Why is vitamin B12 important?
This vitamin is very important for everyone, but is of specific interest for vegans, who tend to get less through their diet. It plays an important role in brain function and the nervous system. Since a vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to some pretty nasty issues such as nerve damage or anemia, it’s imperative to make sure you’re getting enough.
Why do vegans have to care more about vitamin B12 than omnivores?
Vitamin B12 comes from bacteria. According to Wikipedia, “neither fungi, plants, nor animals (including humans) are capable of producing vitamin B12.” That means that we need to get it directly or indirectly from that bacteria. So why do vegans naturally get less than omnivores? Because bacteria lives inside of animals (and therefore animal products). There is also bacteria on vegetables and plants but when we wash or cook our vegetables, we get rid of most of it. Therefore, as an herbivore we need to find alternative sources of B12.
Why vitamin b12 is NOT a good argument against veganism
I read an article the other day which was sent to me by a well-meaning relative. In it, the medical “professional” being interviewed claimed that the need for vitamin b12 combined with the limited vegan sources of the vitamin was a solid argument against veganism. Since this article was, shockingly, about how people living on this “extreme diet” were able to get enough protein, my first reaction was to laugh about the fact that the doctor felt he needed to justify why he wasn’t vegan even though that wasn’t what he was being asked about.
As I thought about it more, I realized that his thinly-veiled attempt to justify his omnivorous ways didn’t really make sense. Humans are not the only species on this planet who need vitamin B12 to be healthy. There are many herbivorous mammals who all somehow manage to get enough. His argument might be more credible if there were absolutely no vegan sources of vitamin b12. But the thing is – there ARE vegan sources. One CAN be vegan and get enough of the necessary nutrients. So really…it just comes down to whether or not someone WANTS to. Does it take a little extra effort and attention? Sure. Is it 100% worth it? Yup! Ok rant over…onto the stuff you really wanted to know…
Vegan sources of Vitamin B12
As explained above, vitamin B12 comes from bacteria, so there are actually not a ton of vegan source. However, there are fortified foods, such as plant-based milks and cereals that you can incorporate into your diet. Most resources I’ve encountered suggest taking a supplement for extra measure.
I’ve asked my doctor about it and she said that from what she’s seen in her experience, people tend to make too big a deal about the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Not surprising, considering our obsession with breaking down into parts what should be considered in a holistic way(in my opinion).
Vegan sources of B12:
- nutritional yeast – add to tofu scramble, use in vegan cheese, use for a “cheesy” flavor on popcorn, sprinkle in soups, casseroles and salads
- fortified foods – plant-based milks (for cereal, in baked goods, soups, etc), vegan yogurts (made with soy, coconut, almond, etc), cereals
- vegan B12 supplements
Well, there you have it. Plenty of delicious and practical ways get vitamin B12 as a vegan!