Vitamin B12: What Vegan and Vegetarian Eaters Need to Know

In the world of vegan nutrition, meeting vitamin B12 requirements is a crucial aspect often requiring special attention. In this article, we'll delve into the importance of vitamin B12 for vegans, explore plant-based sources, and discuss supplementation strategies to ensure optimal health in a vegan lifestyle.
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There is one nutrient that is absolutely critical to be getting and takes some extra care from vegetarian and vegan eaters: vitamin B12. In this article we discuss what Vitamin B12 is and why it’s important.

How much B12 do you need? What are the best sources of vegan B12? Can you get B12 from food, or do you need to take a supplement? Registered dietitian Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN, answers all these questions and more. 

While going vegan and eating a plant-based diet is a smart move when it comes to helping animals, the planet, and our bodies, we need to make sure we cover all of our nutritional bases.

If you’re eating a well-balanced diet of colorful plant foods including whole grains, legumes (such as beans), lentils and peas, nuts and seeds, vegetables (including dark leafy greens), and fruits, you’re likely getting most of the nutrients you need. Except one: Vitamin B12. 

What Is Vitamin B12?

There is just one nutrient that isn’t available naturally in plant foods and that is vitamin B12. This particular vitamin is produced in the digestive tracts of mammals, which is why it is found in animal foods such as meat, eggs and milk.

We need vitamin B12 for proper neurological functioning and red blood cell production. It’s also required for the synthesis of DNA and RNA.

Reliable Sources of Vitamin B12

We require adequate stomach acid as well as something called intrinsic factor in order to digest and absorb vitamin B12. Some people don’t have strong stomach acid or enough intrinsic factor, which is why more than just vegans may need to take a B12 supplement.

You may have heard some myths about vitamin B12, such as being able to obtain it from unwashed produce, fermented foods, or sea vegetables, and that simply isn’t true. Sea vegetables contain inactive analogs of vitamin B12 that can actually interfere with the absorption of active forms of the nutrient.

Others proclaim that we make our own vitamin B12 just like other animals do, but the issue is that vitamin B12 is absorbed higher up in the digestive tract than where it is made. In other words, any vitamin B12 we make, we poop out.

The only reliable sources of vitamin B12 in a vegan diet are fortified foods and supplements.

Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Because the body has the ability to store vitamin B12 for a few years, a vegan may consume inadequate amounts of the nutrient without realizing the effects for some time. By the time you notice the signs of a B12 deficiency, some irreversible neurological damage may have been done. Symptoms of B12 deficiency include anemia, weakness and weight loss as well as memory loss and numbness or tingling in the extremities.

Research shows that vegans and people eating exclusively raw food commonly suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency, with estimates up to 70% in some populations. It’s not worth it to wait around and see if you get a nutritional deficiency—when it comes to vitamin B12, it’s best for vegans to supplement or eat fortified foods as soon as they go vegan.

Vitamin B12 Recommendations for Vegetarians and Vegans

Luckily, consuming adequate vitamin B12 is very easy to do. The recommended dietary allowance is 2.4 micrograms per day for adults which can be achieved through daily or weekly supplementation, or by consuming fortified foods.

Fortified foods are easily accessible and supplements are very affordable. Registered dietitian nutritionist and vegan nutrition expert Ginny Messina recommends one of the following:

  1. Fortified foods with 2 – 3.5 micrograms twice per day
  2. Supplement with 25 – 100 micrograms daily
  3. Supplement with 1000 micrograms twice per week

Note: Absorption of this nutrient decreases as the dose increases.

Can You Find Vitamin B12 in Vegan Food?

While taking a supplement is usually the most reliable option, you can find B12 in some vegan and vegetarian food. How? Look for foods that are fortified with it!

For instance, nutritional yeast, a common vegan ingredient, is often fortified with B12. But if relying on fortified foods, be sure to read the nutrition facts label to determine the amount. Not all vegan products nor nutritional yeast are fortified with vitamin B12.

Foods Commonly Fortified with Vitamin B12

A jar labeled "nooch" and filled with nutritional yeast.

