A vegan or vegetarian diet is believed to be one of the healthiest diets across the world. A vegan or vegetarian diet tends to contain ample nutrients. However, there are some essential vitamins and minerals that you may be missing out when you skip meat and animal products from your diet. Unless you take health supplements, you could be at risk of malnutrition, which can hinder your health goals. One essential nutrient in question for vegans and vegetarians is vitamin B12

Continue reading to learn more about vitamin B12 and its place in a vegan or vegetarian diet. 

The vegan and vegetarian diet

There are different reasons why someone might choose to become a vegan or vegetarian. Whether it’s for ethical, social, or cultural reasons, a vegan or vegetarian diet can offer several health benefits like improved weight management, controlled blood sugar levels, and a lower risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular problems. Despite these benefits, vegans and vegetarians might not be getting certain nutritional benefits from meat or dairy products. For this reason, they often turn to alternative sources of protein and other nutrients.

Vegans and vegetarians may be more prone to vitamin B12 deficiency, especially if they don’t pay attention to their diet. This is because maintaining a well-rounded diet with all the essential nutrients can be extra challenging for vegans and vegetarians. Not only do some vegans and vegetarians experience a deficiency in vitamin B12, but they may also experience a deficiency in calcium, iron, vitamin D, iodine, and protein, among other nutrients. To avoid this, it’s important to be aware of the body’s daily needs and potential sources of important vitamins and minerals. 

What is Vitamin B12? 

Vitamin B12 belongs to the B complex family of vitamins and serves several functions in the human body. This vitamin is important for the functioning of red blood cells, brain and nervous system processes, and cellular metabolism. For those who may be deficient in vitamin B12, it may be optimal to get adequate vitamin B12 to take advantage of its many benefits

Dietitians and nutritionists recommend that the average adult take about 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 on a daily basis. But since this is one vitamin that the body can’t produce, you may need to get it from outside sources like foods or supplements. 

Vitamin B12 sources

Vegans and vegetarians may have a higher risk of missing out on vitamin B12 because of their strict dietary limitations. Vitamin B12 rich sources often include meat and animal products, as well as dairy products. Most people obtain adequate amounts of this essential vitamin from animal foods like liver, clams, sardines, beef, and tuna. Dairy products like milk and eggs are also a good source of vitamin B12. 

Fortified food products

Apart from the vitamin B12 food sources mentioned above, there are other sources for vitamin B12 as a vegan. Some foods, such as soy products and breakfast cereals, are fortified with vitamin B12. It’s important to check the label of the food product to see how much vitamin B12 a serving will give you. For instance, if it says it provides 1 mcg of vitamin B12 per serving, you may need to eat three servings to get the recommended daily dose of vitamin B12. 

Nori

Some studies show that nori, an edible form of seaweed, is a good vegan source of vitamin B12. One study reported that 4 g of nori can yield the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12. Nori can be consumed in large amounts when eaten with sushi. Vegan sushi rolls like cucumber or avocado rolls may be useful for boosting the body’s B12 supply. Still, there are some studies that have found that the amount of vitamin B12 in a sheet of nori can vary

Nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated form of yeast that is vegan friendly. It can be added in various dishes and act as a type of cheese to add flavor to your regular meals. In one study, 49 vegans who were vitamin B12 deficient consumed 1 tablespoon of fortified nutritional yeast on a daily basis. A tablespoon of fortified nutritional yeast was found to contain 5 mcg of vitamin B12. By the end of the study, participants had reversed their vitamin B12 deficiency

Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are common ingredients in Asian cuisine and a great source of vitamin B12. You can prepare shiitake mushrooms in a number of ways, such as stir frying them or adding them to your favorite dishes. The amount of vitamin B12 in shiitake mushrooms can vary. However, one report find that you can get 1.3 to 12.7 mcg of vitamin B12 per 100 g of shiitake mushrooms. 

Vitamin B12 supplements

Vegans and vegetarians who are unable to get the recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 from foods may consider taking supplements. Compared to the average person’s diet, there are limited sources of vitamin B12 for vegans and vegetarians. Many healthcare professionals recommend that vegan vitamin B12 sources include dietary supplements rich in vitamin B12 and other essential nutrients. 

There are many supplement manufacturers that offer vitamin B12 sources that are vegan and vegetarian friendly. However, it’s important to look at the label on supplements. Some ingredients may include gelatin, lanolin, and stearic acid, which may be derived from animal products. Many supplements come formulated as “V” caps or veggie caps, so check to see if your supplement of choice is available in this formulation.

With a vitamin B12 supplement, you can see how much vitamin B12 is contained in the supplement. You might choose to supplement with a vitamin B12 pill or a vitamin B12 shot.

Bottom line

There is no doubt that vegan and vegetarian diets have their health benefits. However, it may be necessary to take extra steps in order to get essential vitamins and nutrients. Avoiding animal products could mean potential deficiencies in vitamin B12, among other nutrients. For this reason, it’s important to actively seek out vegan foods with vitamin B12 to avoid deficiency. 

By incorporating some of the vegan vitamin B12 sources provided here, you can ensure that you get all the essential vitamins in your diet. Dietary supplements containing vitamin B12 may also be a viable choice. Ask your healthcare provider about other possible sources of vitamin B12 and essential nutrients as a vegan or vegetarian.

The clinicians at Rocky Mountain Skin Care Clinic are available to help guide you on your journey as a vegan or vegetarian. After a consultation, a healthcare provider may recommend vitamin B12 injections, especially if you engage in an active lifestyle or a specific exercise plan.