Your body needs many different kinds of vitamins to function properly, so you need a balanced diet to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you require. One category of these is B vitamins, which help your body to produce red blood cells and convert ingested food into useful energy and macromolecules such as proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids.
Vitamins of this type are all typically found in similar foods, so you don’t need to account for each separately in your eating habits. There are 8 B vitamins in total, including Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is important for metabolism.
It also helps create myelin sheaths, which insulate the cells of the nervous system and facilitate the movement of electrical impulses between them. This basically means that when you have the recommended levels of vitamin B12 (1.5 micrograms per day for most adults), your nervous system can run smoothly.
The richest and most common sources of vitamin B12 are meat and fish, cheese, eggs, and milk. Many people consume enough of these foods on a daily basis that they don’t need to worry about sourcing more. However, this can present an issue if you are a vegan, as all the foods listed above are animal products and therefore not included in a vegan diet.
A high percentage of vegetarians and vegans exhibit symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency – between 40% and 80% of this demographic overall, with the higher percentages found in places like Hong Kong and India – so they often take additional vitamin B12 supplements to counteract the effects.
Don’t panic though – you can still source your vitamin B12 from elsewhere, especially with the larger variety of products available today than ever before. Some are food sources fortified with vitamin B12, and others are supplements taken alongside your normal diet that is specifically designed to boost your vitamin intake. Read on to find out the 8 sources of vitamin B12 that every vegan must know.
1. Breakfast Cereals
Good news for cereal fans: many of your morning favorites have added vitamin B12 in them, so you can get your daily fix sorted first thing. Reach for one of these in your breakfast cupboard to set you up nicely for the day ahead. We all know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so it makes sense to boost your intake of B12 at the same time.
We recommend cereals that are low in sugar and high in fiber, such as granola or bran. Great choices to go for include Kellogg’s All-Bran, Kellogg’s Low Fat Granola, and General Mills All-grain Cheerios. These are global brands that are very easy to find in any grocery store, so you don’t need to visit specialty health stores or purchase online.
Cereal doesn’t have to be restricted to the mornings – empty a portion into a small tub to carry around with you and snack on during the day. This will keep you going between meals without disrupting your appetite, supplying you with essential vitamin B12 and ensuring you stay focused.
2. Imitation Meats
You may not be able to eat the real thing, but for those of you who like to enjoy the taste and texture of meat without the associated guilt, many plant-based substitutes contain similar levels of vitamin B12 as well. There are so many of these on the market currently that you’re bound to find one you like.
Imitation meats have come a long way since the 1896 introduction of Nuttose, the first commercially-available option created from peanuts by John Kellogg. Nowadays they are made from various fungi, beans, and soy to mimic a wide range of meat products, such as bacon, chicken pieces, mince, sausages, and burgers – enough to have a whole vegan barbeque if you wanted!
You can even get vegan jerky, which resembles the chewy texture of the cured meat snack. Imitation meats are highly versatile and easy to store, so they are great to have in your freezer for any meal.
Be careful, though, as some products are suitable for vegetarians but not vegans – for example, egg is often used as a binding agent. Always check the label, and try to make sure whatever you buy is marketed as plant-based to avoid confusion. Some well-known brands include Tofurky, Beyond Meat, and Gardein.
Tempeh is also often used as a meat substitute but isn’t manufactured to resemble any meat in particular. It is a traditional Indonesian foodstuff that is made from fermented soybeans and comes in the form of blocks that you can cut to the required size and shape.
The starter culture used to begin the fermentation process contains bacteria that produce vitamin B12, meaning that tempeh can be a great source of this vitamin. Many vegans find non-vegan friends and acquaintances turning their noses up at meat substitutes, but give them some tempeh to try and you might start to change their attitudes.
Tempeh burgers are now a popular dish served in restaurants all over the world, and they are enjoyed by vegetarians, vegans, and meat-eaters alike. Tempeh is similar to tofu in its concept but has a firmer consistency and nuttier flavor.
