If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet you have probably been told to ensure you are getting enough Vitamin B12 in your diet.
But do you understand why it is so necessary and how you can get enough?
If not, please read on to find out more about this crucial vitamin! 🙂
Vitamin B12 – why so necessary?
Vitamin B12 (also sometimes called cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin) is a water soluble vitamin that we must obtain from our food. It is called an “essential nutrient” because our body cannot make it metabolically (like it can some other nutrients).
So, why should you care about getting enough Vitamin B12?
1. It helps to maintain and even REPAIR our red blood cells (which carry oxygen around our bodies).
2. It helps to protect of our NEURONS from damage. We have something called a “myelin sheath” that protectively wraps around our neurons. Vitamin B12 is required to create that myelin sheath! When someone has an extreme B12 deficiency, the can actually develop neurological disorders that result in psychosis.
3. Vitamin B12 works with folate to synthesise our DNA.
4. It helps to break down protein and fat so that our bodies can use these sources as energy!
How awesome is that?
<————-there it is!
“I’m a vegetarian or vegan and am worried I am not getting enough Vitamin B12, what should I do?”
The first step would be to see your Doctor to have a blood test. This will ensure your levels are below the recommended range. I say this is the first step because if you are not actually deficient and then you start supplementing, you risk increasing your B12 levels to a toxic level in your blood. This is very bad. Too much Vitamin B12 can have a detrimental impact upon your health. Also, it is important to get a qualified health professional to review your blood test results (a Doctor or Dietitian/Nutritionist). This is because solely looking at your B12 result on a blood test doesn’t necessarily indicate you are low. A high amount of folate in your blood can actually mask a B12 deficiency. Your health professional will know how to accurately interpret your results.
If you are found to have low levels, the next step would be to consciously try to increase the amount of Vitamin B12 you are eating. The recommended daily intake for adults (>18 years old) in Australia for Vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms per day. This can be tricky to reach if you are vegan or vegetarian because Vitamin B12 only comes from animal sources. It is synthesised by microorganisms and is therefore not found in foods of plant origin (except through contamination with soil, by exposure to foods containing B12 or in foods fortified with B12).
So, if you are vegetarian:
Try to incorporate more organic, free range consciously purchased eggs into your diet. Alternatively, try increasing the amount of good quality cheese and yoghurt you consume each day.
If you are vegan:
Some research (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4042564/) suggests that fermented soy products (Tempeh), certain forms of algae, seaweed (Nori sheets!) and specific mushrooms (eg. Lion’s mane and Shiitake) have significant amounts of Vitamin B12. But, if you don’t have easy access to these foods, other foods fortified with B12 are a good source! These include some plant milks, nutritional yeast and certain breakfast cereals (beware of the sugar content of some of these though!). Be sure to check the labels to see if they contain B12.
After you have made a real effort to increase the amount of Vitamin B12 through your diet, you will need to get your blood checked again. If it’s still low, you could try supplementation.
What are the best B12 supplements to take?
There are so many of these out there on the market today. Oral supplements, lozenges, oral sprays and even gels that you topically place on your skin (there is limited evidence for the effectiveness of those though!).
I recommend taking an oral supplement (i.e. in tablet form). However, it is best to get one that is JUST solely for Vitamin B12. Many multivitamin formulations and vitamin B-complexes include Vitamin B12. However, the amount of actual B12 in these mixed supplements is variable. Even though the recommended intake of B12 is only 2.4 micrograms a day, many supplements provide 500-1000 micrograms . This is because there are such large variations in absorption rates among individuals.
It is important to note that the body is only able to absorb a small amount of Vitamin B12 at any one time. So you should supplement with small amounts and frequent daily doses, instead of infrequent large doses.
I hope this blog post helps you. Please email me or send me a direct message on instagram or Facebook if you have any other questions. I would be more than happy to help!
Image via Pinterest. Author unknown .