B12 the buzz word used by many as a reason not to pursue a plant-based diet, But what is it anyway and are vegans getting enough – Is anyone?
B12 is also known as cobalamin and it is vital for health. It helps in making DNA and your red blood cells. One of the first signs of B12 deficiency is chronic fatigue, now this is also a symptom of living in the 21st century so let’s look at some other symptoms. Sore tongue, weightless, pale skin (sometimes lemon coloured), diarrhoea, menstrual problems and constant infections.
B12 is produced in the soil and in the guts of animals (humans included) with only one ingredient required – Cobalt. When humans produce B12 it cannot be absorbed by the body as it is too far down the digestive tract. B12 wasn’t always an issue before vegetables where thoroughly cleaned and sprayed and packaged we often (accidentally) ingested soil which contains this vital vitamin. Omnivores get B12 from animals as animals are still ingesting soil and their own faeces and producing B12 in the gut. Vegans would be deficient if it were not for supplementation and fortification. But with the increase in factory farming and many animals being fed processed foods and being kept indoors B12 deficiency is a risk now even for omnivores. For this reason, a lot of animals are now having their diets supplemented with B12 so omnivores consume the animal to consume the supplement why not cut out the middleman?
The natural way to consume B12 through dirty vegetables and water is no longer safe because of the unwanted bacteria that also lurk beneath this is one of those times where natural is not in fact better. For that reason, fortification and supplementation are the best courses of action. The fantastic thing about B12 is that it is a water-soluble vitamin. Water-soluble vitamins tend to be very difficult to overdose on and so supplements often contain way over the RDA. B12 stores also last 3-4 years in the liver and we only lose 0.1% in urine. This can be both good and bad as it means that a deficiency will take a long time to show up! A lot of vegans will take a B12 supplement which is great especially if following a whole food plant-based diet but a diet containing fortified foods will also bring you to your daily RDA in no time at all. Foods that tend to be fortified with B12 are nutritional yeast, breakfast cereals and fortified plant milk. Just because the food is fortified don’t assume that this source is unnatural and therefore not good for you – this b12 is made by bacteria and sourced from bacteria cultures that is as natural as it gets!
So when it comes to B12 you can’t get enough, but you can easily get too little. Think carefully about where you are getting your B12 be it in a supplement, in fortified foods or through meat products. If you are over the age of 50 B12 supplementations are recommended regardless of your diet so this should also be considered.