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Vegan & Vegetarian Sources of B12

Greenletes / Sports Nutrition / Vegan & Vegetarian Sources of B12

The ultimate list of vegan and vegetarian foods that are a good source of Vitamin B12. Don’t miss out on this crucial nutrient.

Vitamin B12 is one of those nutrients that isn’t really on your radar unless you’re a vegan or vegetarian. It’s in meat and eggs, so most people get plenty of it, but what about those who choose to abstain from all animal products? Are they destined for deficiency or can they get it from other sources?

This deep dive into Vitamin B12 will answer these questions and chat about if and how you can get B12 from plants. Read this before you start taking a supplement!

Why is Vitamin B12 important?

Did you know that Vitamin B12 is one of eight B vitamins? Yup, there are eight!

B12 is necessary for the proper formation of red blood cells, nerves and DNA. Not to mention that Vitamin B12 provides energy for everyday functions. Since it plays a role in energy production, it’s also crucial that athletes get enough Vitamin B12 in their diet.

A Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a variety of problems, including anemia, tingling in the hand and feet, fatigue, memory loss, and hallucinations or paranoia.

How much do you need each day?

Most adults need 2.4 mcg of Vitamin B12 per day, which is easy to get through animal foods.

Vitamin B12 is most abundant in animal products such as eggs, meat, diary, poultry and fish. Interestingly, Vitamin B12 is made by microorganisms in the animal’s intestines or diet, but humans are not able to make their own Vitamin B12.

In addition, plants aren’t able to make Vitamin B12, which is why you won’t find much Vitamin B12 in vegan foods. There are some rare instances of fermented foods having natural Vitamin B12 because the bacteria used to make the food produced this vitamin.

But in general, plant-based foods are fortified with Vitamin B12. That means that B12 is added to the food.

If you think you might be deficient in Vitamin B12, ask your doctor to perform a simple blood test. That will determine your Vitamin B12 status. If you do become deficient in B12, you may have to get Vitamin B12 injections. That’s the best way to quickly get Vitamin B12 back into the bloodstream.

Which nutrients interfere with B12 absorption?

While there aren’t specific nutrients that interfere with B12 absorption, a deficiency may be observed in individuals with the following conditions: 

  • Lack of intrinsic factor– intrinsic factor is a protein that is necessary for B12 absorption
  • Inadequate stomach acid or medications that decrease stomach acid – stomach acid is involved in liberating B12 from the food source to allow for its absorption 
  • Intestinal surgeries or digestive disorders- certain diseases that affect your small intestine (Crohn Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Celiac disease) can impair B12 absorption  

Symptoms of a B12 deficiency

Some of the most common symptoms of a Vitamin B12 deficiency include: 

  • Anemia 
  • Tingling sensation in the hands and feet 
  • Fatigue 
  • Memory loss
  • Hallucinations and paranoia 

Can you get enough through plant-based foods?

It depends! Keep in mind that plants are not actually able to make B12, which is why you won’t find Vitamin B12 in plant-based foods. However, there are some rare instances where you might find this vitamin in plant based foods, such as fermented foods with bacteria that produce B12 as a byproduct. But that’s not so easy to find! 

And on top of that, the type of Vitamin B12 found in plant foods isn’t absorbed as well as that from animal foods. That is why it is important for vegans and vegetarians to be diligent about incorporating plant-based foods high in B12 into their diet

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that vegetarians and vegans take precautionary measures to get enough Vitamin B12. They recommend:

  • All vegetarians and vegans should be screened for a Vitamin B12 deficiency through a simple blood test
  • All vegans should take a 250 mcg Vitamin B12 supplement daily
  • Vegetarians should consider taking 250 mcg B12 supplement a few times per week

I recommend speaking to your doctor before adding a supplement to your routine. That said, it never hurts to add more Vitamin B12- rich foods to your diet. Below is a list of plant-based and vegetarian foods to consider.

Should vegans take a B12 supplement?

Due to the fact that plant-based foods don’t contain much Vitamin B12 (unless fortified with B12), vegans and vegetarians might need to rely on supplementation in order to meet the RDA   of 2.4 mcg of Vitamin B12 per day. It is recommended that vegans supplement with 250 mcg Vitamin B12 every day, while vegetarians may only have to supplement with 250mcg a few times per week. Vegetarians and vegans can determine whether they are Vitamin B12 deficient by taking a blood test.

What type of B12 supplement can I take? 

When it comes to dietary supplements, you will typically find vitamin B12 available within a multivitamin or as a stand alone supplement. Vitamin B12 supplements usually come in pill form or sublingual, meaning droplets that are placed under the tongue. If you have a severe deficiency, sublingual supplements may be best because they are absorbed into the bloodstream quickly. For maintenance of B12 levels, a daily pill works well. 

However, only take a B12 supplement if you are at risk for or currently have a B12 deficiency. While you can’t reach toxic B12 levels, supplements aren’t necessary if you are achieving the RDA of 2.4mcg per day. If you would like to find out if a B12 supplement is a good idea for you, talk to your health practitioner. Vitamin B12 supplements can interfere with some medications, like Metformin and certain antibiotics, so it’s always a good idea to get the green light from your doctor first.

Why is Vitamin B12 important for vegan and vegetarian athletes? 

