A Vegan’s Guide to Vitamin B12

As a vegan, there’s probably one big vitamin missing from your diet: vitamin B12.

One of the many myths about veganism is that it doesn’t meet your nutritional needs. Here at My VeeGan, we’re proud to say that, in reality, most vegans actually have diets that are more nutrient rich and include more variety than people who eat traditional, Western diets. However, there is one big vitamin that is lacking in your average vegan diet — B12. Here at My VeeGan, we offer vegan supplements to help you fill in the nutritional gaps in your diet, but we also want to help you understand why these supplements are so important. That’s why we’ve come up with this guide to vitamin B12 for vegans.

Why do you need vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, is a water soluble vitamin that plays many important roles in your body. Vitamin B12 plays a role in:

  • Nervous system and brain function
  • Formation of red blood cells
  • Energy production
  • Synthesis of fatty acids
  • Regulation of DNA
  • Proper red blood cell multiplication

As you can see, vitamin B12 is essential for many reasons. And since your body cannot store excess B12, you need to make sure you get enough of it every day.

How much vitamin B12 do you need?

There are many variables that can affect the amount of vitamin B12 you need, including your age, your eating habits, any medical conditions you might have, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and any medications you are taking. But in general, most adults require approximately 2.4 mcg per day.

Which foods contain vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products. Here are a few foods that are excellent sources of B12:

  • Beef, ham, pork, lamb, and poultry.
  • Fish — particularly tuna and haddock
  • Dairy products — yogurt, milk and cheese
  • Eggs
  • Some nutritional yeasts

Vegans can get B12 in food by eating foods that are fortified with it. These can include soy milk, almond milk and coconut milk, some cereals and some meat substitutes.

What happens if you don’t get enough?

Most omnivores don’t have to worry about getting enough vitamin B12. In fact, if you eat meat or dairy, like most Americans, you are probably getting more than you need. However, vegans and vegetarians often have a harder time meeting their B12 requirements. Although the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency is fairly low — even in vegans — it’s important to ensure that you get an adequate amount of it in your diet, especially if you’ve been a vegan for longer than a few years. Here are a few signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency:

  • You have no energy – The red blood cells that B12 help to produce and multiply are responsible for carrying oxygen to all of the cells in your body. And if your cells aren’t getting enough oxygen, it can make you feel fatigued, even when you get enough sleep.
  • You feel weak – Weakness is another common sign of a B12 deficiency, and it is also caused by a lack of oxygen in your red blood cells.
  • You frequently have that pins and needles sensation – When oxygen levels in your bloodstream are low, it can cause nerve damage, which is what that pins and needles sensation indicates.
  • You look paler than usual – Does your skin have a new, yellow undertone to it? If your once-rosy complexion has suddenly started to have a yellow cast, there’s a chance that low levels of B12 are to blame. Without enough B12, your red bloods cells will become very fragile and easy to break, causing a yellowish hue.

These are just a few of the many symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Please consult your doctor to learn more.

What should you do if you think you have a deficiency?

As we mentioned earlier, vitamin B12 is essential for normal brain and nervous system functioning, and if a deficiency is left untreated for too long, it can cause severe damage to the brain and nervous system — which could be irreversible. At the first sign of a B12 deficiency, it’s essential to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

At My VeeGan, we help to take the guesswork out of meeting all of your nutritional needs on a vegan diet. We offer vegan-friendly B12 supplements. Shop our supplements online today!