Plant-Based Foods High in B12
While plant-based diets are a powerhouse of all kinds of nutrients, there are some exceptions. It is not easy to find plant-based foods high in B12. Hence, people following a plant-based lifestyle run the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency and potential health issues.
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that facilitates many critical functions in our bodies, including red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, development of the nervous system – to name a few.
If most plant-based foods cannot fulfill the B12 requirements, how do you ensure your body isn’t deficient in it?
You are about to find out!
What is Vitamin B12, and how is it made?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamins, is one of the vital micronutrients that our body cannot produce itself. Therefore, we need to take it externally through the food we eat.
This water-soluble vitamin has cobalt as the main component and acts as an essential factor for many chemical reactions in the body. These chemicals are involved in activities like the metabolism of amino acids and fatty acids, blood formations, and neurological functions.
One of the most distinctive features of vitamin B12, unlike the majority of other vitamins, is that plants don’t make it. Moreover, its food sources are predominantly animal-based. Interestingly, animals can’t make it either.
B12 is produced by microorganisms present in the soil. The reason animal-based food is a source of B12 is that these microbes are present in the guts of the animals. When the grass-eating animals graze, these microbes get into their guts through the dirt.
Earlier, we may also have gotten vitamin B12 supplies from the water from the well or streams where microbes are generally present. However, in modern times chemically treated water is a norm. So, we don’t get it from water anymore.
The whole thing comes down to the risk of B12 deficiency in vegans and people who rely mainly on a plant-based diet. Therefore, it is crucial to eat plant-based foods high in B12.
How much B12 do we need?
Before we get to the sources of B12 for vegans, let’s look at how much vitamin B12 we need.
According to health experts, the recommended intake of B12 is:
- Infants – 5 micrograms per day
- Children of 4 to 10 years of age – 25 micrograms per day
- Adults – 50 micrograms per day or 2000 micrograms per week
- Adults over 65 years of age – 1000 micrograms per day
During pregnancy and lactation periods, the body may require more vitamin B12. With a doctor’s recommendation, one can adjust the B12 supplementation accordingly. Further, if one is diagnosed with B12 deficiency, they should take 1000 micrograms daily for a month or more.
You may find much lower dosage recommendations (about 2.4 micrograms) by some health institutions. The dosage they’ve mentioned refers to the actual daily vitamin B12 requirement by our body.
The reason many experts suggest supplementing B12 in much higher quantities is that only a fraction of what we take in is absorbed by the body. That is, it takes a high dose of B12 to achieve the optimal requirement in the body.
Moreover, since B12 is water-soluble, we lose about 1 microgram of it every day. So, the higher supplementation helps to balance the vitamin B12 quantity.
Can too much vitamin B12 be harmful?
Often you may find a warning against taking in some nutrients or supplements in excess.
With seemingly high dosage recommendations, you may wonder if B12 dosage can be too much.
The good news is there is no concrete evidence suggesting a high dosage of B12 can be toxic. So, you can safely go for the above-recommended dose without anything to worry about.
What are plant-based foods high in B12?
Though the dosage of B12 is only in micrograms, the regular food you are eating isn’t able to provide anything close to it. So, you need to find some reliable plant-based foods high in B12.
Luckily, there are a lot of options available which ensure an adequate supply of B12 for vegans. Here are some of the great sources of B12 to include in your daily diet.
Vegans can swear by nutritional yeast not just as an alternative to cheese and dairy ingredients but also for vitamin B12 supply.
Moreover, you can easily find 100% B12-fortified nutritional yeast on the market. A tablespoon of fortified nutritional yeast can help you fulfill a significant portion of the daily requirement.
It is also a versatile ingredient. You can use it in plant-based sauces, curries, smoothies, breakfast recipes, and many other dishes. You can also go for yeast spread, popularly known as Marmite.
Fortified food is one of the most convenient plant-based foods high in B12. These foods have added extra nutrients which do not occur naturally in them. Also, fortified food has a high bioavailability of nutrients, meaning your body absorbs the nutrients present in them easily.
Simply replacing some of your regular foods with the fortified versions can help you keep your B12 levels in check.
Here are some of the best plant-based fortified foods you can include in your daily diet.
- Fortified cereals
- Fortified plant-based milk (almond milk, oat milk, hemp milk, soy milk)
- Fortified plant-based meats
The quantities of B12 in fortified food may vary from brand to brand. Make sure you check the labels to pick the best option. Also, try to avoid the highly processed fortified plant foods as much as possible. Ideally, one serving should be able to provide 25% of the daily recommended amount.
If you’re unsure about getting enough B12 from your meals, the best option is to take B12 supplements. Taking supplements is not only more uncomplicated but also comparatively inexpensive.
The widely recommended B12 supplement is known as cyanocobalamin. It is a synthetic vitamin B12 compound that turns into the body’s bioactive form of vitamin B12.
Dr Michael Greger suggests taking at least 2500 micrograms of cyanocobalamin each week orally. It is available in chewable, sublingual (placing tablet under the tongue), or liquid forms. You can pick the one at your convenience.
