Plant Based Eating and Vitamin B12


vitamin-b12Vitamin B12 is a vitamin which has a unique mechanism in terms of absorption as well as in its components. It is commonly sourced from animal-based products with the exception of honey. Earlier studies associating Vitamin B12 deficiency with veganism has caused significant concerns within those who follow a plant-based diet. However, recent studies show that vegans and vegetarians can obtain their daily dose of Vitamin B12 through fortified sources as well as supplements to ensure optimal health. And just like the rest of the animal kingdom, humans who follow veganism and vegetarianism get their B12 supply from micro-organisms. With these in mind, two things are clear: first, Vitamin B12 does not necessarily have to be sourced from animal products and second, vegans and vegetarians need to have a conscious effort to ensure that they are not deficient in Vitamin B12.

The human body needs about 2 ½ micrograms of Vitamin B12 on a daily basis. For vegans and vegetarians, this can be addressed by drinking a cup of rice milk or soy which contains around one to three micrograms. Not recommended to be eaten on a routine basis, some processed vegan meat substitutes  are fortified with Vitamin B12 contain about one to six micrograms of the complex vitamin.

The liver can retain extra Vitamin B12 in the body. Vitamin B deficiency normally occurs within three to ten years, depending on when the nutrition has ceased to be taken. However, if someone already has low amounts of Vitamin B12 in the past, the deficiency might start to manifest within less than three years.

Vitamin B12 helps in ensuring that the nervous system is functioning efficiently. When a person is overtly deficient with this vitamin, there is a risk of developing blindness, deafness, loss of bone density, and dementia, all of which are permanent. Early signs of Vitamin B12 deficiency include fatigue, paranoia, loss of menstruation, loss of appetite and tingling in the hands and feet. The complex vitamin is also associated with reducing the amount of homocysteine in the body. Homocysteine, which is a byproduct of protein metabolism, can cause health risks when it reaches elevated levels. It is associated with cardiovascular diseases including heart illnesses and stroke. Studies published from 1999 to 2003 showed that vegetarians and vegans who were not consuming vitamin B12 had higher levels of homocysteine compared to meat-eaters. However, those who supplemented their plant-based diet with vitamin B12 were able to regulate the homocysteine levels in their system.

For vegetarians, the most reliable sources of Vitamin B12 are milk, yogurt, cheese, and eggs. However, if you have entirely eliminated all of these items in your diet, your best bet would be to consume rice, soy, commercial breakfast cereals and perhaps some nutritional yeast, all of which are fortified with Vitamin B12. In a study conducted in 2000, it was found that fortified foods and commercial cereals have higher amounts of vitamin B12 compared to red meat, poultry, and fish. The researchers link this lower vitamin B12 status to the damages that the meat might have incurred during cooking. Since the vitamin B12 in animal products is not cyanocobalamin, which is the form used in fortified foods, it is less stable and depletes faster when subjected to heat and acid.

Consume at least three micrograms of vitamin B12 fortified foods to ensure that your body has an adequate supply of the vitamins. When buying fortified foods, make sure to check the label since fortification varies. It is also important to store it in a cold, dark place such as the fridge. Light has negative effects to Vitamin B12 as it damages its cyanocobalamin component.

Another way to get your dose of vitamin B12 is through supplementation. As the body only has limited capacity in absorbing vitamin B12, keep your intake to 10 micrograms a day. Consuming more than that or even up to 50 micrograms in one day will not be beneficial since the body could not fully absorb it as well and there’s a high chance that it might just go to waste. Vitamin B12 is easier absorbed by the body in smaller amounts so you can spread your intake throughout the day for both supplement and fortified foods.

Vitamin B12 is best absorbed by the body by chewing or through sublingual method, which is under the tongue. In a study conducted to test the efficiency of vitamin B12 absorption among vegan participants, those who chewed their oral B12 vitamins were able to increase their B12 levels from 116 to 291. Those who swallowed their oral vitamins whole only increased their B12 levels from 123 to 139. A 2003 study which employed the same method but through sublingual means also achieved the same results, showing that both oral and sublingual vitamin B12 can efficiently help in increasing B12 levels and improve B12 activity by measuring the levels of homocysteine in the body.  There are quite a few companies that sell B12 tablets to be placed under the tongue.  Many swear taking sublingual B12 gives them a quick boost of energy!

If you are taking Vitamin B12 supplement, it should also be noted that the vitamin reacts to other types of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B1, B3, C, and E and with iron and copper. For example, taking 500 mg of vitamin C within an hour might diminish or destroy vitamin B12 supply. Another consideration when taking Vitamin B12 is your current health condition. If you have been diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, or if you are a smoker, vitamin B12 with cyanocobalamin might not be the ideal supplement for you because of its cyanide and cobalt content. Today, there are other alternatives including vitamin B12 with methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin, which might be preferable for your condition.

Although it is not required to consume meat and animal products to get your daily supply of Vitamin B12, there is an extra amount of measure that you should take as a vegan or vegetarian. You have to be particularly careful in ensuring that you are getting adequate amounts of vitamin B12 regularly. A daily diet with fortified Vitamin B12 is ideal. However, if this is not the case for you, then it is best to incorporate supplementation either through oral or sublingual vitamin B12.

Do you supplement your diet with B vitamins?

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Thriving on Plants is a resource for a whole food, plant-based way of eating and living. Here we celebrate all things plant and honor the power of informed awareness and a diet focused primarily of unprocessed vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains to support good health and happiness. Discover what a little more plant can do for your life!


This website is for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing presented here should be construed as a substitute for medical advice. Before beginning any type of new diet (natural or conventional), it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed physician, nutritionist and/or healthcare professional.
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