Although a meatless diet is linked to many health benefits, unfortunately, it also happens to have its drawbacks. One of them includes making it difficult to get enough of certain nutrients. Since a vegan diet happens to be plant-based, you tend to miss out on nutrients not often found in plants but instead are typically in animal products. One of such nutrients is vitamin B12. Nutritionists have always warned vegans of an increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. To prevent this, they recommend taking vitamin B12 vegan foods. This read will be analyzing the best B12 foods vegan can eat. Take a look!
Vegan Foods High In B12
Before we look into these foods, we need to understand a couple of things. First, we need to comprehend what vitamin B12 is and what a vegan diet entails. So, let us get started.
What Is A Vegan Diet?
A vegan diet only contains plant-based foods. It forbids the consumption of foods from animals (6). So, if you do decide to go vegan, you have to avoid animal products at all costs and stick to a plant-based diet.
The restriction of animal products narrows down to even the condiments, sauces, and seasonings you use. Those made from animals are off-limits, for example, mayonnaise containing eggs. Similarly, honey, cheese, ghee, butter, anchovy paste, and bonito flakes are also a no-no.
- Red meat
- Fish and shellfish like clams, mussels, and crabs
- Milk and other dairy products like ice cream
- Butter and cheese
Instead, you are advised to consume the following foods (6):
- Fruits and vegetables
- Legumes and lentils
- Seeds and nuts
- Whole grains
- Vegetable oils
- Dairy alternatives like coconut, almond, and soy milks
- Rice, bread, and pasta
Note that just because a food is vegan doesn’t mean it is vegan vitamin B12 friendly. So before we look at such foods, let us understand what and why you need this vitamin.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin like the other B-vitamins. It means that it dissolves in water and travels through your bloodstream (2). Unfortunately, your body does not make this vitamin, so you have to get it from vitamin B12 foods or supplements.
You need this vitamin as it helps with various body functions. Some of these include (2):
- Maintenance of normal functioning of the brain and nervous system
- Production of red blood cells
- Improved cardiovascular health by reducing homocysteine levels
- Creation and regulation of DNA
- Cell metabolism
- Absorption of folate
- Prevention of anemia
- Improved bone health and osteoporosis prevention
- Prevention of major congenital abnormalities
- Reduced risk of diseases like macular degeneration
Vegan Foods High In B12
Unfortunately, most foods rich in vitamin B12 happen to be animal products. These include salmon, liver, clams, beef, eggs, ham, chicken breast, low-fat milk and yogurt, beef, and trout (1).
However, these foods are forbidden in a vegan diet. Remember that a vegan diet is only plant-based. So, you cannot consume these foods to obtain this vitamin. It puts vegans at high risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Again, this vitamin is not often found in plant foods. This may make you wonder how a vegan can get enough vitamin B12.
Here is a detailed food list of vitamin B12 foods vegan sources:
There are several reasons why all these nutrients are added to foods. Firstly, some foods may lack certain nutrients like vitamin B12 and may lead to vitamin B12 deficiency if another source is not available. Secondly, the body cannot make its own micronutrients, meaning you have to get them from your diet (7).
Even though these nutrients are added to some foods, you may tend to lose them when cooking or storing these fortified foods in certain ways. So, you may want to consult with your nutritionist on the best cooking and storage methods of vitamin B12 fortified foods.
The most common fortified vitamin B12 vegan foods include breakfast cereals and non-dairy milk (7). These fortified foods usually happen to have other added nutrients like vitamins D, E, B6, and A on top of vitamin B12 (7).
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The other excellent source of vitamin B12 for vegans is nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is obtained from a yeast species called Saccharomyces cerevisiae (5). In addition, there happens to be another form of yeast species known as brewer’s yeast.
Most people use the two terms interchangeably, yet the two are entirely different (5). Nutritional yeast is grown on sugar beets, whey, or blackstrap molasses. It is dairy and gluten-free and has a wide array of benefits.
Some of these include (5):
- Boosting Energy. Vitamin B12 in nutritional yeast helps in boosting energy, which enables you to perform your daily activities. However, be sure to read your labels because some manufacturers claim to fortify this product with vitamin B12 but do not.
- Improved Skin, Nail, And Hair Health. Nutritional yeast contains nutrients that may help combat brittle nails, hair loss, acne, and other skin problems experienced in adolescence.
- Promoting A Healthy Pregnancy. Nutritional yeast fortified with folic acid on top of vitamin B12 supports a healthy pregnancy by preventing congenital abnormalities and supporting fetal growth.
