12

How To Get B12 As A Vegan

For a healthy physical and mental state, a balanced diet plays an important role. Our body requires various micronutrients to build up a healthy body structure. Among the various vitamins, vitamin B is an essential nutrient.

Vitamin B12 or cobalamin is a powerful, water-soluble vitamin. It is crucial for a range of body functions including the production of healthy red blood cells and neurological activity to elevate mood. It is mainly absorbed in the stomach and extra vitamin B12 is stored in the liver and can be used whenever the body needs it.

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Supplements You Need On A Vegan Diet

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One common concern about vegan diets is whether they provide your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs.

Many claim that a whole-food, plant-based diet easily meets all the daily nutrient requirements.

Some even encourage vegans to avoid all supplements.

Despite being well intended, this type of advice can do more harm than good.

Here are 7 nutrients that you may need to supplement with while on a vegan diet.

Vegan Vitamin B12 Food Sources:

Our bodies can not create B12, meaning that it must be eaten in the diet.

Vitamin B12 is bound to protein. It is found in all animal foods with the exception of honey. This includes meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products .

Individuals who follow plant-based diets must rely on fortified foods and supplements to meet their daily requirements.

Vegan vitamin B12 food sources include:

  • Certain plant-based milks
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Certain meat substitutes

If you are wanting to meet your daily needs through fortified foods it is essential that you read the ingredients list and nutritional panel as not all products listed above will be fortified with this nutrient.

It is also important to note that nutritional yeast, may not be a reliable source. The vitamin levels contained within nutritional yeast can vary between brands, meaning it is not recommended as a sole source B12.

If you want to try and meet your requirements through food alone you will need to consume 2-3 servings of fortified foods, at least 4 hours apart for optimal absorption.

The number of servings required daily will vary depending on which fortified products you consume. Due to this not being feasible for many individuals, it may be beneficial to consider a vegan vitamin b12 supplement.

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What Is Intrinsic Factor And How Does It Affect Vitamin B12 Absorption

Intrinsic factor can be thought of as “absorption chemicals” in your gut needed for absorption of vitamin B12. Your body only creates and secretes a limited amount of intrinsic factor. So despite consuming supplements or fortified foods, only limited amounts of vitamin B12 will be absorbed by your body. As such you might only absorb 10g of a 500g supplement.

Due to this factor, sometimes vitamin B12 is injected directly into patients, as opposed to supplements taken orally. These vitamin B12 injections can be a faster way to boost vitamin B12 levels and alleviate symptoms from anemia.

How Do I Know

Getting vitamin B12 on a vegetarian or vegan diet

The only way to know whether youre deficient or not is to have a medical professional test you.

B12 level tests are notoriously variable however. Studies have shown that their results can vary 17-23% within the same individual31. The most reliable is having a holotranscobalamin test32.

If youre low on B12 you need to start supplementing.

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Recommended Daily Allowance For Vitamin B1:

2.8 mcg

Recommended Dietary Allowance : average daily intake of a nutrient thats sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all healthy people.Adequate Intake : approximate intake assumed to be nutritionally adequate based on limited research, though still not enough evidence to develop an RDA.Tolerable Upper Intake Level : maximum daily intake thats unlikely to cause adverse health effects.

No upper limits have been set for vitamin B12 intakes because no toxic effects have been identified.

Some people may need more B12, such as people who genetically cannot absorb B12 through food, people who are pregnant, or elderly people.

Vitamin B12 And Vegan Diets

B12 is an exceptional vitamin. It is required in smaller amounts than any other known vitamin. Ten micrograms of B12 spread over a day appears to supply as much as the body can use. In the absence of any apparent dietary supply, deficiency symptoms usually take five years or more to develop in adults, though some people experience problems within a year. A very small number of individuals with no obvious reliable source appear to avoid clinical deficiency symptoms for twenty years or more. B12 is the only vitamin that is not recognised as being reliably supplied from a varied wholefood, plant-based diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, together with exposure to sun. Many herbivorous mammals, including cattle and sheep, absorb B12 produced by bacteria in their own digestive system. B12 is found to some extent in soil and plants. These observations have led some vegans to suggest that B12 was an issue requiring no special attention, or even an elaborate hoax. Others have proposed specific foods, including spirulina, nori, tempeh, and barley grass, as suitable non-animal sources of B12. Such claims have not stood the test of time.

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How Much Vitamin B12 Do You Need

The recommended daily allowance for Vitamin B12 ranges from 0.4 to 2.8g per day. The daily value for vitamin B12 is 2.4g per day, which has been recently reduced from 6g per the USDA food labeling standards.


For the values above the amounts for children less than 12 months old is actually the adequate intake not RDA.

What Are The Symptoms Of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

20 Vegetarian Vegan Foods High in Vitamin B12

Symptoms of B-12 deficiency vary. They include:

  • Jaundice,
  • Severe brain damage, and
  • Impaired thinking.

How can you prevent a vitamin B12 deficiency? In addition to avoiding vitamin B-12-containing meat, eggs, and dairy products, a vegan or vegetarian can take supplements of vitamin B-12 to ensure that they are adequately supplied with the vitamin. However, people are advised to take vitamins in moderation and when recommended. For vegans or vegetarians, a B-12 deficiency is a possible risk. The primary risk is due to taking supplements without enough magnesium or potassium.

Abdominal cramps are one of the first signs of a vitamin B-12 deficiency. Symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency include:

  • bloody stools
  • unexplained fatigue
  • spinal problems

Vitamin B-12 plays a vital role in the proper functioning of the nervous, digestive, and reproductive systems. A deficiency in this essential vitamin is very common in people who do not eat animal products. Vitamin B-12 is often found in animal products, including dairy products, eggs, and liver.

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Summary: Vegan Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient thats not found naturally in plant-based foods. Therefore, vegans need supplementation to avoid the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Always speak to your doctor or dietitian before starting new supplements or changing your supplement routine. Working with a vegan Dietitian can set you up for success on a vegan diet and give you the confidence to live a healthy lifestyle long-term!

Whats The Beef With B12 In Meat

B12 in meat is bound to animal protein which makes it harder to absorb. Our ability to absorb it declines with age due to loss of intrinsic factor and a drop in acid production in the stomach.

Mild to moderate B12 deficiency is common in industrialized countries despite the fact that that a typical western, meaty diet provides around 5-7g of B12 a day.

Up to 40 per cent of older people in the UK suffer from low B12 because of impaired absorption and as most meat is consumed after cooking, there are further losses of B12.

In the US, all adults over 50 are advised to get B12 from supplements or fortified foods because of the high incidence of reduced absorption from animal foods in this age group.

Vegans have a heads-up as they routinely include both in their diet.

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Types Of B12 Supplements:

1. Cyanocobalamin

Cyanocobalamin is a synthetic form of B12, but its also the most studied, most stable and cheapest. Here the cobalt ion is attached to a cyanide molecule, which breaks off during absorption.

Is this an issue?

Most experts agree that its not, as your body is exposed to similar concentrations of cyanide in various whole foods.

2. Methylcobalamin + Adenosylcobalamin

Methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin are the more natural forms of B12 found in foods. The body has to convert cyanocobalamin into these two forms to actually put your B12 to work.

One study showed that cyanocobalamin may be easier for the body to absorb than methyl , whereas slightly more recent research has shown that cyanocobalamin may actually be harder for the body to retain than the natural form of B12.

3. Hydroxocobalamin

This is the form of B12 often found in food or used in B12 injections. Hydroxy is often retained better than cyanocobalamin after injections, but getting a shot is less convenient and more expensive than taking a daily supplement.


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