When starting a plant-based diet, you should be aware of the vitamins and nutrients that you will no longer be receiving from your four-legged friends. Two of these are Protein and vitamin B12 for vegans, which are key components of the human body. Protein is an easy one to work around. All plant-based foods contain some amount of protein. However, B12 is a little trickier. [For information on getting protein on a vegan diet click here.]
So what is this Vitamin B12 we hear about?
I had never heard of B12 for vegans until starting a plant-based diet. It is so commonly found in meat, that we rarely discuss it. B12 is a water-soluble vitamin with a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and for the formation of blood. It is involved in the metabolism of every cell of the human body, especially affecting DNA synthesis and regulation, but also fatty acid synthesis and energy production.
B12 cannot be produced by plants. For that matter, it can’t be produced by animals either. Only bacteria and archaea have the enzymes required for its synthesis. Many animal foods are a natural source of B12 simply because of bacterial symbiosis, meaning that the bacteria are living in symbiosis with the animal.
Plant Based Foods Fortified with B12
Lucky for us, B12 supplements and foods fortified with B12 have been created to assist us in maintaining our B12 levels. Soy products, breakfast cereals, and meat alternatives typically include B12. You can also find B12 supplements on the shelves at almost any grocery store, pharmacy, Walmart, or dollar store.
Supposedly, there are some great deals online as well. Other options are Soy and Almond milk that have been fortified with B12. I prefer Almond milk, and always check to make sure that it contains B12. Usually one cup contains half of your daily recommended amount.
Nutritional yeast to boost your B12
One more alternative is nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast with a cheesy flavor. It is a great addition to oatmeal, broccoli, pasta, sweet potatoes, salads, beans, and more. With a subtle cheesy taste, you’ll forget that you’re eating healthy. Be sure that your nutritional yeast is fortified with B12. Some are not. [To find out more about nutritional yeast click here.]
Vegan Vitamin B12 in Drinks
A friend of mine (and long-distance runner) recently introduced me to a new water additive called zipfizz. He has been adding it to coconut water, as a means of hydration while running. Zipfizz claims to be the healthy alternative to energy and sports drinks. Not only is it tasty, but it contains Vitamin B6, B12 (2,500 mcg), C, E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folate, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Selenium, Manganese, Chromium, and Potassium. That’s a lot of kick from a little tube of powder! You can hydrate and maintain your B12 levels at the same time. I’m not being paid to mention it, but I believe that it could be beneficial to readers.
The Importance of Vitamin B12 for Vegans
Don’t forget the importance of B12 in your new diet. It is not something to be taken lightly. I know from experience that going without enough can be dangerous (and scary). You will begin to feel weak, lacking the energy to carry out even the most basic daily tasks. I have read that the effects of a long term deficiency can be irreversible. Stay on top of it and be aware of warning signs.
I normally eat B12 fortified foods along with a daily supplement. While it is important to get enough B12, side effects may occur from over-supplementing. The recommended adult daily dosage is 4.0 – 6.0 mcg. For those just starting out on a plant-based diet, I would recommend monitoring your intake. Once you become grounded in your new way of life, it will become second nature.