If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you’ve surely already confronted the “vitamin B12 dilemma”. People who follow plant-based diets tend to have trouble meeting their body’s needs for this vitamin. But do you know why?
The long and short of it is: vitamin B12 is a nutrient naturally found in animal products and lacking in vegan and vegetarian diets. In this article, we’ll tell you about the foods which are richest in B12 and provide you with alternatives to animal products.
- Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for the creation of new cells, nervous system health, and foetal development.
- This vitamin is naturally found in animal products; clams and organ meat are the richest sources of B12. Vegan products artificially fortified with this nutrient are also available.
- If you don’t consume animal products or fortified vegan foods, or if you’re unable to absorb vitamin B12 from food, a supplement can help stop nutritional deficiency.
Vitamin B12: The Best Sources
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin B12 for an adult is 2.4 micrograms (mcg, or μg). This recommendation applies to men and women alike. However, in the case of pregnant or breastfeeding women, the RDA of vitamin B12 is higher (2.6 mcg if pregnant, 2.8 mcg if breastfeeding) (1). Have you heard which foods are richest in this vitamin?
|Food (100 grams)||Vitamin B12 Content*||RDA Percentage|
|Organs (red meat)||Up to 90 mcg||4,500%|
|Organs (poultry)||Up to 58 mcg||2,900%|
|Fish eggs (caviar)||10 mcg||500%|
*Amounts of B12 can vary slightly, depending on the variety of meat or method of cooking (2).
Clams are one of the best vitamin B12 sources out there. A plate of these shellfish will help you meet your daily needs for this nutrient – in spades. Plus, their low fat content and high concentration of other B vitamins, calcium, and phosphorus help maintain a balanced diet. Try them “Spanish-style” served a la marinera – you’ll be delighted!
Organ Meat (Beef, Pork, Lamb, and Venison)
Organ meat like tripe, liver, kidney, or hearts contain incredibly high levels of vitamin B12, especially when it comes from red meat. Eating tripe and liver also helps us battle anaemia (because of their elevated iron content) and vitamin A deficiency. Being high in fat and cholesterol, they should be consumed in moderation.
Though these meats are very affordable, they do tend to inspire reluctance in little ones and picky eaters. We suggest you try out delicacies like liver and onions or Madrid-style tripe; these recipes can make these products more appetizing.
Organ Meat (Poultry)
Chicken liver, duck liver, quail, gizzards – they’re all chock-full of vitamin B12! These affordable options help increase our reserves of this nutrient. If you cannot stand the idea of eating liver, you can always rely on duck pâté (in moderation). However, pâté has lower amounts of B12 (3.2 mcg per 100 grams).
A serving of octopus can offer up to 36 micrograms of vitamin B12. Plus, this delicious mollusc is rich in iodine, magnesium, calcium, iron, and folic acid, on top of being low-cholesterol. Before cooking, remember to wash the meat thoroughly and discard the internal organs, which tend to contain toxic heavy metals (3).
This humble fish could help satisfy your B12 needs! We can find mackerel in almost any fish market. It’s an all-around exceptional food, since it offers many different B vitamins and the all-important vitamin D. Nonetheless, people with high uric acid levels should eat it only in moderation.
Fish eggs, also called roe, are a great source of vitamin B1, vitamin B2, and vitamin B12. This group includes the oh-so-exclusive caviar (sturgeon eggs) and eggs from more affordable species, like cod or tuna. Try them grilled or baked and try not to overindulge in high-calorie fried versions.
Salmon can help you keep your vitamin B12 levels within the recommended range. Plus, it’s a source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. If you can, opt for sustainably caught fish to reduce your carbon footprint.
Other Animal Products
To meet your B12 requirements, there’s no need to rely on products as expensive as caviar, salmon, and duck pâté. Thankfully, your go-to supermarket should contain dozens of cheap foods high in B12 which you can add to your diet without hurting your wallet.
For example, you could take advantage of tuna (up to 11 mcg/100 grams), canned sardines (9 mg/100 grams), or beef (2.4 mcg/100 grams) to complete your daily B12 intake. Eggs (0.4 mcg per egg), chicken (0.3 mcg/100 grams), and milk (1 mcg/200 ml) are also sources of the nutrient (2).
Vitamin B12 in Your Diet: Food and Supplements
In this section, we’re hoping to resolve your biggest concerns about food and vitamin B12. Do you know how to incorporate it into your meals? How do you avoid vitamin deficiencies if you’re vegan? We’ve got all the answers!
