Vitamin B12 Rich Foods (for Vegans and Omnivores)
As part of the B vitamin complex, water-soluble vitamin B12 – also known as cobalamin due to its elemental cobalt makeup – contributes to your body’s natural energy production and other related biological processes.1 B12 is the largest and most complex vitamin, which results in a few important implications for human health.
Because of its large chemical structure, your body can’t absorb vitamin B12 as easily as most of the other B vitamins (or other vitamins in general). Ironically, it can be stored in your body quite easily (unlike other B vitamins). Vitamin B12 can be safely consumed in large doses, though, because excess amounts are easily excreted or simply stored in your liver to be made available as needed when supplies run low. That excess B12 can last for up to a year in your body.1
Health Benefits of Vitamin B12
B12 plays an important role in the formation of DNA. It’s also crucial to the processes that create healthy blood cells and keep your nervous system working properly. Along with its role in red blood cell production, vitamin B12 also helps keep your overall cardiovascular system in check.
Even a small B12 deficiency can seriously affect your health. Running low on this important nutrient can lead to general fatigue, muscle weakness, intestinal discomfort and even mood issues.2 Long-term deficiencies can lead to memory and heart concerns.
Vegetarians and vegans who eat no animal products whatsoever, along with the elderly who absorb less vitamin B12, are the two most at-risk populations for vitamin B12 deficiency. Why? It’s a matter of where natural vitamin B12 comes from.
What Foods are High in Vitamin B12?
The challenge of consuming adequate amounts of vitamin B12 in food is finding the right foods that naturally provide this unique nutrient. Plants can’t manufacture it. Animals can’t either. Microorganisms – especially bacteria and fungi – are the only organisms definitively known to produce natural vitamin B12, which is why many foods that are high in B12, like some cereals and breads, come fortified with added synthetic B12.
For vegans and vegetarians, it’s especially difficult to get enough B12 without supplementation.
According to VeganHealth.org, “unlike animals, most, if not all, plants have no B12 requirement for any function, and therefore have no active mechanisms to produce or store B12. When B12 is found in them it can be due to contamination which is not reliable.3
In general, because the recommended daily intake for both men and women is a modest 2.4 micrograms (women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can up their intake to 2.8 mcg), most of us can get what we need from our daily diets and the B12 found in foods. That said, since B12 comes almost exclusively from animal food sources like meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, vegans and vegetarians – who don’t start their day off with a bowl of B12-fortified cereal – might still benefit from a B12 or Real Food B-Complex supplement that is vegan and cultivated from quinoa sprouts.
Vitamin B12 Foods for Omnivores (Meat Eaters)
If your dinner plate regularly features a few ounces of meat, you’re in luck. You’re virtually guaranteed to meet your daily B12 requirement of 2.4 mcg. Everything from seafood – including, shrimp, scallops, salmon, tuna, cod and sardines – to beef, lamb, turkey and chicken all provide at least 16% of your daily vitamin B12 needs per serving. Check out the infographic below for the top picks in vitamin B rich foods.
Vitamin B12 Foods for Vegetarians
Vegetarians have it a bit tougher than the meat eaters, but you can still consume enough vitamin B12 to meet your body’s needs from your favorite dairy foods. Cottage cheese, yogurt, regular cow’s milk, eggs and cheese provide anywhere from 10-44% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 Foods for Vegans
Any proud vegan will welcome the challenge to get creative and fill in any nutritional gaps left from not eating animal products. In fact, vegans may be the most culinarily creative group of consumers out there! While meat products are the foods highest in B12, there are some great options for vegan foods with B12. Vegan B12 foods include fortified soy, nut and coconut milks, nutritional yeast (a vegan chef’s favorite), mushrooms and tempeh. These are all great sources of vegan B12.
Get the Benefits of Vitamin B12
The above B12 foods for vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores should help you meet your daily requirements of this vital, energy-producing nutrient, but if you aren’t getting enough B12 in foods alone, supplement your diet with a B complex vitamin, like Swanson Health’s Real Food B-Complex supplement.
About Lindsey Toth, MS, RD
Registered Dietitian, Swanson Health Products
Lindsey is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian and nutritionist with a soft spot for ice cream. She empowers people to take charge of their health by finding the balance between the pleasure and nourishment in food.
Her philosophy is that you should take care of your body because it’s the only permanent home you have. It’s what inspired her to pursue a career in nutrition and, ultimately, led her to Swanson Health.
1Vitamin B12 Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/. (Accessed 11-30-2017)
2Vitamin B12: Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-b12/art-20363663 (Accessed 11-30-2017)
3B12 in Plant Foods: VeganHealth.org. http://www.veganhealth.org/b12/plant. (Accessed 11-30-2017)