Vegan Sources of B12 A-Z
If you’re eating a vegan or plant-based diet, you need to get your vitamin B12 SORTED. So let this plant-based dietitian show you the way, with a list of all of the vegan sources of B12 as well as guidance on vitamin B12 supplements.
As a dietitian who works in plant-based nutrition, vitamin B12 is an important part of ensuring you meet your nutritional needs on a vegan diet, alongside iron, calcium, and protein. If you’re new to plant-based eating, you might want to pick up Eat More Plants cookbook, where I go deeper into everything you need to know when starting a plant-based diet but this post will help you get to know your vegan sources of B12!
- What is Vitamin B12?
- Where does vitamin B12 come from?
- What does B12 do in the body?
- How much B12 do we need?
- Do vegans need a B12 supplement?
- Methylcobalamin vs cyanocobalamin
- Vitamin B12 Deficiency: who is at risk?
- Vegan Sources of B12 List
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is a water soluble B vitamin that contains a mineral called cobalt.
Where does vitamin B12 come from?
Vitamin B12 is naturally found in meat, seafood, eggs and dairy products. However, it’s not actually produced by animals themselves. In fact, vitamin B12 is created by bacteria and accumulates in animal tissues. Vegan sources of B12 are often fortified foods.
What does B12 do in the body?
Vitamin B12 is required for building healthy red blood cells and supporting nervous system function. It is also used in DNA synthesis and as a co-factor for enzymes. If you don’t get enough vitamin B12 foods you can get pernicious anemia.
How much B12 do we need?
Unlike other water soluble vitamins, the body can actually store some vitamin B12 but it is still important to get some B12 into your body daily.
Adults need 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 daily. Pregnant adults need 2.6 mcg daily while lactating adults require 2.8 mcg daily.
Do vegans need a B12 supplement?
As a dietitian, I have to say that I really prefer a daily supplement. Which is a rare stance for me. Because B12 is so critical to nervous system function, and supplements are affordable, it takes the pressure off. However you can absolutely the B12 you need from vegan sources of B12 if you can ensure 2 servings of vitamin B12 foods daily.
The bioavailability of supplements is generally higher than food. But bioavailability also depends on something called intrinsic factor, which is released in the stomach. The capacity of intrinsic factor to support absorption tops out at about 1-2 mcg so if you are taking larger doses, say 500mcg, your absorption is likely closer to 2%. You are definitely NOT absorbing the whole thing.
You can take B12 as part of a multivitamin or buy B12 on it’s own. I take a Vitamin D + B12 supplement which covers all my bases for the day.
Methylcobalamin vs cyanocobalamin
There are two main forms of vitamin B12 that you might see in the supplement aisle: methylcobalamin and cyanocobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is the most studied form of B12 and is the least expensive, so it’s generally my pick. It needs to be converted in the body to methylcobalamin, the active form of vitamin B12 in the body.
You can also buy preformed methylcobalamin, which some prefer because it is already the active form of B12 but… we don’t actually have much research to say that methylcobalamin supplements are more effective than cyanocobalamin.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency: who is at risk?
Vitamin B12 deficiency isn’t common, and develops slowly because we have vitamin B12 stores to draw from. However, those on plant-based or vegan diets are at higher risk because there are fewer food sources of B12 in our diet. One recent study showed that vitamin B12 intake was lower in healthy adults trialling a 4 week vegan diet, however, it was unsupplemented and unclear as to whether adequate daily intake of vitamin B12 foods was reached. Another systematic review showed that vegans are at risk for lower intakes of vitamin B12, while also acknowledging that consuming B12 fortified foods negated this outcome. Take home? Eat vitamin B12 foods!!!
Because production of intrinsic factor goes down after age 50, it is recommended that everyone (vegan or not) over the age of 50 take a supplement and it’s worth noting that a deficiency of B12 can mimic dementia.
It’s also worth noting that those with gastrointestinal diseases or those who have had surgery on their digestive tracts, such as those with celiac disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis may be at risk.
Finally, folks who take proton pump inhibitors for GERD or those who take metformin for diabetes may also be at risk.
