Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin for the cells. It’s important for keeping your nerves, blood cells, and DNA healthy.

Animal products naturally contain this vitamin. Meats, dairy, and eggs are particularly good sources.

Plant-based foods do not naturally contain B12, so people who follow a vegetarian diet or vegan diet need to make sure they get enough each day to avoid a deficiency.

A lack of vitamin B12 can lead to serious health consequences, such as pernicious anemia.

While vegetarians and vegans need to think more about where their vitamin B12 is coming from, there are still plenty of great options. Read on to learn more.

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Vegetarians have several options for sources of B12. These include eggs and dairy products, such as milk and cheese.

Vegans have a more limited list of options. Fortified foods, or those with added vitamin B12, are a great source.

Natural foods such as nutritional yeast, yeast spreads, certain mushrooms, and some algae also contain vitamin B12.

Below, we take a closer look at the best sources of vitamin B12 for vegetarians, and some for vegans, too.

Dairy products

Eating dairy products is one of the simplest ways to get enough vitamin B12 in a vegetarian diet.

The Office of Dietary Statistics lists the B12 content in the following dairy products:

  • 1.2 micrograms (mcg) in 1 cup of low fat milk, or 50% of your Daily Value (DV)
  • 1.1 mcg in 8 ounces of low fat yogurt, or 46% of your DV
  • 0.9 mcg in 1 ounce of Swiss cheese, or 38% of your DV

Try having yogurt with your breakfast, milk as an afternoon drink, and a few slices of cheese as a snack.

Eggs

Another source of B12 for vegetarians is eggs. One large, hard-boiled egg contains 0.6 mcg of vitamin B12, or 25% of your DV.

Eggs are also high in protein, another nutrient that may be lacking in some vegetarian diets. Learn about vegetarian sources of protein here.

To eat more eggs, try having scrambled eggs for breakfast, adding a hard-boiled egg in salads, and making more omelets or quiches.

Fortified foods

Foods fortified with vitamin B12 can help you meet your daily intake requirement. These are a readily available source of B12 with high bioavailability for vegetarians and vegans.

Fortified breakfast cereal is a great choice. Cereals often contain 25% of the DV per serving, though this varies between brands. Read the packaging to determine whether your favorite healthful breakfast cereal had added B12.

Fortified foods are typically easy for your body to digest, which means they have high bioavailability. This helps the body get vitamin B12 more easily.

Nutritional yeast

Another fortified food that contains vitamin B12 is nutritional yeast. This is a go-to food for many vegetarians and vegans.

Along with its nutritional benefits, nutritional yeast provides a depth of flavor to cooking. Many use nutritional yeast to add a cheesy or nutty flavor to foods.

One tablespoon of 100%-fortified nutritional yeast provides 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12, or 100% of the DV.

Try adding nutritional yeast to vegetarian sauces, chilis, or curries. For a healthful snack, sprinkle nutritional yeast on air-popped popcorn.

Nori

One 2014 study touts nori, also called purple laver, as a good source of vitamin B12. This algae product is commonly eaten in Asian countries.

The study recommends eating 4 grams of dried nori to meet the daily requirements for vitamin B12 intake.

You may find this product in Asian food markets or shop for it online. It is used in sushi and may be a healthy and simple snack on its own.

Shitake mushroom

Like nori, some mushrooms, including shitake, contain vitamin B12. The levels are relatively low, however.

You would need to consume about 50 grams of dried shitake mushrooms to meet your daily requirements of vitamin B12.

While you wouldn’t want to regularly eat that many mushrooms in one sitting — and it’s best to vary your sources of B12 anyway — they make a good option for those who like fungi.

Try adding mushrooms that contain B12 into your cooking for a tasty lunch or dinner for an extra B12 boost.

Consuming vitamin B12 is essential to your diet. Vitamin B12 contributes to vital functions in your body, including:

  • forming and dividing red blood cells
  • protecting your nervous system
  • synthesizing your DNA
  • giving your body energy

You don’t need a lot of vitamin B12 to maintain these important body functions. Your daily intake of vitamin B12 should be around 2.4 mcg per day if you’re an adult.

Children require less vitamin B12. For example, an infant between 7 and 12 months requires only 0.5 mcg per day. A child between 4 and 8 years old needs only 1.2 mcg per day.

One 2017 review of 18 studies found that B12 deficiencies were more common among particular populations, as follows:

  • 62% of pregnant women had a deficiency
  • 25–86% of children had a deficiency
  • 21–41% of adolescents had a deficiency
  • 11–90% of older adults had a deficiency

Common complications and conditions caused by a deficiency of B12 include anemia, neurological disorders, and the inability for cells to divide.

If you do not have enough vitamin B12 in your body, you may also experience the following symptoms:

If you experience these symptoms, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may need to perform some tests to determine if your B12 levels are normal.

Vegetarians and vegans should always be mindful of their B12 intake. This is a vitamin that is very important to the body and may be lacking in those who do not eat meat.

You can get vitamin B12 from animal-derived foods like dairy and eggs or from fortified foods. Mushrooms and algae can even cover your B12 intake on some occasions.

Make sure you discuss ways to add B12 into your diet with your doctor and get your levels monitored regularly to maintain optimal health.

You may decide to take a supplement to make sure you get enough vitamin B12. These are available to purchase online.