If you are a vegetarian and are looking for good sources of vitamin B12, then you are in the right place. While you may have been told that vitamin B12 is only found in meat, this statement is far from the truth. Let’s discuss the best vitamin B12 rich foods for vegetarians.
As you may already know, vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal products like meat and seafood. This is why vegetarians and vegans have a difficult time consuming enough to avoid deficiency. Since vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to macrocytic anemia, it’s important to ensure you are consuming enough.
Luckily, there are some vegetarian sources of vitamin B12 that you get through consuming food instead of taking a supplement (though it’s probably best to take one anyways). Let’s discuss those sources below.
What are the B vitamins?
There are eight essential B vitamins that play an important role in the human body. These include vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B7 (biotin), vitamin B9 (folate) and vitamin B12 (cobalamin).
The purpose of these vitamins vary, but in general they help enzymes do their jobs such as releasing energy from fats and carbohydrates, breaking down proteins, and transporting oxygen and nutrients around the body. For these reasons, ensuring you can enough B vitamins is essential for your overall health.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, along with the other B vitamins. This means they don’t require fat to be digested properly, unlike vitamin A, K, D and E. Some people take a daily B vitamin complex supplement to cover all their daily requirement. This can be a good option if your diet lacks all B vitamins.
Is vitamin B12 really necessary for good health?
Yes. Vitamin B12 or cobalamin is an essential vitamin that we all need for our bodies to function properly. It’s one of eight B vitamins that are essential for humans to consume. It plays a few different roles in the body, but here are some of its main functions:
- Healthy red blood cell production
- DNA synthesis
- Development and function of the central nervous system
So that being said, it’s important to ensure you are getting enough vitamin B12 to avoid deficiency. Adults require about 2.4 mg of vitamin B12 daily to avoid deficiency. You can get this from food or in supplement form. Most animal products contain vitamin B12, but there are some plant-based foods that contain this essential nutrient.
Why are vegetarians and vegans at risk for B12 deficiency?
Most people get their vitamin B12 from animal sources such as beef, fish and poultry. If you consume animal products, you probably won’t have any trouble getting enough vitamin B12.
But, if you avoid animal products, it becomes more difficult to avoid deficiency. There are few vegetarian and vegan foods that are good sources of vitamin B12. That being said, there are some vegetarian and plant foods that can help you avoid deficiency.
If you follow a plant-based diet that contains no animal products, you are at more of a risk for vitamin B12 deficiency compared to those who follow a vegetarian diet and consume dairy products and eggs. These two food sources contain more vitamin B12 that even high vitamin B12 plant sources.
Who else is at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency?
Vegetarians and vegans aren’t the only people at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. Older adults, those with pernicious anemia, digestive issues or who have had gastrointestinal surgery all are at risk for developing a deficiency.
Those with pernicious anemia don’t produce something call the “intrinsic factor”, which is essential in the absorption of vitamin B12. This can lead to a deficiency even the individual consumes a balanced diet with animal foods.
Gastrointestinal surgery can also reduce overall absorption of vitamin B12, leading to deficiency. Older adults also have absorption issues due to declining intrinsic factor and hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
7 Vitamin B12 Rich Foods for Vegans
Let’s jump into the seven foods that are good sources of vitamin B12 for vegetarians and vegans. Not all the options are vegan, but all are vegetarian.
#1: Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast is by far the best vitamin B12 food for vegans or vegetarians. It contains about 8.3-24 mg per ¼ cup, which comes out to 345-1000% of your daily value.
That means that just one tablespoon already covers just about all your daily vitamin B12 needs. Nutrition yeast is a great alternative to cheese, especially parmesan cheese, so simply add some on top of whatever you would have added cheese to. It adds a great umami taste.
#2: Cow’s milk
If you are a vegetarian, plain ole cow’s milk can be a reliable source of vitamin B12 in your diet. It contains about 1.3 mg per 1 cup, which is about 54% of your daily value. So with just two cups of milk per day, you’ve already covered your vitamin B12 needs.
