Published April 8, 2021
Veganism has never been more popular than it is today. A decade or two ago it was rare to encounter anyone following this lifestyle – now vegan food is sold in high street coffee bars. Veganism is a heartfelt ethical choice but it can pose dietary challenges as not all essential nutrients are easily obtained from plant foods. Avoiding all animal products means vegans will need to take extra care to ensure they eat a balanced diet and get enough of the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
Vitamin B12 is a prime example. One of the eight B vitamins, this nutrient plays a crucial role in the nervous system, blood production and cell metabolism, helping the body to produce DNA and process both fatty and amino acids. A lack of B12 can trigger a whole host of alarming symptoms, including chronic fatigue, depression, impaired memory, numbness, loss of appetite, breathlessness, and dizziness.
Most people obtain their B12 from meat, fish, eggs and milk. None of those are options open to vegans of course. So are any B12 foods vegan-friendly?
Vegan sources of vitamin B12
Yes, but it’s complicated. There is no shortage of options open to vegans keen to ensure they get their recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin B12 – but these primarily consist of fortified foods and supplements as there is no easy way to obtain adequate levels of vitamin B12 from plant foods alone.
Next time you go food shopping, look for:
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Fortified soya milk or other plant milks (for example coconut, almond or rice)
- Yeast-based foods such as Marmite
- Tempeh (a traditional Indonesian food made from fermented soya beans)
Check the labels as you go – fortified foods should specifically state they contain additional B12, alongside other nutrients.
A few vegetables do contain natural but low levels of B12, and these have become a natural inclusion in some vegan diets as a result:
- Nori – a type of marine algae
- Edible wild mushrooms – for example porcini, parasol and oyster mushrooms
Meanwhile, you won’t need to look too hard in the aisles of your local health food shop or spend too long on the site of your favourite supplement vendor to find a range of supplements rich in vitamin B12.
Many are specifically formulated for use by vegans, offering a number of other nutrients that can be difficult to source from a plant-based diet, such as vitamin D. Different formats are available – from traditional tablets to capsules which can be broken open and mixed into a food as a topping or even used as an ingredient when cooking.
Staying on top of your health
It’s not just a vegan diet that will increase your chance of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Levels also drop with age, so eating an organised, balanced diet and hitting those RDIs is especially important for older people following this lifestyle.
Written by Bev Walton
Food Writer and Nutritionist, dietician
A chef of over 35 years with experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for both magazines, websites and ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I have a degree in nutrition and dietetics and work with restaurants and organisations within the healthcare profession. I am also able to take high quality photographs of recipes created. No writing task is too great, and whilst I specialise in the above, I am able to write about any topic you throw at me. Member of the Guild of food writers.