Store-bought varieties, such as Lightlife, are packed full of additional vitamins for a nutritious, complete meal. Tempeh is most commonly fried, but can also be cooked via other methods like steaming, braising, and grilling.
4. Vitamin B-12 Supplements
If you’re not getting enough valuable vitamin B12 from your diet alone, supplements are a good way of remedying that. Vitamin supplements can take the form of solid tablets, capsules, powders, or chewable gums. Some are flavored to make them more appealing to take, while others are basically tasteless.
Supplements represent the fastest and easiest way of increasing vitamin B12 in your system because they’re specifically formulated for that purpose and don’t require any additional preparation. That said, they won’t work instantly – you will need to be taking them regularly over a period of weeks to notice the benefits.
In time, you may be able to decrease your intake from every day to every other day, once your vitamin B12 levels have begun to balance out. Nature’s Bounty 2500 mcg Vitamin B12 Tablets contain a high concentration of vitamin B12, and the tablets dissolve rapidly when placed under your tongue.
This makes them particularly good for people who find tablets difficult to swallow. Naturelo Vegan B12 With Organic Spirulina comes in a bottle of mini capsules, which are smaller than regular tablets and designed for ease of swallowing.
The added spirulina is rich in minerals like iron and copper, as well as B vitamins, providing a dose of other nutrients vegans are likely to lack in their diets. Consumers have noted effects such as stronger nails, higher energy levels, and increased metabolism after a short period of taking them. Jarrow Formulas Methyl B12 Cherry Tablets are chewy tablets with a pleasant cherry flavor, which makes them taste like candy.
As you can see, there are so many different ways to take vitamin supplements, and you may want to consider which you would find easiest before you purchase. These can be found online as well as in health stores, but the web offers a wider range of alternatives than you would usually find in person.
Also, different supplements are effective in different people, so it could be a case of experimenting to see which you get the best results.
5. Fortified Soy Or Almond Milk
The rise of veganism has brought with it an increased supply of non-dairy milk, from soy milk to nut milk and oat milk. These are usually produced by combining the ingredient with water, leaving it to soak, and then straining so all solid particles are removed.
While they don’t naturally contain the full range of nutrients found in dairy milk, alternative milk can be fortified with vitamins for additional health benefits for consumers, and most often they include D2, E, and B12. Drinking a glass of one of these milk will open up said benefits to you, and you can enjoy the refreshing flavors at the same time.
They are also great for putting in your tea, cooking with, or anything else you would use dairy milk for. The type of alternative milk you choose will depend on your individual needs. Coconut milk is the thickest option, similar to heavy cream.
Oat milk and cashew milk also have a thicker consistency than dairy milk, giving them an indulgent, creamy texture. These really shine when added to your hot drink, making a noticeable difference with just a few splashes. Almond milk and soy milk are thinner, which you may find preferable for drinking straight from the glass.
While the almond is low in protein and calories, soy is high in protein, making it an ideal solution for vegans who don’t consume many protein-rich foods. Almond Dream Enriched Almond Milk, Edensoy Original Extra Soymilk, and Califia Farms Original Oat Milk are some excellent fortified milk to get you started.
6. Nutritional Yeast
This is a form of deactivated yeast sold in health stores or other grocery stores for the various health benefits it possesses. You can buy it as granules, flakes, or a fine powder, depending on how you want to use it. Many people add it to their favorite recipes or simply use it as a condiment, as it has a strong nutty taste.
Consumers have also likened the flavor to cheese, which is why it is commonly found as an ingredient in vegan cheese substitutes. It is distinct from yeast extract, which we cover in the next section.
After being cultured in a nutrient medium (primarily glucose) for a few days, the yeast is heated to deactivate it, before being dried and packaged for sale. It is made from specially-selected strains that are different from those used in baking and brewing. While the yeast itself doesn’t produce vitamin B12, this is added separately in most cases.
