Eating Vegan: The Elusive Vitamin B12

eating veganVitamin B12

A long-standing myth about veganism is that animal products are the only dietary sources of vitamin B12. Here’s a little information about this critical vitamin as well as some easy ways to work it into your diet.

According to the Mayo Clinic, vitamin B12 is important for nerve health and red blood cell creation. B12 is also critical for making DNA. Certainly, it’s not a vitamin you want to be deficient in!

An average adult needs about 2.4 micrograms of B12 per day. Luckily, there are several non-animal ways to get that vital B12 into your diet, from superfoods to fortified ones:

Nutritional Yeast

Oh, nutritional yeast! How I love your cheesy flavor and your versatility. It’s tasty in everything from soups and stews to salads and potatoes, and just 2 tablespoons adds enough B12 to hit an adult’s daily requirements.

Brewer’s yeast can also provide B12 and is similarly versatile. Check the package, though – its B12 content can depend on the environment in which it’s grown.


Nutrient powerhouse spirulina is another excellent B12 source. The amount of usable B12 in spirulina can vary, so you’ll want to check out the nutritional information when you pick it up at the store.

Some of spirulina’s B12 is actually a B12 analog, which your body can’t use in the same way. Usable B12 comes from spirulina grown in an environment containing cobalt and is sometimes referred to as cobalamin.

Other sea vegetables are sometimes touted as a good veggie source of B12, but again, it’s not always in a form your body can use.

Fortified Foods

Many cereals and milk alternatives are fortified with B12. Again, you’ll want to read the nutritional information to see how much is in there, but with so many B12 fortified foods out there, it’s pretty easy to get your daily minimum if you do a little bit of label-reading and meal planning.

Have I missed anything, vegan people? I’m always looking to incorporate more B12 sources into my diet!

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by shnakepup

13 thoughts on “Eating Vegan: The Elusive Vitamin B12”

  1. You may have well just gone and said “Fortified Foods” As only non-animal foods fortified with B12 contain it.

    B12 does not naturally occur in usable amounts in any non-animal source. Including Yeast products, Spirulina and sea vegetables

    1. Becky, my post seems to be disappearing every time i try and respond?

      this is the go to source.

      From the ADA (great PDF recommended reading)

      “For vegans, vitamin B-12 must be obtainedfrom regular use of vitamin B-12-fortified foods, such as fortified soy and rice beverages, some breakfast
      cereals and meat analogs, or Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula nutritional yeast; otherwise a daily vitamin B-12 supplement is needed. **No unfortified plant food contains any significant amount of active vitamin B-12.** Fermented soy products cannot
      be considered a reliable”

      Hope this helps

  2. Wow! only 2.4 mcg?! That’s so easy! I had this vitamin water and the b12 was 15 mcg. I thought that might have been under my intake of b12. Good thing it wasn’t!

  3. (I tried to post a minute ago, & cyberspace appeared to eat my comment… if this is a double, please excuse!)

    B12 is a non-issue, as long as planteaters are paying attention to it… it’s really really easy to get plenty of it, without killing stuff. Some omnis wanna make it a big deal that it comes from supplements… I say, so what? Based on supply/ demand guidelines, it seems like omnis take mucho supplements also — most multivitamins on the mainstream market contain animal-derived ingredients (calcium/ vitamin D/ b12/ gelatin/ etc.), and therefore are presumably *not* being marketed to vegans! So, if it’s no big deal for omnis to rely on multivitamins for their beta kerotene (or whatever), what’s the problem with us going there for b12? It’s not ‘natural’? Well, neither are shoes or cars or indoor plumbing… Nonissue!

    It’s easy to get what we need… just gotta pay attention to what we eat: and that goes for ANY type of diet. Also: nooch ROCKS! I can’t believe I went for 30+ years without knowing how freakin’ tasty that stuff is… why was I not TOLD?! :-)

  4. hi i have read a book titled rawsome by brigette mars
    she says that eating a small amount of unwashed produce
    like sprouts, fruit, veggies will supply adequate b12. i read
    about b12 a long time ago, and it is the reason animals
    have it- they eat unwashed foods. good luck to us vegans
    everywhere!!! :-)

  5. I have been vegan 16 years and have not had B12 issues. I also agree that B12 is in a lot of fortified foods, including most cold breakfast cereals and soy/rice/almond milks.
    One thing that I have heard from several sources is that ingested B12 does not all get absorbed; in fact I have heard that very little gets absorbed in the stomach and intestines. That is why most supplements are sub-lingual (under the tongue), meaning they are meant to dissolve and be absorbed through the mouth. So, if you are not taking a sub-lingual supplement or getting a quarterly shot, it is advised to make sure you get many times more than the daily dosage.
    I have also read that it takes 15 to 20 years for B12 deficiency to show up in people who are not raised vegan (meaning they eat animal foods at some point), so keep that in mind.
    We need very little and our bodies will pool B12 and pull from that pool for years, but don’t let that supply get diminished.
    I have also heard that in the past, before people had good oral hygiene and before we washed all our foods and killed most of our soil, that we made B12 in our saliva and ate it with our roots and vegetables in the from of soil. That would be a good explanation of how humans have been healthy vegans in the past but are not able to do so now without a B12 supplement.
    One final note: I have heard for other vegans that B12 shots are the best and provide a huge energy boost. If you are not terrified of needles then that might be a good option, for vegans and non-vegans alike.

    Everything I have written comes from years of being a vegan activist, talking to other vegans, talking to dietitians and nutritionists, and online research. I am not a RD and have no official schooling in nutrition, so let that be know.

  6. Thanks for all of the great information, Dave and Shawnette! I thought the bit about B12 and dirt was especially interesting. I’d read about folks (not necessarily vegans) who feel a compulsion to eat dirt – it makes me wonder what nutrients we got that way that we’re missing in our modern diets!

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