Vitamin B12 for Vegans

There is a common belief that vitamin B12 can only be found in animal meat, fish, chicken, turkey and animal by-products such as eggs and dairy products. This belief leads many people, including some nutritionists, to conclude that a vegan diet must necessarily be low in this essential vitamin. However, there are other sources of vitamin b12 to include in a vegan diet. Check out how you can get vitamin b12 from non-animal-meat way.

What’s the Importance of Vitamin B12?


Vitamin B12 is critical in the formation and maintenance of red blood and nerve cells. It is also vital in the synthesis of DNA, which is the genetic material found in all living cells.

Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)

The recommended RDI for a healthy adult is about 2.4 micrograms each day. Pregnant and lactating women should get between 2.6-2.8 micrograms of vitamin B12 each day. Infants can get their required amount through a normal diet. For children from 1-13 years old, the B12 requirement is 1-2 micrograms daily. Studies show that since vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin, there is no issue with taking in higher levels of the vitamin; the body will simply excrete any B12 that is not used.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

A deficiency of Vitamin B12 may result in pernicious anemia or nerve damage in older children and adults. Pernicious anemia results when the red blood cells are atypically large. This disease results in shortness of breath, fatigue, and impaired resistance to infection. Nerve damage from low vitamin B12 will be exhibited as tingling or numbness in the feet and hands. In infancy, vitamin B12 deficiencies can result in chronic anemia and delays in normal growth and development. Other general symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency may include mental changes, poor balance, depression, constipation, decreased appetite and resulting weight loss.

Vitamin B12 for Vegans

How Is Vitamin B12 Made?

Vitamin B12 is a unique vitamin in that it is only made as a result of interactions of certain bacteria. Until recently, humans had to depend on the exact interplay of these microorganisms to produce B12; then, animals had to ingest the microorganisms in order to get the vitamin. In August 2013, British researchers reported that they have trained specific bacteria to produce the components necessary for the vitamin B12 pathway. This may one day lead to the ability to produce vitamin B12 more quickly and in greater quantities. Plants do not use or store vitamin B12, so a vegan diet must be supplemented with the B12 that a non-vegan would get from animal sources.

Vitamin B12 Sources for Vegans

If vitamin B12 is only found in animal food sources, how can a vegan get the minimal daily requirements of this important nutrient?

1. Nutritional Yeast

Red Star T-6635+ is a nutritional yeast (as opposed to a baker’s yeast) that is cultivated in a molasses solution. This yeast (with the formal name of Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is a yellow powder or flakes that are high in active vitamin B12 and that can be added to other foods. Adding two teaspoons to any other food will satisfy the normal daily adult required intake. Often described as having the flavor of cheese, this is one kind of yeast that can often be eaten by people who are sensitive to other kinds of yeast.

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2. Fortified Foods

Vegans can also get vitamin B12 from foods to which the vitamin has been added. These foods are often labeled as “Vitamin B12 fortified” and can include energy bars, soy milk and foods made from soybeans that resemble meat products.

3. Supplements

Vegans can also get the RDI of Vitamin B12 by taking over-the-counter supplements or prescription injections from a healthcare provider. Before taking supplements, the vegan should be sure to read the label since supplements sometimes do contain animal products. If taking supplements only, the vegan should be sure to take them regularly. Although the human body stores a certain amount of the vitamin, prolonged decreased or absent intake will ultimately result in vitamin B12 deficiency. You should take a daily vitamin B12 supplement of 25-100 micrograms or a twice weekly vitamin B12 supplement of 1000 micrograms.

4. Other Likely Sources

Some plant foods may contain small amounts of Vitamin B12. These foods include sea vegetables, miso, tempeh and possibly foods grown in manure-laced soil. It is recommended that a vegan NOT rely on plant sources for vitamin B12 since the amount of the vitamin in plants is probably not enough to sustain a healthy level of B12 in the body.

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