Vitamin B12 in Cooking
Does being cooked destroy vitamin B12? Luckily, this nutrient stands up well to high temperatures, so we can cook our favourite dishes with no fear of losing vitamins. However, microwaving (which dehydrates food and “evaporates” B12) can in fact reduce amounts of this nutrient by 12 to 23 percent, as can frying (4, 5).
Should I be eating meat every day to avoid B12 deficiency? There is no need to overindulge in animal products (which are generally high in calories, fat, and sodium) to meet our B12 needs. Adjusting your eating habits to Nutritional Pyramid recommendations is more than sufficient. This means you can limit your consumption of meat or fish to 3-5 days per week (6).
Vegans, Vegetarians, and Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is found exclusively in animal products. Because of this fact, people who choose an exclusively plant-based diet should rely on supplements or on foods fortified with vitamin B12. Otherwise, the body’s reserves of this vitamin will eventually run out after months or years of abstaining from animal products (7).
Vegetarians who eat dairy should not lower their guard when it comes to vitamin B12 deficiency. Though milk and eggs contain small amounts of this nutrient, the odds of a deficiency are still higher than those of a meat-eating person. If you’re vegetarian, make sure you’re consuming milk, eggs, or fortified foods on a daily basis. If not, try supplements (8).
Other Vitamin B12 Deficiencies
Can I develop a B12 deficiency if I eat animal products? We regret to inform you that you certainly can. You might not absorb this nutrient well for multiple reasons: if you suffer from digestive tract illnesses like ulcerative colitis, if you’ve undergone bypass surgery for weight loss, if you take medications like metformin, or if you’re simply an older person (9).
There is also a condition known as pernicious anaemia in which our bodies destroy a compound which is critical to moving vitamin B12 into the bloodstream. If you’re afraid you may have a vitamin B12 deficiency, regardless of whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or meat-eating, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor (10).
The Alternative? Vitamin B12 Supplements
Vitamin B12 deficiency is highly dangerous for vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike. If our bodies lack sufficient amounts of this nutrient, it can cause multiple serious issues (7, 11):
- Anaemia: Vitamin B12 is essential for forming new cells. Deficits can lower our amount of red blood cells, giving rise to fatigue, difficulty concentrating, pallid skin, and a sickly appearance.
- Neuropathy (Nerve Damage): Our brains, nerves, and senses (especially our eyesight) intimately depend on vitamin B12. When we’re lacking this nutrient, these systems can undergo all types of changes, such as strange tingling sensations in the extremities, difficulty walking, and even vision problems.
- Heart Disease: Some studies have begun to relate B12 deficiency to a higher incidence of heart attacks, stroke or seizure, and circulation problems. Watch out for your health!
- Problem Pregnancies: If a future mother’s vitamin B12 levels are lacking, her baby may be undernourished during gestation. This situation can increase the chances of birth defects or serious health problems for the foetus.
If you cannot meet your vitamin B12 needs through diet alone, count on supplements to prevent the unpleasant consequences of B12 deficiency.
Thankfully, these nutritional supplements can be manufactured without the use of animal products. They’re a vegan-friendly alternative!
The Future of Supplements: Liposomal Vitamin B12
Are you sick of taking B12 pills? If so, the newest vitamin B12 supplements will brighten up your day!
Liposomal Vitamin B12
In some formulas, vitamin B12 is enveloped inside small “bubbles” called liposomes. The result? A smooth liquid supplement (similar in texture to a gel) which you can use, with the help of your doctor, to prevent or solve a vitamin B12 deficiency (12).
Vitamin B12 Nasal Spray
If you’re not interested in ingesting vitamin B12, you can use practical nasal spray options to increase your reserves of the nutrient. It’s a safe, simple, and well-tolerated method of taking supplements which could replace painful vitamin B12 injections (13, 14). Ask your doctor if it’s the best option for you!
Vitamin B12 is a critical nutrient for your wellbeing. Our bodies need this molecule to create new cells, avoid anaemia, and keep the nervous system in perfect condition. To consume B12, you’ll have to rely on either animal products or other foods artificially fortified with the vitamin.
However, a vitamin B12 supplement could be the best option for vegans, vegetarians, and people with problems absorbing the nutrient. When used regularly and under medical supervision, you’ll stop this nutritional deficiency in its tracks once and for all!
Are you vegetarian or vegan? Do you take vitamin B12 supplements? Share this article on social media or leave a comment – we’d love to hear from you!