Whether you’re a herbivore, omnivore or something in between, everyone should be aware of their B12 intake.
What’s the deal with B12?
B12 is one of the cornerstones of life but this essential vitamin often receives some bad press in association with vegetarian and vegan diets. One of the biggest myths is that B12 comes from animal flesh as it is found in eggs and meat for example.
However, B12 always comes from microorganisms; it is synthesised by bacteria and found in areas of bacterial growth, specifically dirt and soil. Nowadays, it is added as a supplement to the diet of ruminant animals reared on factory farms.
What if I don’t get enough B12?
Along with folate, B12 is absolutely critical for healthy functioning of the nervous system and DNA synthesis. According to the NHS, signs of deficiency include extreme tiredness, pins and needles, mouth ulcers, disturbed vision, muscle weakness and a sore tongue.
You only need a very small amount – stores of vitamin B12 in the body can last around two to four years without being replenished. As a result, it may take years for symptoms to manifest so it is good to get this sorted early.
So how do I get enough B12 on a plant-based diet?
If you are following a plant-based diet, do ensure you take a B12 (cyanocobalamin) supplement every day. Make sure you choose one that has at least 10mcg of B12.
You might find it easier to take B12 in supplement form twice a week. In this case, take 2,000 to 2,500mcg of vitamin B12 sublingually or swallowed. Recommended levels are different for children as well as for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
Even if you follow a well balanced whole foods plant-based diet, it is always best to take a supplement as the amount in fortified foods (such as plant milks and breakfast cereals) can vary from one batch to another.
While supplementation is essential for those on a plant-based diet, foods such as Marmite, fortified nutritional yeast, spirulina or tempeh may provide a natural B12 boost.
While animal products such as eggs and meat may be sources of vitamin B12, I don’t recommend their consumption due to other adverse health outcomes associated with these foods.
If you are concerned about your B12 levels, please speak to your GP who will assess your symptoms and arrange for a blood test. You may then be given a supplement or treated with B12 injections in some cases.
 Davis, B., & Melina, V. (2014). Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition: The Complete Reference on Plant-based Nutrition. Book Publishing Company.
 NHS (2016). Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamin-b12-or-folate-deficiency-anaemia/