Food, Healthy Eating

Eat Your Dirt: Natural Vitamin B12 And Where To Find The Best B12 Supplement


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.

Vegan Vitamin B12

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? 

vegan B12B12 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.

Best B12 Supplement

The same brand also offers a liquid B12 spray that’s very convenient. (One spray daily delivers 500 mcg–8333% DV).

Vitamin B12 Spray

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!)

French Potato Salad with Tempeh | Peaceful Dumpling

Warm French Potato Salad with Tempeh

Healthy Lunch: Vegan Tomato Avocado Quiche

Vegan Tomato Mushroom Avocado Quiche

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!

Related: 5 Essential Nutrients for Vegans and How to Get Them

More B12 Recipes: Creamy Cumin Dijon Dressing

Avocado Spinach Pesto Spaghetti

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Photo: Claire Marie Harris, Garden of Life, Amazon, Peaceful Dumpling

Claire-Marie Harris
Claire-Marie Harris is a writer, blogger and vegan cook who recently returned to her home state of Texas after living in Asia for many years. A passionate traveler, animal activist and food lover, she is the founder of Kimchi Tacos and is currently writing her first cookbook. She lives in Dallas with her husband and three furry kids where she continues her work in animal welfare. Find her on her blog, Flickr or Instagram.
  • Aristoteles Doukas

    Vitamin B12 is generally found in all animal foods (except honey). Contrary to the many rumors, there are no reliable, unfortified plant sources of vitamin B12, including tempeh, seaweeds, and organic produce. One of the earliest studies conducted on vegans, from the U.K. in 1955, described significant vitamin B12 deficiency in the vegans with some suffering from nerve damage and dementia

    • kelleyc

      Did you read the article (as well as scientific fact)? The reason animals have B12 in their muscular tissues, the ones consumed, is because they eat the dirt with the bacteria that becomes B12 in the gut. Human animals have the same abilities. Contrary to popular belief, our cave dwelling ancestors did not eat as much animal protein as we think as there was more unavailability in most areas that availability. In those cases, humans were able to get B12 through eating plants from soil, the same that animals make B12 now. If we weren’t so squeamish about eating dirt leftover on our plant food, we would also produce B12 ourselves. Additionally, mass produced meat, at least in the western world, is raised on factory farms where the animals aren’t free range. In other words, they eat what they are given which does not include plants straight out of the ground. This is why they are given B12 injections. These are searchable and validated facts, not mere “rumors.” There are ample numbers of vegans who do not suffer from B12 insufficiency, especially since the time of the generalized study you cite dating back 60 years.

      • Aristoteles Doukas

        you forgot to show any proof.

        • kelleyc

          Forgot? No. There are ample studies and scientific/nutritional periodicals for you to pursue should you decide to do so. In the meantime, I’m very busy with my own health/nutrition science studies

          • kelleyc

            Lol, move on

      • Paleo Huntress

        Pasture-raise animals have B12 in the tissues because they’re eating plants growing from the manure they crapped out. The bacteria doesn’t live in the soil, it lives in the guts of animals and the cobalamin is deposited onto the soil in a steaming pile of crap.

        No animal poop, no B12 in the soil.

      • Firefly

        You’re an imbecile; tyoical of vegans

    • Itachi Madara

      Mushrooms have b12 on them but that’s not where animals or humans in nature get their b12 from. Animals getting their b12 from eating dirt? Ridiculous, birds don’t eat dirt, monkey’s don’t eat dirt, gorilla’s don’t eat dirt. Bacteria can’t surviive without the main source of vitamin b12, water! river water has vitamin b12.

  • Aristoteles Doukas

    i left the other your myths debunked this time.

  • Itachi Madara

    This is BS, we did not eat dirt. Neither do monkeys or gorilla’s. There is something runs through dirt and is full of b12, it’s called river or stream water!

    • Paleo Huntress

      The water carries the B12 from the soil, the soil contains it because there was fecal matter on it. B12 producing bacteria do not live in water, they live in the guts of animals.

  • Atara Schimmel

    It is very dangerous that you are telling people that they can get B12 from tempeh, nori, spirulina, barley grass, kombucha and nutritional yeast. Very very dangerous. I am a vegan and I am suffering from a severe B12 deficiency that has left me bed-ridden and depressed for two years. I finally got diagnosed and have started daily B12 injections. Please remove the misinformation that you are spreading because the first people that you are hurting are vegans. VEGANS MUST TAKE SUPPLEMENTS. DAILY.

  • Paleo Huntress

    Don’t listen to bloggers when it comes to your health.