Nutritional yeast is rich in a whole host of vitamins and minerals, making it invaluable for people who are worried about getting the right nutrients. It is not recommended to consume nutritional yeast in large quantities, as the high fiber content can trigger digestive problems.
7. Yeast Extract Products
Unlike nutritional yeast, yeast extract isn’t used on its own and is instead commonly found in products such as condiments and potato chips to give them the same savory umami taste you get in beer and bread. Lays chips are a huge brand here, and they manufacture a wide range of chip flavors that often have yeast extract as an ingredient.
A big issue with getting your vitamin B12 this way is that many foods containing yeast extract are otherwise unhealthy, meaning that the drawbacks of consuming them can outweigh the benefits. As well as the aforementioned potato chips, sources of yeast extract include gravy, canned soup, frozen meals, and salty snacks.
Still, it is useful to know some of the products in this category and where to find them. In the UK, Marmite is a popular product derived from yeast extract, and Australia has a similar Vegemite. While there is no direct US equivalent of these, they are both widely available on Amazon or other sites that ship internationally.
If you’re struggling to find suitable yeast extract products in America, you could always give one of these a try – they are an acquired taste with a strong umami flavor, which you may find draws you in immediately.
8. Shiitake Mushrooms
According to recent research, certain fungi contain a significant amount of vitamin B12, in particular dried shiitake mushrooms. This is exciting because B12 is not naturally present in many types of vegetables, and most other sources have to be fortified with it.
You won’t be able to rely solely on mushrooms, though, as there are not enough vitamin B12 in a regular portion to constitute your recommended daily intake. As long as you also seek other sources of vitamin B12 in your diet, you can enjoy plenty of this tasty mushroom in the knowledge that it is providing you with useful nutrients.
In fact, if you’re a fan of East Asian cuisine, why not buy yourself some Nori seaweed as well? This edible seaweed is found commonly in Japanese snacks like sushi
Frequently Asked Questions
Vitamin B12 deficiency has similar effects to any other B-vitamin deficiency; fatigue, muscle weakness, and feeling sick are common symptoms. You may find your cognitive abilities are impaired, as your brain isn’t getting the right nutrients, causing you to forget things.
Anemia is a common condition in people who lack vitamin B12. More severe potential symptoms include psychosis and spinal cord degeneration. It’s not just vegans who are at risk either – vitamin B12 becomes more difficult to absorb the older you get, and certain health conditions including AIDS and Inflammatory Bowel Disease can also impede absorption.
In fact, vitamin B12 deficiency is more commonly caused by malabsorption than by low intake, but you should still do everything you can to keep your levels of the vitamin up.
One of the main advantages of following a vegan diet is that it is more sustainable than an omnivorous one, which means that you’re caring for the environment as well as your own health. Unfortunately, some of the food products that are marketed for vegans actually turn out to be not as good for the planet as they claim to be; quinoa and palm oil have both recently suffered for this reason.
So, can you really source your B12 in an ethical way? When directly compared to their animal-based counterparts, plant-based milk and meats are far more environmentally friendly.
This is because they use up far less land and water, and contribute significantly less to greenhouse gas emissions. The meat and dairy industries … It is, however, important to note that almond milk uses more water than other non-dairy milk to produce.
Yeast in all its forms is an environmentally friendly crop, with its producers taking care to protect natural habitats and maintain a low carbon footprint. Choose organic brands so you know that no harmful pesticides were used to make your yeast.
Breakfast cereals can be ethically dubious, as research suggests that most grains used to make the big-name US brands are grown in environmentally-damaging conditions.
However, many cereal companies are beginning to wake up to the realities of their farming practices, and have committed to exploring better alternatives. Much of the packaging used in modern cereals is recyclable – this area is far more regulated than it used to be, so you can dispose of your empty packets without guilt.
As you can see, vegan sources of vitamin B12 are generally sustainable, and improvements are being made all the time in various industries to lessen their impact on the environment. Of course, you can never be completely sure that everything you consume has been produced sustainably, but the important thing is that you consider the environmental effects you are personally making where possible.