Whether you're new to veganism or you've been living a cruelty free life for years, you'll need to have a think about Vitamin B12. Essential to our health, B12 plays a number of roles in our body. A B12 deficiency can be incredibly damaging so we've taken the time to bring together everything that you need to know to make sure you're consuming enough B12 as a vegan.
Vegans are not alone in suffering from B12 deficiencies. The ongoing Framingham Offspring Study found that nearly 40% of people between the ages of 26 and 49 have low B12 levels and 9% percent were completely deficient.This being said, the issue of vegan B12 deficiency is often used as a stick to attack the vegan movement with. It is well worth reading up on B12 not just for your own well being, but for the health of the vegan movement as a whole.
What is Vitamin B12?
One of eight B vitamins, B12 is the largest and most structurally complex vitamin. B12 plays a key role in the normal functioning of the nervous system and the development of red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria found in soil as well as in the guts of animals. Animals naturally obtain B12 by eating foods covered in these bacteria.
Unfortunately, intensive farming methods have depleted soil of the cobalt that the bacteria need to produce vitamin B12. Our ancestors and indigenous societies do not suffer from B12 deficiency as they are eating food from more nutrient rich soil. Additionally, the food our ancestors would have eaten would not have been cleaned and cooked - processes which destroy any B12 containing bacteria.
This is worth bearing in mind for anyone that considers a vegan supplementing B12 to somehow be "unnatural". In a way, they're right. However, supplementing B12 is certainly no less "natural" then modern intensive farming methods.
Why do I need Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 benefits the central nervous system in a number of important ways. It helps maintain energy levels, prevents memory loss, boosts mood and even helps to combat depression and anxiety. Additionally B12 promotes healthy gut bacteria, aids heart health and the prevention of anemia.
Becoming deficient in vitamin B12 can wreak havoc with your health. In extreme cases, a B12 deficiency can cause irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system. More common symptoms include loss of energy, depression, breathlessness and poor memory.
Symptoms of a B12 deficiency can take months or even years to be noticed. For a long time before they become apparent you may be operating at a point far from optimum health. The good news is that most cases of B12 deficiency can be easily treated with injections or additional supplementation.
Vegan B12 Sources
As you can see, ensuring that your diet contains an adequate amount of vitamin B12 is essential whether you are a vegan or not. National recommendations for B12 intake vary slightly from country to country but are in the range of 2.4 to 3 micrograms (one millionth of a gram) per day. Where should you get your B12 in a vegan diet?
Fortified foods and vitamin B12 supplements are so far the only truly reliable sources of B12 for Vegans. The Vegan Society recommends
"To get the full benefit of a vegan diet, vegans should do one of the following:
- Eat fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (mcg or µg) of B12 a day
- OR Take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms
- OR Take a weekly B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms."
Vegan foods fortified with B12 include
- Fortified plant milk
- Breakfast cereals
- Nutritional yeast
- Meat substitutes.
It is worth noting that the less frequently you consume B12 the more that you then need to take.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a symptom of a modern industrial diet, not just a vegan one. That however is no reason not to take full care of yourself especially when such a small action can make such a big difference.
The good news is that B12 supplements are now incredibly accesible and affordable. (Holland and Barrett have an option for less then 10p a day) Here at VeganChocolateShop.co.uk we're partial to oat milk in our tea or on our cereal but still take a B12 supplement just to make sure. A tasteless tablet with our morning coffee is well taking to help safeguard our long term health.
We hope this article has been useful and helps support any vegans old or new in good healthy habits. Please do share with a friend who may benefit from reading and be sure to go and get your daily dose of B12!