Understanding the fundamentals of nutrition is an important part of any diet, and vegan nutrition is no exception. One of the most common critiques of a plant-based diet is that vegan vitamin B12 foods and sources are scarce.
To cut to the chase: Do vegans have to take a vitamin B12 supplement? Yes. If you follow a predominantly plant-based diet, you should incorporate vegan vitamin B12 sources through food and supplementation. An easy way to ensure you are getting enough vitamin B12 on a vegan diet is to take a multivitamin or supplement on a regular basis.
Here is what health professionals and organizations have to say about vitamin B12 on a vegan diet.
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is one of several essential B vitamins in the human diet. The other B vitamins include B12 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6, B7 (biotin), and folic acid.
According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in making DNA, encouraging healthy nerve and blood cells, and preventing megaloblastica anemia.
How Much B12 Do You Need?
Per MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 is:
- 0 to 6 months: 0.4 micrograms per day (mcg/day)
- 7 to 12 months: 0.5 mcg/day
- 1 to 3 years: 0.9 mcg/day
- 4 to 8 years: 1.2 mcg/day
- 9 to 13 years: 1.8 mcg/day
- Males and females age 14 and older: 2.4 mcg/day
- Pregnant teens and women: 2.6 mcg/day
- Breastfeeding teens and women: 2.8 mcg/day
Since not all vitamin B12 is absorbed when consumed, it is important to take more than necessary. This ensures that you will at least absorb the amount of vitamin B12 your body needs. Healthline estimates that only 10 mcg of a 500 mcg supplement is absorbed.
Dr. Michael Gregor, a vegan doctor, makes it easy to determine how much vitamin B12 you should aim for. On NutritionFacts.org, Dr. Gregor recommends vitamin B12 supplementation:
For adults under age 65, the easiest way to get B12 is to take at least one 2,000 mcg supplement each week or a daily dose of 50 mcg. Note that these doses are specific to cyanocobalamin, the preferred supplemental form of vitamin B12, as there is insufficient evidence to support the efficacy of the other forms, like methylcobalamin.
As we age, our ability to absorb vitamin B12 may decline. For those over 65 who eat plant-based diets, the supplementation should probably be increased up to 1,000 mcg of cyanocobalamin each day.
How Do Vegans Get Vitamin B12?
Like non-vegans, vegan can get vitamin B12 in food or supplements.
People who take B complex supplements or multivitamins likely get their B12 in those vitamins.
There are also a few vegan vitamin B12 food sources. However, Dr. Gregor notes that you would have to eat a lot of vegan vitamin B12 food sources each day to meet the RDA.
It is usually more affordable and convenient for vegans simply take a supplement once a day or once a week depending on the potency of your vitamin.
Other ways to get enough vitamin B12 include injections, sublingual liquid drops, gummies, lonzenges, powders, or nasal sprays. Most vegan vitamin B12 supplements are in capsule or tablet form.
See below for a list of vegan vitamin B12 food sources and supplements.
Are Vegans Deficient in Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 deficiency is very serious and can have lethal effects. However, deficiency in vitamin B12 is not exclusive to vegan and vegetarian diets.
According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin B12 deficiency is common, affecting between 1.5 and fifteen percent of the general population.
Vegans may be at increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency since most vitamin B12 food sources come from animal products. Harvard Medical School lists animal products like liver, clams, fish, beef, milk, and eggs among the top sources of vitamin B12. Since vegans don’t eat these foods, they run the risk of becoming low in B12 if they do not consume this vitamin through other foods or supplementation.
Some studies have reported low levels of vitamin B12 in vegans and vegetarians. As more people exclude meat and other animal products from their diets, new research may emerge to establish a connection between plant-based diets and vitamin B12 levels.
Is Vitamin B12 Deficiency a Myth?
One thing is for sure: Vitamin B12 deficiency is not a myth. It affects non-vegans and vegans alike, which is why everyone should ensure they are getting enough B12 in their diet.
Mayo Clinic states that vitamin B12 deficiency can be avoided since the body is capable of storing several years’ worth of B12. They also mention that vegans and vegetarians are at risk since plant-based foods usually don’t contain vitamin B12.
Vegan Vitamin B12 Foods
Vegan food sources of vitamin B12 include:
- Nutritional yeast
- Fortified cereals
- Some plant-based meat alternatives
- Fortified non-dairy milks
- Marmite and yeast spreads
Nutritional yeast is a popular source of vitamin B12 among vegans. According to the USDA FoodData Central, a 15g serving (roughly three tablespoons) of nutritional yeast flakes can provide 290 percent of your daily B12 requirements.
Though it’s possible, getting enough vitamin B12 on a vegan diet through plant-based foods alone can be difficult. Dr. Gregor reminds us that a vegan would have to consume vitamin B12 food sources three times per day in order to meet the requirements.
Foods like soy milk, nutritional yeast, and cereal can be enjoyed on a vegan diet as a contributor of vitamin B12, but a weekly supplement is the most effective way to ensure your needs are being met without meticulously tracking your eating patterns.
Vegan Vitamin B12 Supplements
There are many vegan-friendly vitamin B12 supplements on the market. You can take a B12 tablet, B complex multivitamin, or one-a-day multivitamin for adults. Be sure to check the label for animal-based ingredients like gelatin and carmine. Some B12 sources even come from animals so stick to fully vegan products.
Vegan vitamin B12 supplement criteria:
- 100% vegan ingredients
- 2,000 mcg (once per week)
- Cyanocobalamin instead of methylcobalamin
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Best Vegan Vitamin B12 Tablets
With 1,000 mcg cyanocobalamin per tablet, you will need to take two of these tablets per week. This vegan-friendly B12 is free of GMOs, gluten, dairy, and artificial flavors. With 120 tablets per bottle, this will last you a while.
Best Vegan Vitamin B12 Liquid Drops
If you have a hard time taking vitamins, try this liquid B12. The serving size is 25 drops, which is approximately 1 milliliter. Each serving contains 5,000 mcg cyanocobalamin. With such a high potency, you may only need to take these B12 drops bi-weekly instead of weekly. Or simply cut the dose in half to do weekly doses.
Best Vegan Vitamin B12 Gummies
You don’t have to be a child to prefer sweet gummies instead of hard-to-swallow capsules. This is an easy way to get your vitamin B12 on a vegan diet since two gummies contain 3,000 mcg cyanocobalamin. These are suitable for both adults and children. They have a sweet raspberry flavor and are made with non-GMO, plant-based ingredients. Since these are high potency, these are perfect for people who prefer weekly supplements to taking them daily.
Vegan vitamin B12 food sources include fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, and vegan meat. While it is possible to get enough vitamin B12 through plant-based food sources alone, it is much easier to take a weekly supplement.
Dr. Gregor recommends a weekly vitamin B12 supplement containing 2,000 mcg cyanocobalamin for most adults.
Anyone considering a vegan diet should get their blood levels checked regularly by a health professional or work with a dietician to determine the right vitamin B12 intake for them.