The eight B vitamins (referred to as vitamin B complex) are super important for keeping our minds and bodies in top shape. As vegans, we get plenty of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7 and B9 from whole grains, nuts, legumes and leafy green vegetables. Vitamin B12, on the other hand, isn’t as easy to come by because it doesn’t occur naturally in a vegan meal plan. That’s right. No matter how many fruits and veggies you eat, vitamin B12 will be amiss from your diet if you don’t put forth some extra effort to sneak it in.
Why is vitamin B12 so important? I’m glad you asked. Vitamin B12 helps our bodies convert the carbohydrates, fat, and protein we eat into fuel, allowing us to stay energized throughout the day. It also helps build DNA and form healthy red blood cells among many other important functions. Vegans who don’t get enough vitamin B12 will eventually become deficient, and as a result can suffer some pretty unpleasant and dangerous consequences. A vitamin B12 deficiency can result in issues like gastrointestinal problems, megaloblastic anemia, and nerve damage. A deficiency can also increase your risk for a bunch of chronic health conditions like heart disease. Yikes!
Historically, vitamin B12 was only available by consuming animal products. This was problematic for the trail-blazing vegan pioneers before us who had little to no access to plant-based foods fortified with vitamin B12. Now, the market offers everything from orange juice, to cereal, to nut-based milks fortified with the essential nutrient. That said, relying solely on foods fortified with vitamin B12 is typically not enough to reach our daily quota.
Adult vegans need 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 every day to prevent serious health issues and to ward off symptoms of deficiency like fatigue, weakness, mood changes, shortness of breath and heart palpitations. What’s more, it’s important to spread your doses out because your body can only absorb a small amount of vitamin B12 at one time. Here are a few different dosage options you can choose from for maximum efficiency:
- Consume two daily servings of vitamin B12 fortified foods providing 1.5 to 2.5 micrograms of vitamin B12 each.
- Take a daily vitamin B12 supplement of at least 25 micrograms.
- Take a vitamin B12 supplement of 1,000 micrograms two times per week.
If you’re not keen on taking supplements you can try incorporating nutritional yeast into your diet. Just 1 tablespoon provides 4.0 mcg of vitamin B12, which far exceeds your daily requirement. Some people are freaked out by the texture of nutritional yeast (it looks like yellow fish food) but I like to mix it into hummus and sprinkle it on popcorn to give my snacks a “cheesy” taste.
Whether you choose to stock your kitchen with fortified foods, take a daily or bi-weekly supplement or add nutritional yeast to your diet, getting enough vitamin B12 is extremely important for maintaining optimal health.