Updated: Sep 8, 2021
There are many factors as to why people choose to follow a plant-based diet including ethical, environmental, and health reasons. Whatever the reason may be, it is important to ensure you're receiving enough vitamins and minerals on a plant-based diet. Let's talk about a vitamin that should be supplemented on a vegan diet, Vitamin B-12.
What is Vitamin B-12?
I’m sure you’ve seen the name on the back of your multi-vitamin or food label, but what exactly is Vitamin B-12 and why is it so important? I’m glad you asked! Vitamin B-12 is what’s known as a water-soluble vitamin, which means it dissolves quickly in the body. Not only is it dissolved quickly in the body, but the body has trouble storing excess B-12. In fact, if more B-12 is consumed than needed, the body excretes whatever is left over. That’s why it’s important to consume B-12 regularly.
What does Vitamin B-12 do?
Vitamin B-12 is essential for many body processes, including proper red blood cell formation, neurological function and DNA synthesis.
How much do I need?
Each vitamin and mineral has a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), which is the average daily level of intake that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirement of nearly all healthy individuals. The RDA for Vitamin B-12 is 2.4 micrograms a day.
What foods contain B-12?
Vitamin B-12 is found naturally in most animal products including eggs, fish, meat, poultry, milk, and milk products. Those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet can receive Vitamin B-12 through fortified (meaning B-12 was not found naturally in the cereal, but was instead added) cereals, non-dairy milks, meat substitutes and nutritional yeast. However, it may be challenging for the body to absorb B-12 from fortified plant sources, therefore vegetarians and vegans could be at risk for deficiency and should consider taking a B-12 supplement.
Deficiency: Signs and Symptoms
Weakness, tiredness and lightheadedness
Heart palpations and shortness of breath
Constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite or gas
Nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, problems walking
Mental problems such as depression, memory loss, or behavioral changes
It can take up to a year for B-12 deficiency symptoms to surface so it's important to practice prevention daily. In order to prevent deficiency while following a vegan diet, vegans should consider the following:
Eat foods fortified with B-12 two to three times a day in order to get at least 3 micrograms or more of the vitamin. You can also sprinkle nutritional yeast onto foods like veggies, salads and popcorn to increase B-12 intake throughout the day.
Take a B-12 supplement daily containing at least 10 micrograms.
Take a weekly B-12 supplement containing at least 2000 micrograms.
Finding the Right Supplement
If you are concerned about having a Vitamin B-12 deficiency, make sure to talk to your doctor. Thankfully, a deficiency can be easily fixed by taking a B-12 supplement. A B-12 supplement can be found in many forms, including an oral pill or sublingual tablets or lozenges, and are found in almost all multi-vitamins. When looking for a dietary supplement, it is important to note that it is meant to do just that — supplement. It is not meant to replace the consumption of B-12 all together, so try to incorporate B-12 naturally through your food. Be sure to do some research on a company before buying a supplement. The FDA has a handy page you can access in order to better educate yourself on choosing the right supplement from the best company.
Here's to great health!
Download this handout for more information on B12!
Corinne Jacobs is a recent graduate of Troy University in Troy, Alabama with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science. She is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Health Science and working on the Coordinated Program in Nutrition in order to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Georgia State University. She believes that health is multi-faceted and should be approached from many different angles in order for an individual to be the best version of themselves. She hopes to use her Exercise Science background with her Master's degree in order to work with patients with chronic illnesses such as Heart Disease and Type II Diabetes.