    “The only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 ”

    “A blood B12 level measurement is a very unreliable test for vegans, particularly for vegans using any form of algae. Algae and some other plant foods contain B12-analogues (false B12) that can imitate true B12 in blood tests while actually interfering with B12 metabolism. Blood counts are also unreliable as high folate intakes suppress the anaemia symptoms of B12 deficiency that can be detected by blood counts. Blood homocysteine testing is more reliable, with levels less than 10 micromol/litre being desirable. The most specific test for B12 status is methylmalonic acid (MMA) testing. If this is in the normal range in blood (<370 nmol/L) or urine (less than 4 mcg /mg creatinine) then your body has enough B12. Many doctors still rely on blood B12 levels and blood counts. These are not adequate, especially in vegans."

  • Firefly

    The writer of this article is a sh*t for brains imbecile. B12 is produced from cobalt in the dirt, idiot. When there’s enough of it in the soil, plants take it up where it’s transformed into B12 by specialized bacteria in the animals gut. Humans do NOT have this ability. In india vegans and vegetarians do NOT have because they eat plant eating insects who also contain the same type of specialized bacteria. Humans in past were NOT getting B12 from eating dirt, idiot! Dirt contains a variety of contaminents that can make a body extremely ill; even ancient primitive people knew that…idiot so stfu and know wtf you’re talking about beforehand, idiot.
    And people defficient in B12 can get it easily from oral supplements therefore obviating the need for injections…idiot (to another poster here)

    • Paleo Huntress

      Whoa, dude, that’s incredibly harsh. No need to be. You can get the facts across without the sledgehammer. There is nothing in the soil that we can’t tolerate in small amounts. Primitive people had no way to wash tubers for example. They likely just brushed the dirt off. Plus roasting would have killed any dangerous pathogens while leaving the cobalamin intact.

    • Paleo Huntress

      However, the primary source of B12 has always been animal products. No doubt about it.

  • The ex Vegetarian Blogger

    *Fungi, animals and plants are incapable of producing B12 on their own and must obtain it from outside sources*

    Your beliefs about B12 and the human diet are totally incorrect.

    Herbivores don’t get their B12 from the soil, its synthesised in their bowels by bacteria, usually ecoli variants. Cattle get supplemental B12 because they are given low cobalt feed and they can’t synthesise B12 without cobalt. If you raised cattle entirely on cobalt containing feed in a barn they would still have adequate B12 levels from internal synthesis. They don’t get any from the soil.

    There’s also nowhere near enough B12 in soil or untreated water to make any difference to the B12 levels in your body. Even if you ate soil neat there wouldn’t be enough. There’s a reason vegetarians in developing countries who consume dirt on their veg and drink untreated water have rampant B12 deficiencies. Place like rural India, Africa and South America who are so poor they can’t afford meat have endemic issues with low B12.

    I know this winds up vegans, but human evolved consuming about half of their calories from flesh for the past two million years and THAT is where we got the B12 from.

    • Chris Reinholt

      There have been vegan populations found in Iran since decades ago that have sufficient b12.
      Some herbivorous animals can’t absorb b12 produced in their colons. They have to eat manured dirt or feces pellets produced for the purpose.
      This article’s author is a know-nothing though, so you’re not alone.

  • Just Me

    humans cannot get b12 from soil. It can only come from animal products and supplements. Period. b12 from soil and bacteria are b12 analogues and are dangerous.

  • mercury

    Thank you for this interesting article. I was directed to it by a vegan who seems not to have read it all the way through, and who believes that it is possible for humans to get all the B12 they need from dirt. When you state “in fact I [B12] is solely bacteria based” you lead the reader to believe that B12 is not present in eggs, beef, chicken or fish. This is incorrect. I recommend that you revise this blog to rephrase things so that the reader understands (1) how many ounces of dirt he/she need to eat each day in order to get enough B12 from it; (2) that B12 is also available in natural form via yeast and in synthetic form via supplements; and that, (3) it is also available in eggs and other animal products that have been cleaned of bacteria.

    • Paleo Huntress

      There is no B12 in yeast, only B12 analogues (false B12).

      • mercury

        Good point – the yeast does not produce any B12, and unfortified nutritional yeast contains minimal B12 compared to other B complex vitamins. But the vast majority of nutritional yeast products are fortified with both B12 and iron. So nutritional yeast delivers B12 as a supplement not as a natural source. Thanks for pointing this out.

  • Saikoso Matiq


    Stop taking your b12 suppliments, then eat soil and plants only.

    Tell me how you feel in a year!

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