This article was originally published on October 22, 2013.
There are a lot of misconceptions and rumors floating around out there about how vegans get their protein, iron and Vitamin B12. While I could go on all day about the health benefits of a plant based diet and how eating whole, vegan foods can supply almost all the nutrition a person’s body needs not only to survive, but thrive, let’s focus on one little vitamin that is essential to our survival and one that creates a big stir when it comes to vegan misconceptions: Vitamin B12, and where to find the best B12 supplement.
Many people believe that B12 only comes from animal flesh and animal secretions (i.e. cow’s milk, chicken eggs…), when in fact it is solely bacteria-based. Fungi, animals and plants are incapable of producing B12 on their own and must obtain it from outside sources. B12 is synthesized by bacteria and is therefore found in areas of bacterial growth, namely dirt and soil. Humans have been getting their B12 from the dirt for hundreds of thousands of years by eating plants that still had bits of soil on them. Today, however, we wash our fruits and veggies so well (and understandably so) that we no longer consume dirt or proper levels of B12. That’s where B12 supplements come in. B12 is easily produced through bacterial fermentation and can be safely made into a daily supplement.
So here’s where it gets tricky for some: If we have to take supplements, then isn’t a vegan diet unnatural? Whether you get your B12 from a pill or
from eating meat, you are most likely taking supplements, and here’s why: Animal flesh and secretions have B12 in them because it is produced in the gut by naturally occurring bacteria and when animals naturally ingest dirt as they graze in fields. As the animals ingest the dirt, their bodies use the B12 and allocate it around the body. When you eat their bodies, you also eat the B12 and anything else stored inside of it (including all the bad stuff–fat, cholesterol, toxins, hormones and antibiotics!) That being said, today’s meat industry has animals locked and caged inside warehouses (yes, some of which are labeled “organic”, “free-range” and “grass-fed”) and feeds the animals mixtures of corn and various byproducts and hormones which contain no natural B12. Like us, these animals need B12 to survive and therefore are given B12 as part of their supplements, which then ends up in their milk, muscles and eggs. Doesn’t it seem easier, more humane and more natural to just take a little bacteria-based pill yourself?
B12 is needed in very small amounts, around 1.5 micrograms every day. With an absorption rate of 50%, it is recommended that most people ingest at least 3 micrograms per day to meet their daily needs.
The best B12 supplement is ultimately the one that you can incorporate into your diet and nutritional regimen consistently. Garden of Life Raw B-12 is all organic, contains 23 fruits and veggies, plus vegan probiotics and enzymes.
The same brand also offers a liquid B12 spray that’s very convenient. (One spray daily delivers 500 mcg–8333% DV).
Meeting your B12 requirements is not a “vegan issue,” and vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike can easily become deficient. B12 is one of the cornerstones of life, and deficiency can result in everything from lack of energy, confusion, numbness and in extreme cases, coma and death. Symptoms of B12 deficiency can take years to manifest, so even people who feel healthy may be at risk. Women who are pregnant or nursing require increased levels of B12. Meeting these needs on a plant based diet is incredibly easy with fortified foods, such as plant milks or veggie meats along with a simple B12 supplement (10 micrograms a day or 2000 micrograms a week if not relying on fortified foods to ensure proper absorption.)
There are also fantastic plant based whole foods that are sources of B12, although their ability to serve as a stand-alone source is debated. These foods include tempeh, nori, spirulina, barley grass, kombucha and everyone’s favorite, nutritional yeast. While these foods may not supply all the B12 needed on a daily basis, they are a great way to get an added nutritional boost in your diet (not to mention delicious!)
Herbivore or omnivore, everyone should be aware of their B12 intake to ensure that they are getting the most nutrition out of their diets. However, with the ease and availability of B12 supplements as well as the tasty benefits of vegan fortified and whole-food sources, go ahead and skip the middle-man, or should I say middle-cow/pig/chicken/fish, and get your B12 straight from a sprinkle of nooch, a glass of almond milk and a B12 supplement everyday!
More B12 Recipes: Creamy Cumin Dijon Dressing
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Photo: Claire Marie Harris, Garden of Life, Amazon, Peaceful Dumpling