Vitamin B12 is required for a variety of bodily functions ranging from the formation of red blood cells, to the creation of DNA and other nervous functionality. For healthy people over 14 years of age, it is recommended that we get at least 2.4mcg of B12 per day. In nature, B12 is generally found in animal products, such as fish, meat, eggs and dairy products, and therefore is a cause of concern for those on a vegetarian or vegan diet. It is the one vitamin that cannot reliably be obtained from a plant based diet (or directly from the sun).
Side Effects of B12 Deficiency
A deficiency in vitamin B12 can have some serious effects on your health ranging from anaemia to neurological disorders. Symptoms of a B12 deficiency can include fatigue, weakness, constipation, depression, loss of appetite and confusion. If you have any concerns, your GP should be able to do a blood test to determine the levels of B12 in your system. Those on a vegan diet need to be particularly cautious due to the fact that B12 is difficult to obtain on a plant based diet.
The Vegan Diet
B12 is absorbed in small amounts so to ensure that you are having enough B12 in your diet try to eat small amounts frequently or increase the total amount if you are eating it infrequently as not all of it will be absorbed. You may hear of B12 being available in foods such as spirulina and barley grass, however, this information is incorrect or not sustainable. Unfortunately for those on a vegan diet, vitamin B12 is almost exclusive to animal derived products. Does this mean vegans are doomed? Of course not. The best way to supplement B12 on a vegan diet is to consume vegan friendly foods that are fortified with B12, such as certain soy milks or nutritional yeast, or to consume B12 supplements. Per serving, the original Vitasoy soy milk has 1mcg of B12, already making up more than 40% of your RDI!
What’s your favourite source of B12? How do you ensure you get enough in your diet? Tell us in the comments below!