5 vegan food sources high in vitamin B12
Did you know that vegan foods high in vitamin B12 exist?
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is extremely important for everyone, but especially for vegetarians and vegans who are at an increased risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency.
It’s a vitamin that is required to be healthy, and can be difficult to come by in a vegetarian or vegan diet. For help identifying vegan foods high in vitamin B12, read this article and consult a vegan dietitian for more information.
Where Does Vitamin B12 Come From?
Vitamin B12 is made by bacteria, and not by animals or plants. Since we wash the soil off of our produce before eating it, the bacteria from the ground get washed off and we can no longer get B12 from plant foods found on a vegan diet.
This vitamin is found in animal products since the animals consume unsanitized water and food, and are often supplemented with B12.
We cannot get reliable sources of vitamin B12 from a plant based diet. But, don’t be discouraged, there are ways to ensure you get your fix of vitamin B12, even on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Before we dive into how it’s possible to have an adequate vitamin B12 intake, let’s take a look at what exactly vitamin B12 does in your body.
What Is the Function Of Vitamin B12?
This vitamin has many different functions that are crucial to our health. Its essential functions include:
- DNA synthesis so our cells can get replaced by new ones, as well as during periods of growth
- Forming red blood cells to bring oxygen to the cells in our body
- Keeping the nervous system functioning well, such as brain and nerve cells
- Plays a role in energy metabolism
As you can see, this is a very important vitamin regarding the function of our body and it’s important to maintain healthy vitamin b12 levels. A vitamin B12 deficiency can be quite dangerous if not corrected quickly.
Symptoms of a Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Symptoms of a B12 deficiency include a form of anemia, nerve damage, as well as gastrointestinal issues.
As you can see, lacking this vital nutrient can be dangerous. On a vegan diet, you need to make sure you are consistently having an adequate amount of vitamin B12. Thankfully, this is pretty easy to do, through vegan foods high in b12.
How Much Vitamin B12 Do We Actually Need?
Healthy adults, vegan or not, need 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 daily in order to keep our red blood cells and our nervous system healthy and functioning. Older adults may need 10-30% more in case malabsorption occurs, which is common with age.
What vegan food sources high in vitamin B12?
Vegetarians have an easier time meeting an adequate vitamin b12 intake through food alone compared to vegans. Vegetarian sources of vitamin B12 include eggs and dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese, and dairy milk.
For vegans, it can be an added challenge to find sources of vitamin B12 in their diet since dairy and eggs are excluded. While the majority of the sources are found in animal products, there are still a few sources of vegan foods high in vitamin B12.
Here are some sources of vitamin B12 that can be found on a vegan diet:
1. A Vegan Food high in vitamin B12: Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is a food that is very popular with people who are on a vegan diet. It’s usually fortified with vitamin B12, and with its very high content, it can easily contribute to maintaining healthy vitamin B12 levels.
Only 1 tablespoon (15 mL) provides 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12, which allows you to meet 100% of your vitamin B12 intake. Make sure that the nutritional yeast you purchase is fortified with vitamin B12 if you want to get the benefits.
This food is also a great source of protein, a variety of vitamins and minerals, and fiber.
Nutritional Yeast: What Can You Add it To?
This is a great ingredient for healthy vegan cooking, providing both flavor and nutrients, while adding very little sodium or fat to your recipe.
Nutritional yeast comes in powder form; it looks like yellow flakes of food. It is often used as a healthy substitute for “cheesy” flavors in plant-based diets. Its flavor profile can be described as a strong, unique nutty flavor.
Sprinkle nutritional yeast on pasta, popcorn, savory trail mix, salads or other vegan foods to add a pop of flavor. You can also make vegan cheese sauces or dips with nutritional yeast.
2. A Vegan Food high in vitamin B12: Yeast Spreads
Yeast spreads, such as Marmite and Vegemite (low-sodium) contain some vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in yeast spreads; it’s formed during its production process. It’s a great ingredient to include as a vegan food high in vitamin b12.
One serving of Marmite spread (8 grams) contains 1.9 mcg of vitamin B12, which equals approximately 76% of our needs.
On the other hand, for 5 grams of Vegemite 40% Less Salt, you will get 0.5 mcg of vitamin B12, or 25% of the recommended daily vitamin B12 intake. When buying yeast spread, make sure to check the nutrition label to ensure that it’s fortified in vitamin B12.
Spread yeast extract on toast, sandwiches, crackers, etc for a boost of naturally-occurring vitamin B12 in your day.
3. A Vegan Food high in vitamin B12: Shiitake Mushrooms
Did you know that some mushrooms naturally contain vitamin B12? This includes the well-known shiitake mushroom.
The consumption of approximately 50 grams of dried Shiitake mushrooms can provide you with all the vitamin B12 you need per day, about 2.4 mcg.
