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Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that most people get enough of when they eat animal foods like meat, dairy products, and eggs. But if you’re a vegan or vegetarian who makes the lacto-ovo light, you may be deficient in B12.
Why is vitamin B12 important?
Your body needs B12 for DNA health, red blood cell formation, and neurological function. Too little B12 and you are at risk of developing pernicious anemia (more on that in a second).
You can stick to your vegetable diet and get enough B1
These are the B12 MVPs if you are a vegetarian:
- Shitake mushrooms
- fortified foods
- Nutritional yeast
Vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products can get enough B12 from these animal foods.
Vegans, on the other hand, have to rely on plant-based foods such as:
- Fermented foods
The deeds of what to eat.
Hit the sushi bar, friend
Those dark green nori sheets wrapped around your sushi rolls are a great source of vitamin B12. Nori is made from dried seaweed (also known as red algae). It’s a popular ingredient in Japanese food and tastes like the sea itself.
Not only can you use it to hold your sushi together, but you can also eat the crispy leaves as a snack or chop them to add a Japanese flair to rice, salad and soup.
Holy shit, Vegman!
Research shows that some mushrooms (shitake, black trumpet, golden chanterelles, lion’s mane) contain B12.
This study estimates that you would need to eat 50 grams of shitake mushrooms to get your daily dose of B12. If that sounds like quite a sip, remember that you don’t have to get all of your B12 from one food item.
Eat as many or as few mushrooms as you like and do the rest from other sources listed here.
Cereal box hero
Many breakfast cereals are “fortified,” which means that nutrients such as vitamin B12 have been added to them. If you’re a grain fanatic, check the nutrition label on your favorite box to see how much of the recommended daily allowance of B12 you can get from one serving.
If you eat your muesli with cow’s milk, your breakfast will contain even more B12.
Other fortified options
Some companies that make alternative dairy and synthetic meat products add B12. Check the label of your preferred plant-based milk and plant-based “meats” for their vitamin B12 content.
Nutritional yeast: flavoring, not bread making
Nutritional yeast is one of those magical ingredients that you can add to foods for better nutrition and taste. Some say it tastes cheesy, but it’s totally veg-friendly.
B12 and other B vitamins are usually added, making it a great way to meet your daily needs.
Sprinkle with popcorn and french fries or add a scoop to sauces and vegetarian stews.
Browse dairy products if that’s your jam
Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese naturally contain B12 – and lots of it. If you drink a cup of milk and eat 8 ounces of yogurt, you are pretty much set for a day.
Every old cheese has some B12 in it, but Swiss is the superstar with 27 percent of your daily needs in one slice. Also try feta and brie because delicious.
The incredible edible egg
You can get 1/4 of your daily B12 requirement with one large boiled egg. So, should you eat 4 boiled eggs and smash that goal? There is no shame in your egg game.
If you’re trying to get more protein into your diet (some vegetarians find it challenging) eggs are a great way to do that too.
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and contains variable levels of vitamin B12. The same goes for other traditionally made fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and cucumber.
However, it is difficult to get more B12 in your diet from these foods. Commercial processes usually kill the bacteria that produce B12.
However, if you are into DIY fermentation, you can get extra vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is literally one essential Nutrient. It’s a big deal for body functions like:
- Synthesize DNA
- Protection of nerve cells
- Red blood cell formation
- Metabolize nutrients for energy
How much is enough
- The recommended daily dose is 2.4 mcg for those over 14 years of age.
- Pregnant women require 2.6 µg and breastfeeding women 2.8 µg per day.
- If you are feeding a vegetarian child, also pay attention to their B12 consumption. The recommended daily dose is 0.5 µg for children aged 7 to 12 months, 0.9 µg for children aged 1 to 3 years, 1.2 µg for children between 4 and 8 years and 1.8 µg for children between 9 and 13 years.
Remember the very important role of B12 in helping you make red blood cells? Without it, you will face pernicious anemia.
The main sign of pernicious anemia is fatigue because you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to keep oxygen throughout your body.
Other complications of a B12 deficiency are neurological disorders and poor cell division.
Symptoms to watch out for here:
- shortness of breath
- a headache
- cold or tingly hands and feet
- pale or yellowish skin
- Chest pain
- Problems walking
- blurred vision
- heavy sweating
- sore tongue
- Digestive problems
A 2013 research review summarized the prevalence of B12 deficiency in vegetarians:
- 62% of the pregnant vegetarians were deficient
- 25–86% of the children on a vegetarian diet were deficient
- 21–41% of juvenile vegetarians were deficient
- 11-90% of the older adult vegetarians were deficient
Contact a doctor and have them request blood tests and check you for vitamin B12 deficiency. It’s completely treatable and long-term complications are less likely if treated early.
Since the highest amounts of vitamin B12 are found in meat and animal-based foods, vegetarians and vegans need to know the plant sources.
Dairy products and eggs are good options for vegetarians who eat these foods, but it’s also possible to get enough B12 from foods like seaweed, mushrooms, yeast, and fortified grains.
While a B12 deficiency can have serious health consequences, it’s easy to identify and treat. If you are on a vegetarian or vegan diet, remind your doctor to keep an eye on your B12 levels.