Vegan Sources of B12 List
There isn’t a huge variety of vegan sources of B12 so this list isn’t long…but it doesn’t need to be! One, you can always just opt for a supplement which I recommend. Two, it’s very easy to incorporate two of these choices into your diet every single day, particularly plant-based milk alternatives as getting 2 glasses of these alternatives daily will also help you meet your vegan calcium needs.
- Fortified Nutritional Yeast: nutritional yeast, or nooch, as I call it, is an essential part of my plant-based pantry as it adds a cheesy, umami-rich flavour to so many recipes. Check the label as levels vary, but nooch can easily pack 3-4 mcg of vitamin B12 into a tablespoon.
- Fortified Plant-based milks: almost all plant-based milk alternatives will contain B12, usually at 50% of your daily requirement per cup. Always check the label as some ‘natural’ varieties don’t fortify.
- Fortified Plant-based meat alternatives: In Canada, vegan sausages, burgers and ground are fortified with B12. For example, 1/3 cup of beyond meat ground contains your daily intake of B12.
- Fortified breakfast cereals: some breakfast cereals are fortified with B12 so check the label.
- Marmite + Vegemite Spreads: these yeast extract spreads also contain B12. An 8g serving of Marmite contains 1.9 mcg of vitamin B12.
What about so called natural sources of vegan B12 in tempeh or algae? These are not considered reliable sources. Absolutely eat them! But bank on another source of B12.
14 Comments on “Vegan Sources of B12 A-Z”
Is it Essential to take B12 sublingually?
Is it okay just to swallow it with other vitamins?
It is not essential to do sublingual, we don’t have the research to suggest that it improves blood levels over regular tabs!
Thank you, wonderful info on Vit B12. Bought your new book ,loving all the great information and if course recipes. Congratulations, great book. 😊
Thank you so much Vicki! I am so glad you are enjoying it 🙂
Thankyou Desiree, wonderful information once again.
I am in Australia and I have your new book on order through Booktopia , and I cannot wait to hold it in my hands .it will be a great companion to Eat More Plants
Sending good vibes to you
Warm regards Karen 😊
Thank you Karen!! I am so excited for you to see it 🙂
hey Desiree, I recently was questioning the content of B 12 as my grandson eats no meat and yet at 20 years old I do not think his diet is optimum. My own m.d. put me on B 12 as I am over 70 and also take meds for GERD . So this article is like you knew I needed it Ha ! My pharmacist said for him, my grandson to have blood levels checked and base the need and dose on that, However I do not see me dragging grandson to a doctorLol. I shall bring this blog to his attention. I also tried to go to the episode you mentioned about recipes and a video, but not sure how to open it, it asks to sign in, could you tell me more about it? thanks a lotNEL DEWIJN
Hi! Of course it would be optimal to get tested but B12 is safe to take without testing too. For the social, just google ‘the social episodes’ and look for May 9th, it’s me!!
Is your Gut cookbook also Anti Inflammatory or just Eat More Plants? I’m a marathon runner so I submitted a message on which one on one package to purchase. Keep up the great work.
Hi John! Absolutely – the educational focus is specifically on gut health, but a high plant, high fibre diet is the path for keeping inflammation at bay so the recipes in good for your gut will be appropriate 🙂
Thanks Desiree. I’ve been in contact with Jess about the consultation and since she’s gone until the 20th I was wondering if I get a meal plan with the consultation? As being a marathon runner I’ve been losing weight on a plant based diet and don’t need to lose any weight. I’m 5’11 and currently weigh 140.
We don’t do prescriptive meal plans but we absolutely help you in the meal planning process by helping to find recipes that suit your needs + lifestyle!
Our family is becoming more and more plant based. For example, this past week 5/7 meals were vegetarian. How do I know when we need to start taking B12? My 10 year old still has dairy milk, my 13 year old has yogurt. We do have cheese sometimes, and an egg or 2 once a week. What would the dosage be for adults vs. children? I love eating healthy plant-based meals but I want to make sure my family is getting everything they need! Thank you! Love your blog and following you on Insta!
Hi Adrienne, thank you so much for being a part of this community! If the kids are not consistently eating a couple of servings of animal foods a day, a great idea to put them on B12, even just a couple of times a week! Your kids only need 1.8 micrograms (mcg) at this age so the lowest dose drop or spray you can find is great.