We all read and hear about taking multivitamins and individual vitamin supplements but did you know the importance of vitamin B12 in your diet? Vegetarians and vegans in particular should read this article as often vitamin B12 can be lacking in a seemingly “healthy diet.” Equally, meat eaters should also read on as the way our body processes vitamin B12 actually changes as we age, meaning we might not be getting enough despite eating foods high in vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is one of the various vitamins that conforms the vitamin B complex. While you can get most forms of vitamin B from many plant-based food sources, vitamin B12 is found most commonly in meat, eggs and dairy products. Furthermore, vitamin B12 contains cobalt which means it can only be synthesized by bacteria; that is, the digestion of vitamin B12 requires the presence of special protein in your stomach known as “intrinsic factor”. Unfortunately, the proteins that help the body process vitamin B12 tend to diminish with age, meaning that even though you may have a diet high in vitamin B12, you may still be deficient in the essential vitamin.
Why do we need Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is essential for the synthesis of red blood cells and the healthy functioning of the nervous system, as well as growth and development in children. Since vitamin B12 is so important for the generation and maintenance of red blood cells, the kinds of symptoms you can experience when deficient in the vitamin include fatigue, poor memory and depression, with the risk of pernicious anemia. Chronically low levels of vitamin B12 can lead to nerve damage, resulting in irreversible neurological damage.
Adults don’t actually need very much vitamin B12 in their diet, with the recommendation being around 2.4 micrograms per day, with a small amount stored by your body. The first signs of vitamin B12 deficiency are often unexplained tingling in your feet and hands
Food Sources for Vitamin B12
The most common source of vitamin B12 is found in meat, eggs and dairy products, all of which are off the diet for strict vegans. However, there are some plant-based sources too. Nutritional yeast, and some fortified non-dairy milk products and cereals contain vitamin B12. In fact, just two tablespoons of nutritional yeast provides 130% of your daily value, which can be sprinkled on salads and added to sauces and rice bowls. Alternatively, you can take a specific vitamin B12 supplement or opt for a B complex or multivitamin.