If you wish to take B12 daily instead of weekly, then it is advisable to take 250 micrograms of cyanocobalamin daily.
Let’s discuss some more of the plant-based foods high in B12. While they may not be able to complete the B12 requirement, they are good to add to your diet along with other options. Here are some.
Fermentation is a natural process where microorganisms break down carbohydrates into other forms. Since microbes are part of the process, naturally, the food becomes richer in vitamin B12.
Some of the excellent fermented plant-based foods high in B12 include:
- Tempeh and miso (made from fermented soybeans)
- Kimchi (a Korean fermented cabbage dish)
- Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
- Fermented Japanese black tea
Algae and Seaweed
Many green organisms from the sea – algae or seaweeds – have also been found to be a source of B12. The reason they consist of B12 is that they often live in symbiotic relationships with bacteria and other microbes that produce vitamin B12.
Algae and seaweeds like Nori, Chlorella, and Spirulina contain various forms of vitamin B12. However, there is an ongoing debate on whether or not they are effective enough. Currently, the most promising out of these is Chlorella. Its powdered or capsule forms can help you meet the daily B12 requirements.
Many edible mushrooms have also been found to have some concentrations of B12. Though they might not be able to fulfill your daily B12 requirements, they are good to add to your diet to get an extra boost of B12.
50 grams of dried Shittake mushroom can even meet the daily requirement. Other mushrooms like Porcini, Black morel, and Oyster mushrooms also contain some amounts of B12.
Vitamin B12 deficiency: Symptoms and treatment
If you’ve been living the Whole Food Plant-Based lifestyle for a while, potentially you may already have vitamin B12 deficiency.
As much as you are at the risk of B12 deficiency, another concerning thing is that its symptoms can take years to show up. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the symptoms so that you take appropriate measures without delay.
Some of the common symptoms of B12 deficiency include:
- Pale or yellowish skin: Since B12 has a crucial role in red blood cell production, a lack of it means there are fewer red blood cells circulating in your body. This results in skin appearing pale or yellowish.
- Fatigue: It is one of the most common symptoms of B12 deficiency. Red blood cells carry oxygen in the body. The limitation in red blood cells formation and circulation also means that there will be a limited supply of oxygen, making you feel weak and tired.
- Breathlessness and dizziness: For the same reasons as fatigue, the lack of B12 leads to breathlessness and dizziness, especially when you exert yourself.
- Mouth ulcers and swollen red tongue: One of the early signs of vitamin B12 deficiency appears as ulcers, swollen tongue, or the itching sensation in the mouth. It may even be painful and cause difficulty speaking or eating. If you experience these symptoms frequently, you must take advice from a health practitioner.
- Skin problems: The lack of B12 in your body can reflect in your skin as well. It may cause dryness, irritation, pigmentation, and rashes on the skin.
- Tingling sensation: B12 has a role in the production of the myelin sheath that surrounds the nerves. Long-term B12 deficiency may also cause nerve damage and impact nerve function, which results in tingling or prickling sensations or even numbness in hands, feet, and other body parts.
- Muscle spasms: The nerve damage caused by B12 deficiency may also manifest as muscle spasms, muscle cramps, or even muscle soreness.
- Walking difficulty: The nerve damage may also impact your ability to walk if left untreated for a long time, especially in elders. The deficiency may affect your coordination and balance, making you prone to falling.
- Diarrhea: The lack of blood cells and oxygen supply due to vitamin B12 deficiency can wreak havoc in your stomach, causing diarrhea.
- Depression: Low levels of vitamin B12 have been found to be linked with our moods too. The damages to brain tissues may result in depressive symptoms. The long-term effect may also lead to conditions like dementia.
- Vision issues: Vitamin B12 deficiency is also known to cause damage to the eye nerves. It can cause blurred or disturbed vision. In the long run, it may even result in blindness.
- Erectile dysfunction: Low B12 can impact your sexual health too. Again because of the effects it has on the nervous system. It can also damage the nerves in the penis, causing erectile dysfunction.
With so many alarming symptoms, it’s natural to feel scared. Luckily, the proper intervention at the right time can reverse these symptoms and prevent any severe damage.
As we discussed earlier, the most effective way to tackle the B12 deficiency is via the B12 supplement – cyanocobalamin.
There is another B12 supplement called methylcobalamin. However, it is considered to be less effective than cyanocobalamin as it may decompose in exposure to light and is not absorbed by the body well enough.
Vitamin B12 is a critical micronutrient that is responsible for many vital body functions. Since plant-based foods are not a good source of B12, the followers of a plant-based lifestyle are at great risk of its deficiency. As a result, they are at risk of some severe health issues.
While regular plant-based food doesn’t fulfill the body’s B12 requirements, there are many good options of B12 for vegans – fortified food, supplements, fermented food, algae, and more.
Along with eating plant-based foods high in B12, you must take the dietary supplement in recommended dosage if you are on a plant-based lifestyle. If you are experiencing any of the B12 deficiency symptoms, make sure you consult an expert to get the right dosage of the supplement as well as other treatment measures if required.
Hope this article helps you avoid health issues arising due to B12. Take care!