Vitamin B-12 is a water-soluble, essential vitamin found in many animal product foods. It helps your body make red blood cells and DNA, and keeps your nervous system healthy.
If you eat a lot of meat and dairy, it’s easy to get enough vitamin B-12 in your diet. But you may struggle to meet the daily recommended value (DV) if you:
- are an older adult
- eat a vegan or vegetarian diet
- have pernicious anemia
- have a digestive disorder that makes it hard for your body to absorb nutrients
- are pregnant
Some medications can lower the vitamin B-12 levels in your body. These include:
The B-12 in dietary supplements is synthetic, and your body may not absorb it as well. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate dietary supplements. This makes it hard to know for sure what you’re getting.
The top vitamin B-12-rich foods
Here’s a list of vitamin B-12 foods to help you meet your nutrition goals:
84.1 mcg per 3 ounces
Whether you steam them or eat them raw on the half shell with a spritz of lemon juice, clams are one of the best sources of vitamin B-12. They’re also low in fat, high in protein, and an excellent source of iron and other B vitamins.
2. Beef liver
70.7 mcg per 3 ounces
Beef liver may be an acquired taste, but it’s also high in vitamin B-12, protein, iron, and vitamin A. To add it to your diet, try it braised or dredged in flour and sautéed with onions. Beef liver is also high in cholesterol, so don’t rely on it alone to meet your vitamin B-12 requirement.
3. Fortified breakfast cereals
6.0 mcg per 1/2 cup
Breakfast cereals are great vegan sources of vitamin B-12. Different brands may contain different amounts. Look for varieties that provide 100 percent of the DV in one serving.
4.8 mcg per 3 ounces
The nutrition benefits of this fatty fish don’t end with vitamin B-12. Salmon is also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. These unsaturated fats help prevent heart disease and stroke by lowering your cholesterol, reducing inflammation in your body, and lowering your blood pressure.
3.5 mcg per 3 ounces
Trout is a nutritional powerhouse. An average filet (around 3.5 ounces) provides more than 100 percent of the DV of vitamin B-12. Trout is also high in protein, other B vitamins, and many minerals. Enjoy it baked, broiled, or sautéed with fresh veggies.
1.2 mcg per cup
A cup of milk provides a good source of B-12. It’s also a reliable source of calcium and vitamin D. If you’re trying to limit fat and calories, stick to low-fat or skim dairy products.
1.1 mcg per cup
You’ll get the benefits of vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin D, and beneficial probiotics if you eat a cup of yogurt each day. Choose varieties with no added sugar.
0.6 mcg per 3 ounces
Ham contains all the B vitamins except folate. It’s lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol than many other meats, but often much higher in sodium. If you’re watching your sodium intake, opt for uncured brands.
0.6 mcg per hard-boiled egg
Eggs aren’t as high in vitamin B-12 as meat and fish, but they’re a decent source. They also pack a nice punch of protein. For an extra B-12 boost, whisk your eggs with low-fat milk before scrambling.
10. Chicken breast
0.3 mcg per 3 ounces
Chicken is easy to find, inexpensive, and versatile. What’s more, it provides some vitamin B-12, and it’s high in niacin, a B vitamin thought to help lower cholesterol.
Vegan vitamin B-12 foods
Plant foods don’t naturally contain vitamin B-12. If you don’t eat meat, dairy, or eggs, add fortified vegan foods to your diet. These may include:
- breakfast cereals
- nondairy milks
- meat substitutes
- nutritional yeast
- energy bars
To help prevent vitamin B-12 deficiency, don’t rely on one vegan source of vitamin B-12 in your diet. Instead, eat a variety of fortified foods. Including probiotics, which may assist with better absorption of B-12.
Vitamin B-12 is not found in fruits, but that’s no reason to leave fruit off your plate. Most fruit is high in folic acid, another B vitamin your body may lack. Fruit is also high in fiber. High-fiber diets may reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Vitamin B-12 in meats, fish, and poultry
Meat, fish, and poultry are the best sources of vitamin B-12. They’re also good sources of protein and other B vitamins. Here’s a list of options to consider:
Why vitamin B-12 is important
Your body needs vitamin B-12 to function properly, yet it can’t make it on its own. You must get vitamin B-12 from the foods you eat. If you don’t get enough vitamin B-12, you may start to show certain symptoms.
Signs that you’re not getting enough vitamin B-12 include:
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- numbness and tingling
- balance problems
- difficulty thinking
- confusion or memory problems
- sore mouth or tongue
When you’re deficient in vitamin B-12, your body can’t produce healthy red blood cells. The unhealthy cells die off before they can produce enough new ones. Left unchecked, this cycle leads to a condition called megaloblastic anemia, also called pernicious anemia. Megaloblastic anemia may happen if you don’t eat enough foods that contain vitamin B-12, or if your body can’t absorb the vitamin. Once the condition occurs, it may be difficult to eat enough vitamin B-12 to treat it. You may need vitamin B-12 injections. Your doctor can do tests to determine the level of B-12 in your body and if you need treatment.
Symptoms of anemia are often severe and may include:
- extreme fatigue
- decreased appetite
Vitamin B-12 daily requirements
How much vitamin B-12 you need each day depends on your age. Here’s the recommended dietary allowance by age, per the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements:
- age 0 to 6 months (both sexes): 0.4 mcg
- age 7 to 12 months (both sexes): 0.5 mcg
- age 1 to 3 years (both sexes): 0.9 mcg
- age 4 to 8 years (both sexes): 1.2 mcg
- age 9 to 13 years (both sexes): 1.8 mcg
- age 14 and older (both sexes): 2.4 mcg
- pregnant women: 2.6 mcg
- breastfeeding women: 2.8 mcg
It’s important for pregnant women to eat plenty of vitamin B-12 foods to prevent their baby from being born with vitamin B-12 deficiency.
Most people who eat a typical Western diet get enough vitamin B-12. Vegans and vegetarians who don’t eat dairy and eggs may find it more challenging. Fortunately, there are plenty of foods fortified with vitamin B-12 to ensure you get the nutrients you need.
People with certain medical conditions may also have difficulty getting enough vitamin B-12, even if they eat plenty of vitamin B-12 foods. If you have symptoms of vitamin B deficiency, consult your doctor.