If you choose to avoid dairy, some plant based milk alternatives are fortified with vitamin B12, so be sure to check the label. It should list vitamin B12 or cobalamin as an ingredient and list how many mg and what percent value the milk provides.
Yogurt is another good source of vitamin B12 for vegetarians. It provides about 1.0 mg per 6 ounce container, which is about 42% of your daily value of vitamin B12. This is a good amount for such a little container of yogurt.
Yogurt can be paired with a variety of nutritious foods like fruit, nuts and seeds or granola. It’s high in protein and perfect if you’re craving a sweet breakfast.
#4: Fortified breakfast cereals
You’d be surprised to know that fortified foods like breakfast cereals can actually be a great vitamin B12 rich food. They provide about 0.6 mg per 1 serving, but it really depends on the brand, so be sure to read the nutrition label.
For an extra boost of vitamin B12, add some cow’s milk or vitamin B12 fortified plant milk. This makes for a tasty, vitamin B12 filled breakfast. Fortified cereal is a great way to start off the morning!
#5: Cheddar cheese
For me, I love any excuse to eat some more cheese. Luckily, cheddar cheese is a rather good source of vitamin B12. It contains about 0.5 mg per 1 ½ ounces, which is equal to about 21% of your daily value of vitamin B12.
If you want some extra cheesy flavor, make some cheddar macaroni and cheese and throw in a tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast. This will boost the vitamin B12 content and the flavor. Swiss cheese is another good option.
Eggs are another vegetarian vitamin B12 food to consider adding to your diet. They contain about 0.5 mg per 1 large egg. This is about 21% of your daily value of vitamin B12.
Add an extra hard-boiled egg to your diet and you are already about 42% of your daily value! Eggs are also a great source of protein, making it a great food to add to breakfast to keep you full throughout the day.
Tempeh is a great vegan and vegetarian source of vitamin B12. It’s derived from soy, but has a firmer, meatier texture than tofu. It contains 0.1 mg per ½ cup, which equals out to about 4% of your daily value of vitamin B12.
Tempeh is great marinated and then fried or baked. It works very well in asian dishes, but can also be used as a meat alternative in just about any dish.
Do you have vitamin B12 deficiency?
If you have been a vegetarian or vegan for a few years, haven’t been taking a vitamin B12 supplement and don’t consume foods high in vitamin B12, there is a possibility you could be deficient.
The best way to ensure you are in the clear is taking a blood test with your doctor’s supervision. This will give you a clear answer regarding if you are deficient in vitamin B12 or not. They will likely order tests to check your white and red blood cells as well as platelets.
Some people can consume very little vitamin B12 and never develop a deficiency, while others can develop you even when consuming recommended amounts.
Symptoms of deficiency
As mentioned earlier in this article, there are several reasons one can develop a vitamin B12 deficiency. For those at risk, it’s important to monitor any concerning symptoms. Here are a few to look out for:
- Glossitis of the tongue (inflamed and swollen)
- Pale skin
- Unintentional weight loss
- Numbness and tingling in hands and feet
Vitamin B12 deficiency can also be associated with depression and neural tube defects, developmental delays, failure to thrive and anemia in offspring of mothers. About 40% of people in Western populations have low vitamin B12 levels, especially those consuming small amounts of vitamin B12.
Should vegetarians and vegans take a B12 supplement?
If you are vegetarian or vegan, speak to your doctor to see if they suggest a vitamin B12 supplement. Low vitamin B12 intake can result in megaloblastic anemia, low white and red blood cell counts, fatigue, palpitations, pale skin and weight loss, so it’s important to avoid deficiency before it occurs.
There are several ways you can supplement with vitamin B12. You can take a vitamin B12 supplement in pill form or liquid form (sprayed underneath the tongue). Another option is taking a B complex vitamin, which contains a variety of B vitamins including B12.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article! For healthy recipes and nutrition tips, be sure to follow my social media @tasteitwithtia on Instagram and TikTok. Have a wonderful day!