There’s no doubt about it: vitamin B12 is the biggest issue in vegan nutrition, and the consequences of not covering your needs can be very serious. Let us get you through the basics and beyond of this vitamin, so you can take care of your health while eating vegan.
Vitamin B12 is important for healthy nerve cells, maintaining brain function and production of red blood cells. It also serves as a coenzyme in the body, enabling the effect of other enzymes. As you see, it is quite an important one to have.
The only recommended dietary sources to consume vitamin B12 are animal products - such as meats, dairy and eggs. Here is a little biology lesson to explain the journey of vitamin B12 down to your plate. The reason why animal products contain vitamin B12 in the first place, is by making it's way up the food chain. Animals derive B12 by accidentally eating soil or drinking water from natural sources as vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria found in soil and natural water in rivers and ponds. However, in order for the bacteria to be able to make B12, soil needs to contain the mineral cobalt. Due to intensive farming, soil is often drained of nutrients, including cobalt, and this therefore poses a problem to rely on natural sources for vitamin B12. Sadly, majority of the farmed animals never even see soil during their lifetime. As a matter of fact, 90% of manufactured vitamin B12 supplements are used for farm animals. Therefore, animals end up becoming a medium for us to obtain the vitamin B12, when it might as well just be us taking it.
The ''natural'' way of consuming B12 - from unwashed vegetables and unfiltered water is not safe due to other less desirable bacteria present, such as E.coli and salmonella. It's therefore safer to ensure your B12 from other sources.
Unfortunately, there are no plant-derived foods that can supply an adequate amount of vitamin B12. You can find information, that there are some plant sources, that contain B12. They do, however it is a B12 analog, or in other words B12 in its inactive form. Analogs have a very similar chemical structure, but cannot be used by the body in the same way as the active form. On the contrary, they are potentially harmful, as the analog seems to hinder absorption of the actual vitamin B12, thus speeding up the deficiency. Please, don't rely on these sources for your B12 intake:
Likewise, the following foods either contain insignificant amounts or need more research done, before they can be recommended for the general public:
-Black fermented tea
If deficient, you could be experiencing symptoms like loss of energy, tingling, numbness, blurred vision, poor memory and confusion, and it can even lead to anemia and damage of the nervous system. It could actually take several years before you start becoming deficient after changing your diet, since the body is able to store some vitamin B12 in the liver. Nonetheless, you should still aim to cover your daily needs, as you can’t know how full your stores are, unless you are tested.
The Nordic Nutrition Recommendations suggest 2 micrograms (mcg or µg) of B12 a day for a healthy adult. If you are a vegan, you should take supplements to ensure that you get your needs covered. Vitamin B12 comes in different forms. Go with cyanocobalamin, or methylcobalamin, if you are a smoker. Another option is to frequently (two or three times a day) include foods that are fortified, such as cereals, energy bars or plant-based dairy alternatives. Check the labels on the back of food items you purchase, to know which products are fortified.
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