If you have concerns about your vitamin levels, ask your doctor for a blood test and work with a registered dietitian nutritionist to develop an individualized nutrition plan. There are many registered dietitians with vegetarian nutrition expertise and plant-based doctors you can consult.

Vegan Vitamin B12 Supplement Brands

There are hundreds of brands of Vitamin B12 supplements to choose from. A quick visit to your local health food store should have you covered, as they typically stock high-quality B12 which are commonly sold as sublingual tablets, capsules, dropper bottles, or sprays. You can also find plant-based multivitamins and supplements that contain B12.

Deva Vegan B12 Tablets (sublingual vitamin with Folic Acid and B6)

Deva Vegan B12 Tablets provide a convenient sublingual option for those needing B12 supplementation, also including Folic Acid and B6 for added nutritional support. These tablets are designed to dissolve under the tongue, making them easy to incorporate into your daily routine.

A bottle of Deva brand vegan B12 supplements.
Image credit: Deva

NBPure Organic Methyl B12 Spray

The Organic Methyl B-12 Spray from NBPure offers a convenient and highly absorbable form of B12 in a vegan, organic, non-GMO formula. Designed as a spray, it provides a quick and easy way to support energy levels, mood, and the nervous system, particularly beneficial for those with dietary restrictions or absorption issues.

A bottle of NBPure brand vegan vitamin b12 sublingual spray.

Global Healing Organic Vitamin B12 Liquid Drops

These organic Vitamin B12 liquid drops offer a potent dose of 5,000 mcg per serving, combining methylcobalamin, adenosylcobalamin, and hydroxocobalamin for enhanced absorption and efficacy. This vegan and organic formula is an excellent choice for those seeking a reliable B12 supplement.

A bottle of Global Healing brand vegan vitamin b12 spray.

MyKind Organics Garden of Life B12 Spray (organic methycobalamin) 

The MyKind Organics Garden of Life B12 Spray provides an organic, vegan-friendly source of methylcobalamin, the most active form of Vitamin B12. This easy-to-use spray is designed to support energy metabolism and nervous system health, making it a convenient addition to your daily routine.

A bottle of mykind brand vegan vitamin b12 spray.

Naturelo B12 Capsules (gelatin-free vegetarian capsules with spirulina)

Naturelo B12 Capsules offer a vegan-friendly source of B12 in the form of gelatin-free vegetarian capsules, enhanced with spirulina. These capsules are designed to support energy levels, brain function, and overall health, making them a suitable choice for those following a plant-based diet.

A bottle of Naturelo brand vegan b12 supplement.
Image credit: Amazon

Plant-Based Multivitamins That Contain B12

Hippo 7 Vitamins Plant Powered World of Vegan Art

Enjoy The Many Benefits Of A Plant-Based Diet

This article is certainly not intended to scare you aware from going vegan. Quite the opposite, in fact! Choosing a plant-based diet can be one of the healthiest ways to eat and will likely help you live a longer life and a healthier life.

Removing meat, dairy, and eggs from your diet can help dramatically lower your cholesterol levels, prevent and reverse Type 2 diabetesprevent and reverse heart disease, and so much more. The health benefits of a plant-based diet are widely recognized by doctors, dietitians, and athletes alike. Just go vegan responsibly and take your vitamins!

tofu scramble served up on a vegan breakfast plate with avocado tomatoes greens and toast

Additional Resources from Registered Dietitians

Disclaimer: The information presented here is not to be construed as medical advice or used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any condition or disease.

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  1. I don’t think its accurate to say seaweeds dont contain B12 – there are thousands of species of seaweeds – each is unique. Perhaps not much research has been done on this topic – Nori is definitely a species I find that has it. I eat a lot of nori and dont have a B12 issue and I have read similar studies….is there any recent research on this?

    • This is really interesting and the first I’m hearing of it so I went to the National Institute of Health to see if there were any recent studies. Looks like this study does confirm dried purple laver nori as a suitable source of Vitamin B12! About 4g was enough to reach the RDA. Thanks for sharing!

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