Vitamin B12. How much do you know about it?
Like many people, I knew that it was important, but I left the details up to the nutritionists. Committed to a whole foods diet, I was convinced that I got all I needed from my diet. Then I started to slant more and more towards vegetarianism, even though I did my best to avoid the yoga teacher stereotypes (which was hard to do, because I loved reading Rumi and drinking kombucha). To channel Carrie Bradshaw’s method of writing in Sex and the City, “I couldn’t help but wonder: would a produce-friendly diet give me everything I needed?”
Yes, I am comparing vitamins to dating. Bear with me.
Curious about plant based diets?
Turns out, the answer to my inner Carrie Bradshaw is: almost. Meat-eaters can’t simply rest on their laurels, either, as vegetarians and vegans aren’t the only ones deficient in B12. 1 in 31 adults in the US older than the age of 51 are deficient, which is much more than the estimated 3% of the population that are vegetarians.
4 Things You Need to Know About Vitamin B12
Let’s learn a little more about this water-soluble vitamin and then find out how to move our commitment to the next stage (another dating reference, just to stay consistent):
- It's necessary for red blood cells. Red blood cells are those important guys that carry oxygen through the body. Obviously, oxygen is important, and the body lets you know when you don’t have enough of it, with symptoms ranging from low energy to low appetite to psychiatric disorders.
- It is bound to protein in food. By binding to animal proteins, hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes release the vitamin within the stomach. Older adults may not have enough hydrochloric acid to absorb the vitamin, which may explain the link between older adults and deficiency. If B12 is found through a fortified vegetarian food, it doesn’t require this separation, and will combine with a glycoprotein secreted by the stomach. In other words, your body can tell the form of the B12 from the get-go. There’s no fooling your stomach.
- 10 micrograms is all the body can handle. This is interesting because supplements can be sold in 3,000 micrograms (50,000% of the daily value!) and some vegans are told that they can take one a week. Only 10 micrograms will be absorbed with each pill. No upper tolerable intake level has yet been established, but it is best to avoid an extreme excess of any vitamin unless needed.
- Plant sources of B12 may not be enough. Even though nutritional yeast is often touted as the perfect vitamin B12 food solution for vegans, study suggest it isn’t quite enough. High sources include clams and liver, but a supplement or fortified vitamin B12 foods in your daily diet will make vegetarians less likely to suffer from a B12 deficiency than a typical meat eater.
Vitamin B12 Foods for Vegetarians
Good sources of vitamin B12 foods for vegetarians are:
- 8 oz of plain, low fat yogurt
- 8 oz of low fat milk
- Nutritional yeast
- Non-dairy milks fortified with vitamin B12 (almond, soy or coconut milk)
For more vitamin B12 foods for vegetarians, view this list.
We now know more and when we know better, we do better. This even extends to our diet.
Now excuse me while I ride off into the sunset with my B12.