Vitamin B12 & plant-based eating.
Whether you’re interested in plant-based eating, or already following a vegan diet, I’m sure you’ve once heard that "vegans are most likely deficient in vitamin B12, and the fact plants naturally lack this vitamin is proof that a plant-based diet «isn’t made for humans»". Amaïrite ?
This blog post is aimed to educated & help you find your answers on B12s role in the body, deficiencies, ways to find the vitamin in everyday food & supplementation.
First, let’s have a quick little overview of B12 vitamin, its roles and why it’s super important for us humans!
B12 (aka cobalamin) is a water-soluble vitamin that is called «essential» as - just like ‘essentials amino-acids’ for protein - our body is not capable of producing its own. The only way to get our required dose, is by external source. B12 is not produced by plants or animals. B12 is the result of bacterias’ work ! smart little guys...!
It is fondamental for nervous system & brain health. It supports healthy red blood cell production & maintenance (those that carry oxygen around our body); help to create a protective ‘film’ around neurons; works on DNA synthesis and have a few more metabolic roles!
As a result, deficiencies in that vitamin can lead to damages & symptoms like pernicious anemia, fatigue, weakness, irritability, mental health issues, paralysis, blindness, constipation, and even drastic death…
But hold on! Good news is, there’s a lot our body can do before this happen! First, I would highly encourage you first read my thoughts on nutritional deficiencies, if you haven’t already.
The recommended daily dose of vitamin B12 is around 3micrograms for an adult under 65years old - a little more for pregnant women & older people. That’s what’s recommended to keep the body healthy - provided you’re leading a balanced healthy lifestyle additionally to that of course!
But the cool thing is that our body has this ability to store this vitamin and use it as we go for a loooong while! This technically means: if you’ve been eating predominantly or totally plant-based for a few months without worrying about it, then you’ve been right. There’s no need for you to stress: you’re not going to die tomorrow! pheeeew!
Vitamin B12 deficiencies is checked by blood analysis, testing MMA levels (unfortunately, no martial art sport involved!). If your MMA level is too high compared to healthy range, then there’s a high risk you are deficient in B12. Which is why it is important to have your blood tested regularly before making any assumptions!
Here are ways to get your vitamin B12 in on a plant-based diet.
1. From whole plant-based food.
I’m sorry to disappoint, but this is not happening. Although there has been some recent studies emerging on finding B12 in certain plant food like Tempeh (fermented soy beans), mushrooms (especially shiitake) & algae.. there’s still some testing & research to do - we’ll let them do their things!
2. From fortified plant-based food.
A lot of packaged food are being fortified as the plant-based demand is constantly increasing! This is good news! The most common fortified foods are : nutritional yeast, plant-based milks (soy especially), breakfast cereals, plant-based yoghurts & smoothies. Note that not all of those food are fortified, there has to be a mention on the label/ingredient list.
Is that enough to supplement ? It depends. If you are able to eat around 2 tablespoons of fortified nutritional yeast everyday and break down into several meals, then most likely, yes. If you are able to drink a cup of fortified soy milk everyday, then most likely, yes.
Is that a good alternative ? Yes and no. Personally, I’m not able to eat nutritional yeast everyday: what if i'm not craving it, what if I’m sick, or eat out, or just want a smoothie bowl for lunch? I’m also not a big fan of anything processed and boxed, as usually it also contains preservatives, sugars and oils which I’m trying to stay away from. So, for me, getting my B12 from fortified food is a little extra to my main intake which is through synthetic supplement!
3. From a (vegan) supplement.
There are various types of supplementation: from injections to tablets or oral/sublingual liquid. I would suggest the latter, as it is the one i’ve heard the best results from, and the easiest to take! There’s also multiple type of synthesised B12, most common being cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin. Apparently you’d need a bit more intake of methylcobalamin than cyano-type .. but that’s getting a little bit too complex and I assure you, you really don’t need to ask yourself so many questions!
If you’re into maths, here’s a quick break down into how many micrograms to intake.
First thing to know is our body is only capable of absorbing 1.5micro grams B12 per meal (more and B12 receptors get saturated). The extra intake is flushed away for 99%, and kept as ‘storage’ and passively released into bloodstream for the remaining 1%.
Knowing we need around 3μg daily, and that most supplements come with 500ug per serve, you are more than safe taking your supplement every 2 days.
Here’s why : from 500μg we retain = 1.5μg + ((500-1.5)x1%)μg = 6.48μg daily. Our weekly need being 7days x 3μg = 21μg… 21/6.48 = 3.24, which is the number of time you should take your 500μg supplement per week. Did I already tell you I am an accountant ? Anyways..
Basically, if your supplement has a 1000μg dose: take it twice a week, and if you’re taking your 500μg everyday, you’re pretty much throwing money out the window and weeing golden liquid for nothing!
Now let’s answer that final question you have : Does that mean a plant-based diet is not made for humans ?
My belief is no! The reason why we (plant-based eaters) do not get B12 from wholefoods is because the soils/waters in which they grow, have been depleted in nutrients and bacteria by being sanitised and over exploited. B12 contained in animal products is only there because it has been added! Either in fortified food (milks, cereals), or the livestock has been supplemented (injected). Which basically means that, today, B12 is always a supplement : direct for vegans (but that might change with those studies!) and «second-hand» (through animals) for non vegans!
I hope this post has cleared up some questions you had, if not shoot them in the comment section below!! if you've found this post useful, i'd love if you share it with your friends & family on facebook !
And lastly, if you're interested in nutrition & being able to articulate answers to non-vegan questions, then check-out the guides & ebook I have for you ... consider this blog post to be a little extended sneak peak of that :) !
Lots of love and chat soon!