This is a considerable amount of dried mushrooms to consume every day, so it should not be your only source of vitamin B12. Keep in mind that the amount of vitamin B12 found in mushrooms varies greatly based on several factors as well.
You can use them in stir-fries, rice dishes, pasta dishes, or even as a snack to contribute to your overall vitamin B12 intake.
4. A Vegan Food high in vitamin B12: Tempeh
Tempeh is one of the few non-fortified foods found on a vegan diet that provides some vitamin B12. If you haven’t heard of tempeh, it’s a traditional Indonesian food that is made from fermented soybeans. The vitamin B12 is actually made during the fermentation process.
For ½ cup of tempeh, you will get up to 0.1 mcg of vitamin B12, which allows you to meet about 3% of your daily needs. While this may seem like a low amount of vitamin B12, tempeh still contributes to your overall vitamin B12 intake.
Tempeh not only helps you reach your vitamin B12 requirements, but also contains lots of plant-based protein and gut-friendly bacteria that contribute to your overall health.
Cook tempeh or eat it raw; add it to a salad, chili, grain and veggie bowl, stir-fry, etc.
5. A Vegan Food high in vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 Fortified Foods
Other than fortified nutritional yeast, which deserves its own spotlight, there are a number of vegan products that have vitamin B12 added to them as well.
B12 fortified foods are the most efficient and reliable food sources of vitamin B12. They typically contain much more vitamin B12 than foods with naturally-occurring vitamin B12.
Fortified Breakfast Cereals
Did you know that many breakfast cereals have many vitamins and minerals added to them, including vitamin B12? If you like to eat cold cereal for breakfast, this may be the perfect option for you to increase your daily dose of vitamin B12.
When grocery shopping, look at the nutrition label to see if it contains vitamin B12. An example of fortified cereals that can be included in a plant-based diet is the Kellogg’s All-Bran Original breakfast cereal. One serving (⅔ cup) of this fortified cereal contains 20% of vitamin B12.
Fortified Non Dairy Milks
Pair this with a fortified non-dairy milk and you have yourself a breakfast rich in vitamin B12.
For instance, only 1 cup of fortified unsweetened soy milk contains 1 mcg, or 42%, of your vitamin B12 needs. Make sure your dairy products alternatives are fortified to get the most out of it. Add fortified plant milks to hot or cold breakfast cereals, to baked goods, smoothies, dips, sauces, puddings, etc.
Fortified Vegan Meats
Another fantastic fortified food that can increase your vitamin B12 intake is plant-based meats and other products suitable on a vegan diet. Many vegan meat products, such as plant-based chicken, pork, veggie burgers, etc. are good sources of vitamin B12.
For example, the infamous Beyond Meat burger that is found in nearly every single grocery store and restaurant, provides 3.15 mcg, or 131%, of vitamin B12.
Other Fortified Vegan Alternatives
Other alternatives include B12 fortified vegan yogurts or fortified vegan cheeses. Always look at the nutrition label to ensure that vitamin has been added to the product.
How To Get An Adequate Vitamin B12 Amount As A Vegan?
With all these sources of vitamin B12 that can be found on a vegan diet, you might be wondering if you should still supplement with vitamin B12.
The answer is yes; supplementation is recommended for vegetarians and vegans, even if they have a reliable intake of B12 fortified foods.
This is because vitamin B12 is a crucial nutrient for the functioning of our body. A vitamin B12 deficiency puts your health at risk; a poor vitamin B12 intake is harmful to your red blood cells, your nervous system, and to your overall health.
This is not a deficiency worth risking, especially when supplementation can be done so easily.
How Much Should You Supplement?
Aim to take a supplement of at least 25 mcg every day, or a supplement of at least 1000 mcg twice a week to ensure your needs are met.
There are supplements in the form of sprays or pills; choose whichever works best for you. Try putting a reminder on your phone or calendar to remember taking your vitamin B12 supplement.
Taking a supplement regularly is a safer way to maintain vitamin B12 levels, compared to food sources.
You don’t want to risk a deficiency if you accidentally buy unfortified non-dairy milk for a few weeks; a supplement ensures you will consistently get enough vitamin B12.
Can We Have Too Much Vitamin B12?
And don’t worry, if you do eat vitamin B12 fortified foods on top of your supplement, you won’t risk a vitamin overdose.
Since vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin, if you exceed your daily requirements, the extra vitamin B12 that your body doesn’t need will simply get excreted through urination.
The bottom line
Overall, there are numerous foods that contain vitamin B12, even on a vegan diet, but supplementation is still recommended to ensure you can thrive on a plant-based diet. If you have any questions about vegan vitamin B12, reach out to a plant-based registered dietitian to answer your questions.
Written by: Magalie Deslauriers-Labbé, dietetics student
Revised by: Alyssa Fontaine, vegan registered dietitian