If you’re following a vegetarian or plant-based diet, it can be challenging to obtain all the essential nutrients your body needs to function optimally. One of the key nutrients that vegetarians and vegans often struggle to get enough of, is vitamin B12. This vital nutrient plays a crucial role in everything from energy production to brain function, however it’s primarily found in animal products, making it difficult to obtain through a plant-based diet. There are some lesser-known vitamin B12 vegetables that can help you meet your daily needs. In this article, we’ll explore the best plant-based sources of vitamin B12 to help you stay healthy and energized.
What Is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is an essential vitamin that plays a role in many important bodily functions. As a water-soluble vitamin, it is not stored in large amounts in our bodies and must be replenished through dietary sources. The body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 also decreases with age.
B12 helps with the following processes (12):
- Red blood cell production and development – B12 is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells.
- Brain and nervous system health – B12 contributes to the proper development and functioning of your brain and nervous system.
- Energy production – This vitamin helps convert food into energy and is important for healthy metabolic function.
- DNA synthesis – B12 aids in the formation of new cells and helps keep your body’s existing cells healthy.
- Promotes healthy skin, hair, and nails – Vitamin B12 contributes to healthy skin, hair, and nail growth.
- Supports immune system function – B12 helps your body fight off infections and disease.
- Helps regulate mood and sleep patterns – This vitamin may help keep your moods and sleep patterns balanced by influencing the production of melatonin and serotonin.
What Foods Are High In Vitamin B12?
There are several foods that are high in vitamin B12, including (12):
- Beef liver: A 3-ounce serving of beef liver provides almost 3000% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin B12.
- Clams and other shellfish: A 3-ounce serving of cooked clams contains over 700% of the DV for vitamin B12. Oysters, mussels, and other shellfish are also excellent sources of this nutrient.
- Fish: Salmon and tuna are good sources of vitamin B12. A 3-ounce serving provides about 100% of the DV.
- Poultry: Chicken and turkey are good sources of vitamin B12. A 3-ounce serving provides about 5-15% of the DV.
- Eggs: One large egg provides about 19% of the DV for vitamin B12.
- Milk and dairy products: Milk, yogurt, and cheese are all good sources of vitamin B12. One cup of milk provides about 50% of the DV.
- Fortified cereals: Some breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin B12, providing up to 100% of the DV per serving.
- Nutritional yeast: Fortified nutritional yeast is a popular ingredient for vegans and vegetarians. A quarter of a cup provides up 10 1000% of the DV for vitamin B12.
- Yeast extract spreads: Yeast extract spreads like Marmite or Vegemite are high in Vitamin B12. Just one serving provides up to 75% of the DV.
It’s important to note that vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal-based foods, so individuals who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet may need to rely on supplements or fortified foods to ensure they get enough of this essential nutrient.
What Fruits And Vegetables Are High In Vitamin B12?
There are a few fruits and vegetables that contain small amounts of vitamin B12. These include:
Certain types of seaweed, such as nori, contain vitamin B12.
Nori is a type of edible seaweed that is commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It is a red algae that grows in cold, shallow waters along rocky shorelines. Nori is typically harvested from the Pacific coast of Japan, Korea, and China.
Nori is by far the richest vegan source of vitamin B12 among the seaweeds, containing up to 77.6 micrograms per 100 grams dry weight (14). You would need to eat 4 grams of nori to get your required 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 for the day. A 9 x 3 cm sheet is about 0.3 grams.
In addition to being a source of vitamin B12, Nori is also rich in other important nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, iron, and iodine (10). It is also a low-calorie food, making it a great option for those looking to maintain a healthy weight.
Nori can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, including:
- As a wrap for sushi or rice balls
- Crumbled and sprinkled on top of soups and salads
- Roasted and eaten as a snack
- Used as a seasoning for rice dishes, such as onigiri.
To prepare Nori for use in sushi or rice balls, it is typically toasted over an open flame until it becomes crispy and fragrant. This enhances its flavor and makes it easier to wrap around other ingredients. Nori can also be purchased pre-toasted and ready to use.
Some other types of seaweed, like green sea lettuce and seaweed fulvescene also contain notable amounts of vitamin B12 (11).
Certain varieties of mushrooms, such as shiitake, contain small amounts of vitamin B12.
Shiitake mushrooms are a type of edible mushroom that originated in East Asia. They are brown-capped mushrooms that grow on the logs of deciduous trees such as oak, chestnut, and beech.
Shiitake mushrooms are rich in nutrients and have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine for their health benefits.
Shiitake mushrooms are a good source of vitamin B12, with a 100-grams dry weight containing anywhere from 1.3-12.7 micrograms of vitamin B12 (14). They are also low in calories and fat and high in fiber, protein, and other important nutrients such as vitamin D, iron, and potassium.
