What You Should Know About Vitamin B12 and Vegetarian Diets


Are you a vegetarian? Good for you! I’ve always wanted to go vegetarian, but upon trying it out for a few days, I realized that it wasn’t for me. Well, I try to eat a lot of plant-based foods, but totally cutting out all meat from our meals didn’t quite suit us as a family. Anyway, enough about me! If you’re on a vegetarian diet, you may already know that there’s a possibility of being deficient in certain nutrients. Vitamin B12 is one of these.

The Importance of Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, or cyanocobalamin, is a very important vitamin. It’s needed by the body for producing DNA and RNA, the genetic material found in new cells. This means that we need B12 for healthy tissues and organs.

Vitamin B12 also helps maintain the integrity of our nerve cells. It works together with Vitamin B9 as well to produce red blood cells and enhance the function of iron in the body. It also helps produce a certain substance involved in mood and immune system functioning.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Lack of Vitamin B12 can be a serious concern. A percentage of vegetarians, especially those who strictly avoid all animal-based foods, have B12 deficiency. Having very low levels of Vitamin B12 in your body can cause anemia and nervous system damage.

How do you know if you have B12 deficiency? A lack of this vitamin usually manifests as anemia. Watch out for symptoms like feeling more frequently weak or tired than usual, having pale skin, loss of appetite, constipation or diarrhea, heart palpitations, feeling short of breath, and possible vision loss. It may also cause nerve issues like tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness.

To confirm any deficiency, it’s better to consult a doctor, who may run a series of tests to check if you quickly need to up B12 intake. There are also other conditions that may lower the absorption of Vitamin B12 in the body. These include heavy alcohol consumption, surgery involving the stomach, old age, and diseases like pernicious anemia, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, lupus, atrophic gastritis and Graves’ disease.

What you can do to Increase B12 Levels

Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products. These include pork, beef, other red meats, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy products like milk and cheese. This vitamin is mainly produced in the intestines of animals by certain bacteria. Thus, plant-based foods very rarely contain this vitamin.

This means that those with vegetarian diets are at risk for Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vegetarians who do not eat any form of animal products, including eggs and dairy, are at the highest risk for deficiency.

So how can you up your intake of Vitamin B12? There are two main ways. First is to consume foods fortified with Vitamin B12, like some plant milks, cereals and soy products. To make sure that you’re getting enough Vitamin B12, you can check the labels for the contents.

Another way is to take a B12 supplement. There are products available that provide you with adequate amounts of recommended daily levels. Some multivitamin supplements have this vitamin included as well. There are also products with higher doses of Vitamin B12 that you can take less frequently. Keep in mind though that smaller, more frequent doses of this vitamin are more optimally absorbed rather than one large dose taken at once.

If you think you may need to up your Vitamin B12 intake, you can opt to get a supplement or a multivitamin with an adequate B12 content.