If you’re vegan, you’re probably not getting enough vitamin B12. In fact, you might not be getting any at all! And none of us can survive without B12.
Where Does Vitamin B12 Come From?
B12 is only produced by bacteria, mostly in the guts of animals. This makes animal products the best natural source of vitamin B12, which is of course bad news for vegetarians and vegans.
There are no reliable plant sources of B12, despite what lots of pseudo-scientific sites will try to tell you. Seaweed and everything else that has been hailed as the next great thing have all been shown to be ineffective as vegan sources of B12.
What About Vegetarians in the Past?
It’s true that in the past there were some hunter-gatherer tribes that did a lot more gathering than hunting. So how did these people not suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency?
It’s thought that it was only possible because food was far less clean back then. Soil is full of bacteria, and a diet of roots and vegetables probably contained enough leftover dirt to meet the average person’s B12 requirements.
This still leaves us with the problem of how to get B12 as a vegan in the modern world. Fortunately, finding vitamin B12 for vegans is no longer difficult.
Vegan Sources of B12
The only reliable vegan B12 sources are fortified foods and vitamin B12 supplements. The importance of supplementing your diet with extra B12 cannot be overstated for vegans – if you want to be healthy, B12 supplements are absolutely essential.
Many common foods are now fortified with B12. This is standard practice in many developed countries, including the US. The idea was to increase the dietary intake of B12 for the average citizen, and the project has been remarkably successful.
The B12 in fortified foods is produced using bacteria cultures, so there’s absolutely no need to compromise your vegan or vegetarian principles.
There are many B12-fortified products available, including fortified breakfast cereals, protein bars, granola, soy milk and oatmeal cereal for babies. This is just the tip of the iceberg – we’ve even found cookie dough fortified with B12 before! Finding fortified products that are also vegan can be tricky though – you might have to shop around.
Cereals fortified with B12 are probably our favorite choice as they’re so easy to fit into your diet. Just make sure you include fortified foods in two or three meals per day if they’re your only food sources of vitamin B12.
The only downside to foods fortified with B12 is the fact that they often contain cyanocobalamin, a synthetic form of B12 that actually produces small amounts of cyanide when you consume it. The preferred ingredient is methylcobalamin (the natural, bioavailable form of B12) – check out our Methylcobalamin vs Cyanocobalamin article to find out more.
Vegan B12 Supplements
The best sources of vitamin B12 are undoubtedly dedicated supplements. There are a wide variety of products to choose from – just make sure you find one that contains methylcobalamin as the active ingredient.
A single weekly supplement in excess of 2000mcg should be a large enough B12 dosage (unless you have a problem with vitamin absorption – see our Are You at Risk of B12 Deficiency? page if you’re not sure).
The great thing about B12 is that you can’t really take too much. If you’re concerned that your vitamin B12 sources aren’t giving you quite enough, you can just take an extra supplement! The risk of overdosing is essentially zero. (Read more about this here.)
The Best Vegan B12 Supplement
If we had to choose just one vegan B12 supplement, it would have to be these sublingual tablets made by Deva. Not sure that sublingual pills are the right choice for you? Then take a look at our dedicated article about the benefits of sublingual supplements!
A great alternative for vegetarians would be these tablets from Thorne Research, but they’re only vegetarian, not vegan.
B12 in Multivitamins
We would generally advise against getting all your B12 from multivitamins. This is because you’ll probably have to take a lot of pills to meet your B12 requirements, which in turn will also mean ingesting huge amounts of other vitamins. While you can safely ingest vast amounts of B12, not all vitamins are so forgiving – overdose is a serious possibility.
If you want to find out more about vitamin B12 and multivitamins, take a look at our more detailed article here.
Best Multivitamin With B12
We love the Vega All-in-One Nutritional shake as an alternative to a traditional multivitamin. It’s certified vegan, non-GMO, and gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free. However, it definitely won’t give you enough B12 on its own.
If you want a standard vegan multivitamin with vitamin B12, then we have to recommend the multivits made by Garden of Life. They have specially formulated multivitamins for men and for women, designed to be taken once per day. They contain methylcobalamin, they’re organic, non-GMO and gluten-free, as well as vegan! What more could you want?
Vegan Prenatal Vitamins
If you’re vegan and don’t take enough vitamin B12 during pregnancy, then you’re risking the health of your unborn child. B12 is an essential prenatal vitamin that works alongside folate/folic acid (a more commonly known prenatal vitamin).
Besides the normal prenatal vitamin supplements, a B12-only supplement might well be a good idea, but you should talk to your doctor first. To keep it simple, we would recommend these vegan B12 pills.
Vitamins are Vital
The word ‘vitamin’ actually comes from the same root as ‘vital’, and vitamin B12 is no exception. B12 is actually one of the most important vitamins for vegetarians and vegans, who are all at a high risk of suffering from B12 deficiency. This can have extremely serious long-term consequences if left untreated.
So do the sensible thing, and get yourself a B12 supplement today!
From top to bottom, the non-product images are courtesy of Apolonia, Mister GC and imagerymajestic, all at FreeDigitalPhotos.net