The human body needs vitamin B12 to live. This nutrient is required for DNA synthesis, cellular growth and myelin production. Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in the metabolism of every cell in the human body.
Without this vitamin, people are more likely to get sick or have trouble metabolizing food properly. This includes vegetarians who need to be especially mindful of their intake because they don’t eat meat which contains high levels of vitamin B12 naturally.
Unless they take supplements or consume foods fortified with it on a regular basis, it can be difficult for vegans and vegetarians to obtain adequate amounts of this essential nutrient.
Fortunately, there are many vegetarian sources available that contain substantial quantities of vitamin B12. Below are the top foods for vegetarians to eat in order to prevent a deficiency of this important nutrient.
Top Vitamin B12 Foods For Vegetarians
Although it may be challenging to obtain sufficient dietary vitamin B-12 if you do not eat animal products, supplementation and foods fortified with the vitamin can help to address deficiencies.
Commercially available supplements of vitamin B-12 are widely available in many forms including tablets, capsules, lozenges, and injectable doses.
Vitamin B-12 is also added to some foods, most notably some brands of breakfast cereals. Some food manufacturers also add the nutrient to other products such as energy bars so pick a product that is high in protein.
There is some evidence that certain probiotic bacteria, including strains of Lactobacillus reuteri, can produce vitamin B-12 (9).
That said, here are the best vegetarian foods high in vitamin B12:
There are many fortified cereals available on the market that contain added amounts of vitamin B12, as well as other essential nutrients. These cereals can be enjoyed either hot by boiling water beforehand, or cold with your favourite type of milk.
Sustained Release Supplements
Taking sustained-release supplements is another way to ensure you are getting enough vitamin B12 each day so you don’t have any deficiencies. As with the cereal option, taking a supplement once a day is more effective than trying to remember to take several smaller doses throughout the day.
Vegetarian-Friendly Dairy Products
Dairy products are a good choice for vegetarians because they contain high amounts of vitamin B12 naturally (3). These sources include milk, cheese and yogurt amongst others.
However, if you would prefer not to consume dairy products, there are some alternative non-dairy items that contain similar nutrients without any negative side effects of animal byproducts such as eggs and cheese. For instance, soy beverages offer the same benefits, minus the lactose that may give some people an upset stomach or gas.
On average, one whole egg contains 0.89 micrograms of vitamin B12 (1). Since eggs are so popular amongst vegetarians and vegans, these food items really do provide a substantial amount of this nutrient naturally. Eggs can be consumed in a variety of different ways, such as boiled or fried.
Nutritional yeast is often called the vegetarian’s multivitamin. This nutrient-rich food packs a punch with its plentiful supply of B12, as well as other valuable nutrients such as thiamin and riboflavin (6).
To use nutritional yeast, a person can:
- Sprinkle it on popcorn
- Mix it into cheese sauces
- Mix it into mashed potatoes
- Sprinkle over scrambled eggs or tofu
- Stir into a creamy soup
- Add to pasta dishes
- Put it on salads
Swiss cheese is a type of cheese that has a mild taste and contains a good amount of protein. Just one slice of Swiss cheese can contain as much as 3 mcg of vitamin B12. There are many other types of cheeses that also provide a person with high levels of this nutrient, such as Gjetost and Gouda.
Nori is a type of seaweed that contains high amounts of vitamin B12, in addition to other nutrients such as calcium and iron. It can be incorporated into various types of dishes in order to boost the nutrient value without adding any bulk. Just one piece of nori augmented with rice or wrapped around your favourite vegetables can provide you with almost half an adult’s daily recommended intake of vitamin B12.
Marmite Or Other Yeast Spreads
Marmite is a yeast spread that originates from the UK, but can also be found in Australia and New Zealand where it has become a popular condiment. Marmite is high in vitamin B12 and other minerals such as iron, magnesium and selenium (4). Other yeast spreads such as Vegemite are also rich sources of B12. When added to bread or crackers, these spreads can provide a tasty way for vegetarians and vegans to get their daily intake of vitamin B12.
