Vegan Vitamin B12 Sources
  • Alyssa Fontaine, RD
  • Aug 05, 2023

Top 5 Vegan Vitamin B12 Sources: Essential for a Balanced Plant-Based Diet

What is Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin essential to human health. As our bodies are unable to produce it naturally, we have to get it through our diet. 

Unfortunately, vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal-based foods, therefore if the consumption of these products is low, deficiency is likely. In fact, for many people who follow vegetarian and vegan diets, this is precisely what happens. 

However, hope is not lost. With awareness and proper planning to obtain sufficient vitamin B12 from alternative sources, it’s possible to prevent and address this deficiency effectively.
If you want to discover vegan foods high in vitamin B12, take a look at the article mentioned. For more detailed information, consider reaching out to a vegan registered dietitian.

Sources of Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 has a special significance in the field of human nutrition due to a particular disease called pernicious anemia. This condition results from the exclusive inability to absorb vitamin B12 and was ultimately fatal. Today, treatment involves administering  B-12 injections, which corrects the anemia almost immediately.

Vitamin B12 is produced by certain bacteria and archaea through a process of microbial fermentation. These microorganisms can synthesize vitamin B12, which then accumulates in their tissues.

The main source of this vitamin is the bacteria present in the soil and the digestive tracts of animals. Herbivorous animals, like cows and sheep, obtain vitamin B12 by consuming plants that contain the bacteria. Carnivorous animals, in turn, get vitamin B12 by eating the herbivores.

Since animals are part of the food chain and consume plants or other animals, they accumulate vitamin B12 in their tissues. Consequently, animal-based foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products, become the primary dietary sources of vitamin B12 for humans.

Unfortunately, plants generally do not have a significant amount of vitamin B12 unless they are artificially fortified with it. Some plant-based foods may contain trace amounts of vitamin B12 analogs, which are similar in structure but not bioactive forms, like those found in seaweed and mushrooms.

vegan b12 sources

What is the Function of Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 has many important roles in the body:

  1. It helps with DNA synthesis, specifically, it helps create new cells and is particularly important during periods of growth or cell replacement.
  2. It plays a role in forming red blood cells, which transport oxygen to all cells in our body.
  3. Vitamin B12 is crucial for maintaining a healthy nervous system, including the brain and nerve cells.
  4. It is involved in energy metabolism, helping the body convert food into energy.

Clinical Manifestations of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

How much Vitamin B12 do vegans need?

Whether someone follows a vegan diet or not, all healthy adults require 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 every day to maintain the health and proper functioning of red blood cells and the nervous system. Older adults might need slightly more, about 10-30% extra, due to a higher risk of malabsorption, which is common as we age.

If you’re unsure about how much vitamin B12 you need or whether you’re getting enough through your diet, consult a plant-based registered dietitian.

What Vegan Foods have Vitamin B12?

There are no reliable sources of B12 in plants, despite rumors about tempeh, seaweeds, and organic produce. Plants don’t need B12 and don’t have active mechanisms to produce or store it. 

Any B12 found in plants is likely due to contamination from soil rather than a natural source, and therefore is not dependable for meeting nutrient needs for humans. Some seaweeds may have B12 analogues, but it is also unclear if they are active B12 in humans. 

Fermented foods like tempeh don’t contain B12-producing bacteria, making them non-sources of B12. Claims about bacteria on organic produce producing B12 lack verification. While chlorella may slightly improve B12 status, it shouldn’t be relied upon as a primary B12 source unless consistently proven otherwise.

Also, while some mushrooms like dried shiitake contain Vitamin B12, the reality is that consuming a sufficient amount to meet the recommended daily intake (RDA) of 2.4 μg/day would be impractical. To achieve the RDA, one would need to ingest approximately 50 g of dried shiitake mushroom fruiting bodies daily, which is simply not feasible for most people.

Therefore, it’s essential to rely on proven and reliable sources of B12, such as fortified foods or supplements, especially for individuals following a plant-based diet.

Plant-Based Registered Dietitians can help debunk myths related to vitamin B12 and ensure a safe plant-based diet. Rely on their expertise for reliable sources, avoiding deficiencies and potential harm.

How Can Vegans Get Vitamin B12?

b12 fortified nutritionnal yeast

Fortified Nutritional Yeast:

Nutritional yeast comes in two types: unfortified and fortified. Unfortified yeast lacks vitamin B12 as yeast cannot produce it. However, fortified nutritional yeast has synthetic B vitamins, including B12 added to enhance its nutritional value.

With just one tablespoon (15 mL), you can fulfill your entire vitamin B12 intake, as it provides 2.4 mcg of this essential nutrient.

Available in powder form resembling yellow flakes, it serves as a healthy alternative to achieving “cheesy” flavors in plant-based diets. Its distinctive nutty taste adds a unique touch to your dishes.

Sprinkle nutritional yeast on pasta, popcorn, salads, or other vegan foods for a flavorful boost. Get creative and whip up vegan cheese sauces or dips using this versatile ingredient.

Fortified Breakfast Cereals:

Fortified breakfast cereals are an excellent source of various vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12. If you enjoy cold cereal for breakfast, this can be a perfect way to boost your daily intake of vitamin B12.

When shopping for cereals, check the nutrition label to see if they contain vitamin B12. For instance, Kellogg’s All-Bran Original breakfast cereal is a fortified option that can fit well into a plant-based diet. With just one serving (⅔ cup), you can get 20% of your daily vitamin B12 requirement.

B12 source soymilk

Fortified Non-Dairy Milk

Fortified non-dairy milk is a vitamin B12-rich option on its own. For instance, just 1 cup of fortified unsweetened soy milk contains 1 mcg, providing 42% of your daily vitamin B12 needs. 

Choosing fortified plant milks ensures you get this essential nutrient. Incorporate them into your daily routine, whether as a standalone drink or as a nutritious addition to your favorite recipes.

vegan b12 plant based meats

Fortified Vegan Meats:

Fortified vegan meats offer an excellent way to boost your vitamin B12 intake on a plant-based diet. Plant-based chicken, pork, veggie burgers, and more are rich sources of vitamin B12. 

For instance, the popular Beyond Meat burger, widely available in grocery stores and restaurants, provides a substantial 3.15 mcg, covering 131% of your daily vitamin B12 needs.

Supplementation

To meet your vitamin B12 needs, consider taking a daily vitamin B12 supplement of at least 25 mcg or a supplement of 1000 mcg twice a week. Whether in spray or pill form, choose what suits you best.

Setting a reminder on your phone or calendar can help you remember to take it regularly. Supplements are a safer option than relying solely on food sources to maintain B12 levels, preventing the risk of deficiency. 

Consistency is key, so a supplement ensures you consistently get enough vitamin B12, even if your diet varies.

Is There a Risk of Excessive Vitamin B12 Intake?

Rest assured, consuming vitamin B12 fortified foods alongside your supplement won’t lead to an overdose.

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning any excess beyond daily needs will be naturally excreted through urine. No need to worry about consuming too much B12.

Acquiring Sufficient Vitamin B12 from Diet: Final Thoughts

For vegans, obtaining adequate vitamin B12 is essential for optimal health. Since reliable sources of B12 are limited in plant-based foods, it’s crucial to incorporate fortified foods or supplements into your diet. 

Consult a vegan registered dietitian to ensure you’re meeting your B12 needs and avoid potential deficiencies. Remember, B12 is water-soluble, so any excess will be naturally excreted, making overdosing unlikely. 

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