What is it?
Vitamin B12 is one of eight B vitamins and is needed for the proper functioning and maintenance of red blood cells, nerve tissue and the brain. Like most B vitamins, your body doesn’t produce it and therefore it needs to be obtained from food or supplements. Only animal products contain B12 such as eggs, meat and dairy, which is where vegans face a slight disadvantage. However, with fortified foods and supplements, it’s easy to obtain the required amount.
Where does it come from?
B12 is present in animal products because it’s made by anaerobic microorganisms, this type of bacteria is present in the gastrointestinal tract of animals. Animals such as cows and sheep can absorb B12 made from their gut bacteria. Another way animals obtain B12 is by eating their own poop (ew-please don’t try this at home folks). They can also have their food contaminated with bacteria. In general, just lots of bacteria, contamination and poop - delightful.
Vegan sources of B12
You may have already noticed that most dairy alternatives such as plant milks and yogurts have added B12 as well as calcium and iron. These fortified foods are an excellent source of B12 that otherwise would mean there would be no vegan food source of B12. A big one for vegans is obviously nooch aka nutritional yeast. The nutty delight contains roughly 2.2 micrograms (mcg) per serving, as well as a list of other goodies including Iron, Zinc, B6 and Riboflavin B2.
B12 is also present in most multivitamins and can also be bought within a B-complex multivitamin or on its own. The Vegan Society suggests eating fortified foods with every meal or taking one supplement containing at least 10 mcg of B12 every day. The other option is to take one supplement weekly, containing at least 2000 mcg of B12.
Symptoms of a B12 deficiency
B12 deficiency should be taken very seriously. Symptoms include megaloblastic anaemia which can result in weight loss, fatigue and numbness.
Thomas M. Campbell, MD suggests a daily dose of the smallest available B12, roughly 100 mcg, should be sufficient at preventing B12 deficiency.
If you think you are suffering from a B12 deficiency, definitely consult your doctor ASAP.
(We are not medically qualified so be sure to consult a professional if you have any problems.)
Having said that, we are vegans and obtaining B12 is important to us for our own health also. If you’ve found a great vegan source of B12 or a supplement you’re particularly impressed with we’d loved to hear about it.