The Elusive Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 Foods for Vegans and Vegetarians
Dr. Lindsey Mcilvena, MD

In her day job, treating patients living with chronic disease, nutrition and lifestyle are not after-thoughts, they’re central to helping her patients get well. She’s also our go-to expert on plant-based diets.

Do you mostly eat a plant-based diet? If so, you might have your mom, grandma, neighbor, and local police chief worried about where you’re getting your vitamin B12. Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered.

Vitamin B12, aka cobalamin, helps our body synthesize DNA, keeps our red blood cells functioning well, and keeps our nerves sending smooth impulses. Sound vaguely familiar? Yep, folate is involved in a lot of these functions as well; B12 and folate are like a BFF duo.

While B12 is easily obtained from animal products, it’s harder to come by in the plant-food world. Luckily, the body has a pretty big storage tank of B12—it takes multiple years of not getting enough (that’s 2.4mcg per day) for someone to develop the deficiency. Here’s a quick list of the recommended daily allowances for vitamin B12, followed by a list of where to find it when on a plant-based diet.

Vitamin B12 recommended daily allowances

BUT, if you’re mostly plant based it’s important to know where you can find B12. There are a couple of vegetarian sources, but there’s also a catch:

  1. Nutritional Yeast
    That deliciously nutty, flaky, dare I say cheesy yeast that looks slightly reminiscent of what I fed my pet goldfish in 1st grade—that’s the one. Most brands have been fortified with B12, and in some cases, as little as 1 tablespoon can provide the daily recommended value. Try adding it to sauces, pasta, rice dishes, or enjoy it on popcorn.
  2. Fermented Foods
    Sauerkraut, kombucha (fermented tea), and miso contain varying amounts of B12. It comes from the good bacteria present in the fermented product. Because of the high variation in amount, it’s best not to use these as your only source of B12.
  3. Sea Vegetables and Algae
    Same as the fermented foods here, the amounts vary.
  4. Mushrooms
    Or at least some mushroom varieties when tested in the lab have been shown to contain B12.
  5. Fortified Foods
    Soy milk, breads, cereals, and other products have had B12 added back in, to ensure its presence.

So what’s the catch, you ask? The plant based sources of B12, particularly the fermented foods, sea vegetables, and mushrooms may contain an inactive form of B12 that doesn’t actually help the body.  At SuperFoodRx we’re passionate about getting vitamins and minerals through whole foods. B12 may be one case where it’s better to take a supplement than to rely on solely plant based sources.

vitamin b12 foods for vegetarians

Sources: Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

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