Tofu is another type of food that vegetarians can eat to provide their body with a daily dose of vitamin B12. Just make sure you purchase the fortified types instead of those which aren’t as high in this important nutrient because it provides the added benefit without additional calories from fat.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean food product that can be cooked or baked in various ways. It lacks the meaty texture of tofu but packs similar amounts of protein. Tempeh (100 grams) contains about 0.14 micrograms of vitamin B12 because it’s been made from soybeans (11).
Lean and toned up body isn’t just a far-fetched fantasy. Check out the BetterMe app and watch it propel your weight loss journey into high gear!
If you’re looking for a way to get vitamin B12 into your system, why not try drinking it? Fortified plant-based beverages such as soy milk and juices are great sources of vitamin B12 (8). These beverages are also usually fortified with other nutrients such as calcium which makes them a healthy choice to include in your diet.
Shiitake mushrooms are a healthy choice for vegetarians who want to boost the levels of vitamin B12 in their diet. This type of mushroom (100 grams) contains about 5.61 micrograms of vitamin B12 (14). These mushrooms can be purchased fresh and dried, as well as being sold already rehydrated and prepared for various recipes.
Cremini is another type of mushroom that provides a person with vitamin B12. These mushrooms also contain copper and selenium which are both nutrients that may be lacking from your daily intake. When cremini mushrooms are combined with other foods rich in this vitamin, such as fortified cereals or soy milk, the resulting nutrient intake can be very effective.
Chlorella is a type of green algae that is also high in vitamin B12. This green powder usually comes in liquid form and can be added to any smoothie or green juice to give it an extra nutrient boost. While it may taste bad on its own, adding a teaspoon of this nutrient-rich algae will not have any negative effects on the taste or texture of your drink. Try adding it to your favourite juice or smoothie for an easy way to get your vitamin B12 fix!
Shellfish is another type of food that vegetarians can eat to ensure they are getting enough vitamin B12 in their diet. This includes mussels, shrimp, and lobster to name a few.
Depending on the recipe, shellfish can be cooked or served raw for a meal that provides you with much-needed amounts of iron, magnesium, and other important minerals that help your body function at its best (10). In addition to boosting your immune system and improving bone health, these foods also provide you with healthy doses of vitamin B12 each day.
Lastly, whey powder is another type of supplement that vegetarians can use to give their body the vitamin B12 it needs. A 100 gram serving of whey-based nutritional powder contains about 2.45 micrograms of this essential nutrient (5).
The only downside is that these supplements are often created with non-vegetarian products such as milk or eggs, so be careful when choosing which brand to buy. Additionally, make sure you take any supplements on an empty stomach at least 30 minutes before eating anything else in order to ensure maximum absorption into your body.
Vitamin B-12 Deficiency In Vegetarians And Vegans
Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient needed for blood formation, cell division, growth, neurological function, carbohydrate metabolism and protein synthesis. Vitamin B-12 is unique among other vitamins because it contains a metal ion at its active centre, cobalt, and the human body cannot make it (17). Thus, vitamin B-12 must be acquired from animal food sources or supplements.
Vitamin B-12 is found in some plant foods, although not all of these contain biologically active forms of the vitamin. In particular, spirulina and fermented soybean products do not contain biologically available cobalamins.
Most people consume enough vitamin B-12 to avoid overt clinical symptoms of deficiency. However, long-term inadequate intake of this nutrient may lead to an increased risk of anaemia and bone disease.
Causes Of Vitamin B-12 Deficiency In Vegetarians And Vegans
Vitamin B-12 deficiency may develop when people do not consume enough vitamin B-12 or when their bodies cannot absorb the vitamin properly. There are several reasons why this might be the case.
The absorption of dietary vitamin B-12 requires the normal function of a complex system requiring at least three different proteins and several vitamins and cofactors. A lack of any one component in this system may lead to malabsorption of vitamin B-12, which in turn leads to a deficiency (16).
