Vitamin B12 finds itself in the press a lot. Probably more than the other vitamins. Why? Because it’s not something commonly found in vegan foods and it’s necessary for a functining brain, thus making it a good poster boy for continuing carnist ways.
So is a lack of vitamin B12 a valid reason to keep eating meat?
Obvs am not a doctor or registered dietician. But I do have access to Google, and here’s what I found:
What is vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is a, er, B vitamin, of which there are 8. I’m sure there’s a valid reason why there’s a vitamin B12 when surely you’d just name ’em vitamins B1 to B8, but that’s science for you.
Also, why is B12 not B1, when it’s the largest and most complex vitamin? Again, I’m sure there’s a good reason, but I’d definitely call the largest vitamin A1.
It’s also known as cobalamin and is water-soluble.
B12 is produced by bacteria. These organisms can live in the stomach flora of some herbivores, so some animals can produce it internally. Wikipedia was not forthcoming with which animals these are, but I’m assuming that’s how wildlife don’t all die of Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Why do we need B12?
It’s pretty important. It helps with cell function, it helps to make your DNA, and it helps create red blood cells.
How much B12 do we need?
Depending on factors such as age, we need anywhere between one and 25 mcg a day.
AS we get older, our body’s ability to absorb B12 can become impaired, so older people can be supplemented with up to 100mcg a day.
However, the recommended dietary allowance of adults and older children is 2.4 mcg. If you’re pregnant or breast feeding, you may need more, but it’s probs best to ask a doctor, rather than consult a randomer on the internet who has never been pregnant nor intents to be so.
Where do meat eaters get B12?
From the animal products that they eat. I bet you guessed that though.
However, there is nothing natural about the way the animals they consume get their B12.
Remember how I said that wild animals can ingest B12 bacteria and it can live in their stomachs?
This isn’t exactly the case for livestock. You see, most livestock lives in sheds and barns, where they wouldn’t get an opportunity to naturally consume the B12 bacteria.
Even those free-range cows that eat grass all day aren’t certain to come across B12 naturally since bacteria in the soil has been severely depleted due to intensive farming.
So where do the animals (and therefore the meat eaters) get their B12?
They’re given supplements.
Where can vegans get B12?
There are food sources of B12.
Nutritional yeast is well named – it contains LOADS of vitamins, as well as a decent amount of protein, and yes, it contains B12. However, it’s cautioned that the amount of B12 in each serving varies wildly, so it’s not recommended as the sole source of your B12.
There are fortified cereals, plant milks, and bread which could supply you with all your B12 requirements. The amount of B12 does vary depending on country and brand, so you’ll have to research this yourself. In the Uk, a lot of fortified products contain 1mcg of vitamin B12 per serving, so it’s recommended that you have three servings a day, spaced out throughout the day to ensure maximum absorption.
A quick note on spirulina: it’s often purported that spirulina contains B12, but it’s not a good dietary source. You see, it contains pseudocobalamin which looks like cobalamin but doesn’t behave like it. It’s just pretending to be a vitamin.
Should vegans take a B12 supplement?
Yes, probably, for your own peace of mind if nothing else.
B12 deficiency is a serious matter, and though it’s definitely not impossible to get all you need through your diet, it can require a lot of planning that can be off-putting to new vegans.
If you’re up for the challenge, by all means, go ahead, but also know that there is no shame in supplementing.
I take a tablet when I remember, but the body can store B12, so a tablet once a week should be plenty.
If you’re historically bad at either taking supplements or absorbing B12, then you can get B12 injections. It seems rather extreme to me, but a lot of people swear by them.
Signs of B12 deficiency
Shout out to the NHS website for these.
- Extreme tiredness
- Lack of energy
- Pale skin
- Loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss
- Yellow tinge to the skin
- Mouth ulcers
- Pins and needles
- Memory loss (it can even cause dementia. Fuck).
I have none of these, excepting pale skin, which I had back when I ate meat. Please excuse the bragging. Oh, and mouth ulcers when I get tired. I always used to get mouth ulcers when I was a kid and my mum said it was because I talked too much. The woman should write a parenting book on how to shut kids up.
Ok, I’m not the best at remembering to take my supplements (I only take 2, for Christ’s sake, what’s wrong with me?) but I aim to make 2020 my year, and that includes getting on track with my health.
I’m going to make sure I take my B12 every Friday morning. No idea why I picked Friday, but there we go. I’m going to make myself a chocolate/ black bean smoothie (it’s so good and makes me feel v virtuous and healthy) and chow down on my B12.