Not only does B12 play an important role in energy production to fuel a workout or training session, but it supports bone health too. Athletes are already at greater risk of fractures, but adding a B12 deficiency in the mix can make you even more susceptible to a bone break.  

Low levels of Vitamin B12 are linked to decreased bone mineral density and increased fracture risk. To prevent injuries and perform at your best, it’s important to monitor your Vitamin B12 levels. If you’re a plant-based athlete, ask your doctor to perform a simple blood draw to see if you have enough B12 in the blood.

Can a B12 deficiency impact endurance activity? 

With a B12 deficiency, you may experience symptoms like tingling in your hands and feet, fatigue, poor cognition and digestive issues. As you would expect, these symptoms are not ideal for any athlete, and they may hinder your endurance and performance! And on top of that, B vitamins play a key role in metabolism or how efficiently your body converts food into energy, which is a vital part of endurance sports.

Vegan Sources

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1. Nutritional Yeast– Bob’s Red Mill Large Flake Yeast, 8 Ounce 

This deactivated yeast product is often used in vegan foods to give a cheesy or umami flavor. Many people add it to popcorn, scrambles, kale chips, sauces, baked potatoes or roasted vegetables. Don’t knock it til you try it!

Just ¼ cup of nutritional yeast contains 17 micrograms of B12, which is about 700% of the daily recommendation of 2.4 micrograms! Don’t be alarmed if your pee turns bright yellow after eating it–it’s just the water-soluble vitamin coming out in the urine.

2. Fortified Plant Milks–  SOY DREAM Enriched Original Organic Soymilk, 64 Fluid Ounce (Pack of 8)

Many people wonder if almond or soy milk contains Vitamin B12? The answer is yes! Dairy milk naturally contains Vitamin B12, so plant milk manufacturers fortify their products with this vitamin. Most plant milks, like almond milk, soy milk and coconut milk, are fortified with B12.

These dairy alternatives can be used in place of regular milk in recipes or consumed as a delicious beverage option! Although the amount of B12 varies between kinds and brands, a cup of non-dairy milk may have up to 3 micrograms. However, it’s important to always check the label to ensure that it’s fortified with Vitamin B12.

3. Fortified Breakfast Cereal–  Kashi Heart to Heart Honey Toasted Oat Cereal, 1.4-Ounce Cups (Pack of 12)

Most cereals now add a wide assortment of vitamins and minerals to their cereals, including B12. Again, the amount of B12 will vary between cereals, but many have at least the daily recommendation, and others have even more than that!

4. Meat Substitutes —  Beyond Meat Beef Free Beastly Sliders, 8 Ounce — 7 per case.

Since meat is one of the natural sources of B12, many faux-meat products have added B12 into their products to substitute the real thing. And more and more faux meat products, like replacements for burgers, sausage, chicken fingers, ribs, are hitting the market regularly.

Check either the ingredients list or nutrition facts panel to make sure that the product you are purchasing has been fortified with B12. And eat these foods sparingly, since they are rather processed and not always as healthy as you may think.

5. Seaweed —  ONE ORGANIC Sushi Nori Premium Roasted Organic Seaweed (50 Full Sheets)

Otherwise known as nori, seaweed is a good source of B12. One small snack pack of crunchy roasted seaweed has some Vitamin B12, but the jury is still out on whether or not the body easily absorbs this version of the vitamin.

Still, nori is a healthy snack option, and there’s no harm in including it in your daily eats.

6. Mushrooms

Certain wild mushrooms, like black trumpet and golden chanterelle have about 1- 2.65 mcg of Vitamin B12 per pound of mushrooms. The caveat is that these varieties of mushrooms are often expensive and hard to find.

Plus, it’s rare that anyone eats one pound of mushrooms in a meal, but why not add these edible fungi to your meal for a boost of B12 and Vitamin D?

7. Tempeh

Just three ounces of tempeh has considerable amounts of Vitamin B12. According to research, the levels of Vitamin B12 in tempeh can vary greatly, from 0.1 mcg to 8 mcg.

Tempeh is a fermented food, meaning that it uses natural bacteria for its formation. The authors of the study believe that bacterial contamination during the production of tempeh may contribute to the increased Vitamin B12 content.

If you’re not sure what to do with tempeh, check out these recipes:

Vegetarian Sources

8. Dairy Products

For vegetarians, consuming milk and dairy is one of the easiest ways to increase your Vitamin B12 consumption. Not only are these foods rich in meatless protein, one cup of milk or yogurt can provide a little over 1 microgram of Vitamin B12.

One of my favorite ways to use dairy is in a smoothie. Here are a few recipes for you to try:

Sunshine Smoothie: Mango, Clementine, Banana, Coconut smoothie with no added sugar and 13 grams of protein

9. Eggs

Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse. They provide an abundance of different nutrients, like protein, Vitamin D, choline, antioxidants and Vitamin B12. One egg has around .6 micrograms (or 25%) of Vitamin B12.

Looking to up your egg game? Try out any of these recipes:

Vegetarian Egg Roll in a Bowl, made with cabbage, carrots & scallions

10. Swiss Cheese

Not surprisingly, cheese also contains Vitamin B12. Swiss cheese is the highest with .95 mcg (or almost half the daily recommendation) of Vitamin B12.

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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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