To prepare shiitake mushrooms, they are typically sliced and added to soups, stews, stir-fries, and other savory dishes. They can also be sautéed with garlic and olive oil and served as a side dish or topping for salads. Dried shiitake mushrooms are commonly used in Asian cuisine and can be soaked in water before use to rehydrate them.
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Asparagus is a nutrient-dense vegetable that contains many important vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12. Asparagus may contain trace amounts of vitamin B12 (14).
In addition to being a minor source of vitamin B12, asparagus is also high in fiber, folate, vitamin C, and antioxidants. It also contains several bioactive metabolites which may have health benefits (1).
Asparagus can be enjoyed in a variety of dishes including soups, salads, stir-fries, risottos, and casseroles. It can also be steamed, roasted, or grilled for a quick and healthy side dish. When selecting asparagus, choose stalks that are bright green and firm to the touch. Avoid any with wilted or yellow tips as they will be less flavorful.
Spinach is a leafy green vegetable that is packed with important vitamins and minerals. It doesn’t inherently contain vitamin B12, but can provide a trace amount if it was grown using organic fertilizer such as cow manure (14).
In addition, spinach is high in fiber, folate, vitamin A and C, iron, calcium, and magnesium. It is also rich in antioxidants (5).
Spinach can be enjoyed in salads, sandwiches, soups, and smoothies. It can also be sautéed, steamed, or boiled for a quick and healthy side dish.
When selecting spinach, look for leaves that are bright green and free of wilting or yellowing. Avoid any with spots or discolorations, as this is a sign of spoilage.
How Much Vitamin B12 Per Day?
The amount of vitamin B12 you need each day depends on your age. According to the National Institute of Health, adult men and women over the age of 19 need at least 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of B12 per day (12).
Pregnant and nursing women may need slightly more (12). Other factors, such as digestive issues or medications, can also affect your B12 needs.
Vitamin B12 deficiency occurs when the body doesn’t absorb enough vitamin B12 from the foods we eat or when we don’t consume enough in our diet. This deficiency affects the body’s ability to produce healthy red blood cells, which can lead to anemia. Additionally, it can cause nerve damage, memory loss, and other cognitive impairments (12).
There are several reasons why someone may develop a vitamin B12 deficiency, including:
If the stomach or small intestine doesn’t absorb vitamin B12 properly, it can lead to a deficiency. This could be due to certain medical conditions such as pernicious anemia, celiac disease, or Crohn’s disease (13). Our ability to absorb vitamin B12 can also decline with age.
Vegan or vegetarian diets may lack sufficient sources of vitamin B12, as the vitamin is primarily found in animal-based foods. This can put individuals who follow these diets at higher risk of developing a deficiency (13).
Certain medications such as metformin, proton pump inhibitors, and H2 blockers can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 (13).
The symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can vary from person to person and may not always be noticeable. Common symptoms may include (13):
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
- Mouth ulcers or a sore or red tongue
- Memory loss
- Vision loss
A vitamin B12 deficiency can be diagnosed through a blood test that measures the level of vitamin B12 in the body. A healthcare provider may also perform additional tests to determine the cause of the deficiency.
Treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency typically involves increasing the intake of the vitamin through supplements or injections. For those who do not absorb vitamin B12 properly, regular injections may be necessary.
Should You Take A Vitamin B12 Supplement?
If you don’t eat animal-based foods and are following a vegan or vegetarian diet, it’s important to include other sources of vitamin B12 in your diet. This may include fortified breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast, and supplements.
Additionally, if you are over the age of 50, have digestive issues, or take certain medications that interfere with vitamin B12 absorption, you may want to discuss supplementation options with your healthcare provider.
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The Bottom Line
Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient that helps to keep the body functioning normally, and it can be found in a variety of foods including fruits and vegetables.
Nori and shiitake mushrooms are both excellent sources of vitamin B12. Additionally, these foods provide a variety of other vitamins and minerals that can help keep the body strong and healthy.
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!
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- Nutritional Composition and Biological Properties of Sixteen Edible Mushroom Species (2022, mdpi.com)
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- Potatoes and human health (2009, pubmed.gov)
- Recent Research on the Health Benefits of Blueberries and Their Anthocyanins (2019, nih.gov)
- Seaweed, laver, raw (2019, usda.gov)
- Vitamin B 12 Content Using Modified Microbioassay in Some Korean Popular Seaweeds, Fish, Shellfish and Its Products (2012, researchgate.net)
- Vitamin B12 (2022, nih.gov)
- Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia (2023, nhs.uk)
- Vitamin B12-Containing Plant Food Sources for Vegetarians (2014, nih.gov)