Maintaining an adequate level of vitamin B-12 is essential. It affects your DNA synthesis, your nerves, and your blood cells. A lack of vitamin B-12 can lead to serious health consequences, such as pernicious anemia.
This vitamin is found in animal-derived products, particularly meats, dairy, and eggs. Vegetarians and vegans need to ensure they get an adequate amount of B-12 per day to avoid a deficiency.
Vitamin B-12 is produced by bacteria or in the bodies of certain animals. There are no plant-derived foods that supply a sustainable amount of vitamin B-12. So, vegetarians and vegans must seek out different sources of B-12, including products fortified with the vitamin.
Vegetarians have several options for sources of B-12. These include dairy products, eggs, and certain fortified foods. Vitamin B-12 can even be found in certain mushrooms and algae. The vitamin is absorbed into the body slowly. Consuming it throughout your day is the best way to make sure it breaks down properly.
One of the simplest ways to consume adequate vitamin B-12 when you are vegetarian is to eat dairy products:
- Eight ounces of yogurt can provide 1.1 micrograms of B-12.
- One cup of low-fat milk yields 1.2 micrograms of B-12.
- One ounce of Swiss cheese provides .9 micrograms of B-12.
These foods can be consumed at any time of day and are readily available. You could try having yogurt with your breakfast, milk as a midday drink or with your breakfast cereal, and a few slices of cheese for a snack.
Another source of B-12 for vegetarians is eggs. One large, hard-boiled egg has .6 micrograms of vitamin B-12. You would need to eat several eggs each day to meet your total B-12 requirement. This may be difficult, but eggs can be one part of your daily B-12 intake. Try a hard-boiled egg in salads or scramble eggs for breakfast.
Foods fortified with vitamin B-12 can help you meet your daily intake requirement. One great fortified food is breakfast cereal. Cereals can range in the amount of vitamin B-12 added. Therefore, you should read the packaging to determine whether your favorite healthy breakfast cereal provides adequate vitamin B-12 per serving. For example, a 3/4 cup serving of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes contains 1.5 microgram of B-12. Grape Nuts have the same amount of vitamin B-12 in a 1/2 cup serving.
Fortified foods are easy for your body to digest as they have high bioavailability. This means that they do not have to be broken down by your body before they can be absorbed. Rather, they are used right away. This will help your body get more vitamin B-12.
Another fortified food that contains vitamin B-12 is nutritional yeast. This is a go-to food for many vegetarians and vegans. It provides a depth of flavor to cooking. Many use nutritional yeast to provide a cheese-like flavor to foods. One tablespoon of nutritional yeast provides 4 micrograms of vitamin B-12. Sprinkle nutritional yeast on popcorn for a tasty snack or in a vegetarian- or vegan-friendly recipe.
One study links purple laver, or nori, as a good source of vitamin B-12. This algae product is commonly eaten in Asian countries. The study recommends eating 4 grams of dried purple laver to meet the daily requirements for vitamin B-12 intake. You may find this product in Asian food markets. It is used in sushi and may be a healthy and simple snack on its own.
Like nori, some mushrooms like shitake contain vitamin B-12, which is rare in plant-based foods. It is likely that these fungi cannot supply your entire B-12 dietary needs each day, but it may be a good source sometimes.
Mushrooms can be incorporated into cooking for a tasty lunch or dinner. Keep in mind you would need to consume 50 grams of dried shitake mushrooms to meet your daily requirements of vitamin B-12.
Consuming vitamin B-12 is essential to your diet. Vitamin B-12 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 B-12 to maintain these important body functions. Your daily intake of vitamin B-12 should be around 2.4 micrograms per day if you’re an adult. Children require less vitamin B-12. For example, an infant between 7 and 12 months requires only .5 micrograms per day. A child between 4 and 8 years old needs only 1.2 micrograms per day.
Maintaining a proper level of vitamin B-12 is essential for vegetarians to ensure their bodies function properly. One study examined B-12 deficiencies among particular populations that included pregnant women (62 percent had a deficiency), children (between 25 percent and 86 percent had a deficiency), adolescents (between 21 percent and 41 percent with a deficiency), and older adults (between 11 percent and 90 percent with a deficiency).
Common complications and conditions caused by a deficiency of B-12 include anemia, neurological disorders, and the inability for cells to divide.
If you do not have enough vitamin B-12 in your body, you may also experience the following symptoms:
- nerve damage
- tingling of hands and feet
- blurred vision
- excessive sweating
- walking difficulties
- digestive problems
- sore tongue
If you experience these symptoms, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may need to perform some texts to determine if your B-12 levels are normal.
Vegetarians and vegans should always be mindful of their B-12 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 B-12 from animal-derived foods like dairy and eggs or from fortified foods. Mushrooms and algae can even cover your B-12 intake on some occasions.
Make sure you discuss ways to add B-12 into your diet with your doctor and get your levels monitored regularly to maintain optimal health. You may decide that a supplement is necessary to ensure you get enough vitamin B-12 into your system.