While many are concerned that those on a plant based don’t get enough protein there is a real need and justification for ensuring that they get enough B12. This important vitamin plays a crucial role in many of our bodies key processes.
What is it?
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is one of the eight B vitamins and is widely used throughout the body from nerve tissue, brain function, to folic acid absorption and is key to ensuring that red blood cells can multiply correctly. The latter is the reason why one of the most apparent symptoms of a B12 deficiency is anaemia. Unfortunately this vitamin is only produced by bacteria and archaea and the human body does not store it. Therefore it’s important to ensure that you have it in your diet. The good news is that you only need a small amount of between 1 - 3 mcg/Ug (micrograms) per day (this varies dependant on you country or origin).
A blood test from the doctor can identify the levels of B12 in the blood and recommendations of what is a normal level and how often you should be tested vary between countries. However there are some criticisms over how reliable this test is and what the results mean, with many saying that those on a plant based diet are no more at risk from a B12 deficiency than the rest of the population. Vegans should be expected to have a higher instance of deficiency than the general population, but most studies have failed to find this. Some have attributed this to those on a plant based diet having good micro flora which makes up for for a lower dietary intake. However given it’s importance and the potential health problems with being deficient is probably best to err on the side of caution and ensure that you have several different sources of this vitamin in your diet.
Which source of B12 should I take?
Cyanocobalamin or synthetic B12 has been considered by some (mainly due to it being synthetic) as inferior to Methylcobalamin but the evidence from studies suggests that both are just as good for preventing B12 deficiency. With that said, we don’t recommend that you rely on a single source for you B12. As with the importance attached to a balanced varied diet we take the same approach with B12. While we supplement, we prefer not to buy traditional vitamin pills as we eat a primarily Raw plant based diet, therefore we use ‘Food Form” or “Food State” supplements which as also classified as Raw Food. These are as close to real food as you can get and the manufacturing process maintains the temperature below 46C during manufacturing. These are more readily absorbed by your body and therefore there is less wastage “expensive colourful pee syndrome” than traditional pills. Therefore we would advise that taking a food form supplement along with incorporating the other sources into your diet should be sufficient to prevent deficiency.
Sources for those on a plant based diet
We won’t cover any of the vegetarian sources other than to say that vegetarians should be able to obtain sufficient B12 from eggs and dairy. But for those on a totally plant based diet a certain amount of effort is needed to ensure that first, obtain enough B12 and second, they don’t rely on a single source for their B12.
Algae such as dried green (Enterorpha Sp.) and Purple (Porphyra Sp.) are considered good sources and one of the best known green algae is Chlorella. Chlorella not only has vitamin B12 but also is a great all-round food source. It is 45% protein, 20% fat, 20% carbohydrate, 5% fibre and 10% minerals and vitamins. Because of this wonderful profile, Chlorella is used in many food supplements.
Yeast extracts such as Marmite are also a good source and are also easy to accommodate in the diet. However many Vegans will not use the Unilever owned brands because of ethical concerns with their treatment of animals. Some of the ingredients in their product range are tested on animals to meet government guidelines. There are alternatives and new companies launch their own versions of yeast extracts and yeast condiments all the time. See below for a selection of those available:
Many processed foods and in particular cereals are fortified with Cyanocobalamin. While processed foods should not form a major part of your diet they can play a part in it. As discussed previously there is evidence that getting your B12 from synthetic sources is not a major concern, although we still advise trying to get it from multiple sources. This also holds true for many of the fortified soy milks and nut milks. alpro is a popular brand in the UK, despite a recent PR disaster that alienated many Vegans. Because of this, Swedish manufacturer Oatly! has gained ground in the market and easier to find on supermarket shelves. They too fortify their products with B12 and other vitamins and is a good alternative to those who dislike soy or nut milks.
If you are worried that you might be deficient you have two choices you can consult with your doctor to have a blood test, or consult a nutritionist for an analysis of your diet. This will give you a good baseline to decide about making any changes to your diet. Likewise check for sources in your current diet and add some if think you might not be getting enough. Use the sources listed above, after all there is nothing terribly taxing about having a supplement, adding a slice of toast with yeast extract or a glass of fortified plant milk to your daily diet.
Although we are surrounded by junk and fast food, eating healthy has never been easier.
If you want to know more about the importance of nutrition and the correct foods to eat contact the GrassRoots Health Nutritionist.
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About the GrassRoots Health Blog
The Grassroots Health blog is written by Dean and Joanne. Joanne's passion is vegan raw food, nutrition and wellbeing while Dean likes to explore the real science behind health.
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