September 28, 2016 · Written by Foodtolive Team

How to Get Enough of Vitamin B12 in Vegetarian Diet

The issue of vitamin B12 in vegetarian diet has been a source of constant debate between people who support plant-based meal plants and those claiming that such diets are deficient.

The truth of the matter is that this particular nutrient really can’t be obtained from plant foods. However, there are ways for vegans and vegetarians to prevent the deficiency of this element.

Vitamin B12 is a highly complicated chemical that has a difficult absorption mechanism. All animal foods except honey contain some amount of this element. Plant foods, on the contrary, don’t contain it at all. So, the stories about seaweeds and organic produce being vegan-friendly sources of this element are mere myths.

It’s also a statistical fact that vegans exhibit higher levels of the B12 deficiency. The situation with vegetarians is more complicated as the amounts and types of animal products they consume vary greatly.

Vitamin B12 in vegetarian diet mostly comes from milk, dairy products, and eggs. However, studies indicate that about 2 in 3 people who only get this element from these products develop varying degrees of the B12 deficiency. Only 5% of omnivores who consume meat regularly suffer from this problem.

Does this mean that all vegans and vegetarians are doomed?

Of course not! People realized this problem over half a century ago and spent years developing effective solutions. This led to the creation of fortified vegan products and nutritional supplements that provide one with a sufficient amount of this essential element. 

Despite being present in animal products only, the chemical B12 itself is produced by bacteria. Therefore, it can be ‘grown’ through vegan-friendly techniques.

It’s an interesting fact that the bacteria living in our intestines also produce small amounts of vitamin B12. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot benefit from it because the absorption of this particular element occurs higher in the digestive tract.

At the moment, the only way for vegans and vegetarians to receive a healthy daily dose of vitamin B12 is to consume fortified foods or specialized supplements. Adults require 2.4 micrograms of the element per day. Pregnant women usually need 2.6.


Vitamin B12 in Vegetarian Diet: Signs of Deficiency

Vitamin B12 in Vegetarian Diet: Signs of Deficiency

It’s important to note that many people who claim a plant-based only diet can provide enough vitamin B12 and offer their own blood tests to support this idea might be dangerously mistaken. This element is stored by the liver and depending on the original level of the vitamin in your body, it may take up to 10 years to develop a dangerous level of deficiency. 

Symptoms that indicate possible B12 deficiency include:

  • Cognitive function impairment
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Disorientation
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss

If you exhibit any of these signs, be sure to take a blood test and consult a doctor. Remember that a long-term deficiency can deal permanent damage to your nervous system.

Babies born to newly vegan mothers are at a high risk of this condition as they require large amounts of B12 during development. Thus, the mother’s ‘stores’ get exhausted fast while the fetus is growing. People over 50 generally benefit from a vegetarian diet. However, they also have a greater risk of the B12 deficiency due to the reduced ability to absorb this element.