Vitamin B-12 is absorbed from the small intestine. In order to be used by the body, it must first be released from food and then bound to a substance called intrinsic factor (IF). If you have insufficient levels of stomach acid or an intrinsic factor deficiency, you can develop vitamin B-12 deficiency even when dietary intake is adequate.
In some cases, a reduction in stomach acid secretion can lead to malabsorption of cobalamins. This may happen with some types of medication, such as proton pump inhibitors.
Proton pump inhibitors reduce stomach acid production and are widely used for treating gastrointestinal disorders including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), duodenal ulcers and stomach ulcers (13). Proton pump inhibitors also reduce intrinsic factor secretion in some people, which can lead to vitamin B-12 deficiency (7).
In some cases, a lack of IF may be inherited as a rare genetic disorder called pernicious anaemia (2). People who have this condition are not able to produce sufficient amounts of IF and require lifelong treatment with high doses of vitamin B-12 to prevent neurologic symptoms.
Fortunately, the vast majority of people with insufficient IF do not develop clinical symptoms because stomach cells can produce sufficient amounts of the protein even when it is not secreted by IF-producing cells in the stomach.
In addition to those who lack intrinsic factors, other people may develop a malabsorption condition involving vitamin B-12 due to other conditions such as Crohn’s disease, Helicobacter pylori infection and celiac disease (12).
Some Clues That You Might Be Vitamin B-12 Deficient
You might be showing symptoms of a vitamin B-12 deficiency if you experience (15):
- Weakness and fatigue
- Pale skin and yellowing of your skin and whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Burning, numbness or tingling in your hands, feet or around your mouth
- Difficulty walking
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Memory problems
- Rapid heart beat
- Digestive problems such as diarrhoea, constipation or bloating.
Looking for a way to break the vicious cycle of weight loss and tone up all the jiggly parts? Watch the extra pounds fly off and your muscles firm up with the BetterMe app!
Health Benefits Of B-12
Consuming vitamin B12 is essential to your diet. Vitamin B12 contributes to vital functions in your body, including (17):
- Helping red blood cells to divide and grow
- Helping your body make DNA, the genetic material in all cells
- Preventing a type of anaemia called megaloblastic anaemia
- Helping to prevent fatty liver disease.
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is essential for your health, and many people benefit from consuming more of it. Vegans and vegetarians should follow a diet that includes vitamin B12 foods to help ensure they get enough of this important nutrient. Among the best vegetarian sources of vitamin B12 are shellfish, eggs, and milk. If you choose not to eat animal-based products, look for fortified cereals or dairy alternatives such as plant-based milks made from soybeans.
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 to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Egg, whole, raw, fresh (2019, fdc.nal,usda.gov)
- Genetic heterogeneity of megaloblastic anaemia type 1 in Tunisian patients | Journal of Human Genetics (2007, nature.com)
- importance of milk as a source of vitamin B12 for human nutrition (2014, academic.oup.com)
- Is Marmite Good for You? (2020, webmd.com)
- Nutritional powder mix, whey based, NFS (2019, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Nutritional Yeast: Is It Good for You? Pros and Cons, Nutrition Information, and More (n.d., webmd.com)
- Proton pump inhibitors and risk of vitamin and mineral deficiency: evidence and clinical implications – Joel J. Heidelbaugh, 2013 (2013, sagepub.com)
- Quick Nutrition Check for Vitamin B12 (2019, healthlinkbc.ca)
- Role of Lactobacillus reuteri in Human Health and Diseases (2020, frontiersin.org)
- Shellfish: Nutritive Value, Health Benefits, and Consumer Safety (2017, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Tempeh, cooked (2019, fdc.nal,usda.gov)
- The Malabsorption Syndrome and Its Causes and Consequences (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Safety of Long-term Daily Usage of a Proton Pump Inhibitor: A Literature Review (2019,ncbi.nlm.nih.gov )
- Vitamin B12-Containing Plant Food Sources for Vegetarians (2014, mdpi.com)
- Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky, harmful (2013, health.harvard.edu)
- Vitamin B12 Deficiency – StatPearls (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Vitamin B12 – Health Professional Fact Sheet (2021, ods.od.nih.gov)