You can also obtain vitamin B12 from tempeh. It is a soy-based food that is mainly used as a meat alternative (3). Unfortunately, soybeans do not contain any vitamin B12, meaning the amount of this vitamin found in tempeh is produced during the fermentation process (4).
Research further reveals that tempeh has vitamin B12 in varying amounts depending on its preparation method. For example, a study was conducted to determine vitamin B12 contents on various tempeh samples.
It was discovered that it was highest in tempeh made in the lab through inoculation of the commercial starter into sterile soybean (4). The science behind it was that the isolated bacteria identified as K. pneumoniae was responsible for this vitamin’s production.
This inference was based on the fact that pure mold never produced the vitamin in the sterile broth, soybean, or medium used (4). However, it is not to say that tempeh is an excellent source of this vitamin (3).
Tempeh is associated with numerous health benefits, such as (3):
- Reduced Cancer Risk. Tempeh has soy isoflavones like phytoestrogens, which may help reduce risk of certain types of cancer, especially when combined with the antioxidant properties of tempeh.
- Improved Heart Health. This food may help improve heart health by reducing cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and inflammation.
- Improving Insulin Resistance. Better insulin sensitivity is linked to better brain health and cognition, weight loss, and reduced disease risk.
- Managing Menopause Symptoms. WebMD acknowledges that soy can help in relieving hot flashes associated with menopause.
Vitamin B12 Supplements
Vegans can also acquire this vitamin by taking vitamin B12 supplements. However, you should always consult with your doctor before you start taking these or any supplements. If you take more and exceed the required daily limit, they may lead to toxic and severe effects (2).
Similarly, you must consult to understand drug interactions with these supplements. For example, some medications used to treat peptic ulcer disease can affect the absorption of this vitamin. This includes drugs like h2 receptor agonists, proton pump inhibitors, and metformin (2).
Others like chloromycetin and antibiotic chloramphenicol may also interfere with the production of red blood cells (2). So, always consult before you start taking these or any supplements.
Daily Vitamin B12 Intake Requirements
As discussed earlier, Vitamin B12 is essential for various functions like red blood formation and the creation and regulation of DNA. The daily vitamin B12 requirements vary depending on age.
Any individual above 14 years is advised to consume 2.4 micrograms daily (2), pregnant women are advised to get 2.6 mcg, and breastfeeding women to get 2.8 mcg daily (2). If you do not get enough of this vitamin, you risk getting vitamin B12 deficiency.
Medical News Today acknowledges that vitamin B12 deficiency can result in permanent and potentially severe damage to the brain and nervous system (2). Even a smaller drop can trigger some deficiency symptoms.
The most common symptoms are anemia, memory problems, depression, fatigue, and confusion (2). However, these could be symptoms of other conditions as well.
More signs on top of these that indicate vitamin B12 deficiency include (2):
- Loss of appetite
- A swollen, inflamed tongue
- Weight loss
- Numbness and tingling sensations in the hands and feet
- Difficulties maintaining balance
Infants with this deficiency will portray the following symptoms (2):
- Reflex problems
- Feeding difficulties
- Growth problems if left untreated
- Unusual movements like face tremors
You should seek medical attention immediately if you report any of the listed symptoms. Severe vitamin B12 deficiency can result in permanent brain and nerve damage if it goes untreated (2).
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How To Get An Adequate Vitamin B12 Amount As A Vegan?
Getting the recommended amount of vitamin B12 as a vegan is pretty challenging. You may not be taking vitamin B12 vegan foods or enough of them to help you hit this target. Remember that even the slightest deficit has adverse effects.
So, to achieve an adequate amount of vitamin B12 as a vegan, experts suggest eating fortified foods in two or three sittings instead of one big meal. But, again, they recommend getting help from a nutritionist for better insight into the best-fortified foods with this vitamin (2).
The Bottom Line
Vitamin B12 is one of the most crucial vitamins. Unfortunately, it is found in significant amounts in animals, which is restricting for vegans because they do not eat any animal product. Some B12 foods a vegan can eat are fortified foods with vitamin B12, tempeh, nutritional yeast, and vitamin B12 supplements. We recommend talking to your doctor and nutritionist for more insight.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on for decision-making. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Best vitamin B12 foods: Supplements and RDA (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Everything you need to know about vitamin B-12 (2017, medicalnewstoday.com)
- The Health Benefits of Tempeh (2020, webmd.com)
- The source and content of vitamin B12 in the tempehs (1990, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- What are the benefits of nutritional yeast? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What Is a Vegan Diet? (2021, webmd.com)
- What to Know About Fortified Foods (2020, webmd.com)