In most conversations between vegans and non vegans, there are 2 main questions that non vegans raise. The first question is generally to the tune of “What will you eat for protein?” and this is almost always followed by the next question which is generally to the tune of “What about Vitamin B12?”. We’ve addressed the first concern in a blog of ours titled Vegan Protein - An Oxymoron?, and decided to address the second concern in this blog, because it is a question that’s shared by a lot of vegans and non vegans. Let’s begin by understanding what Vitamin B12 is and how it affects us.
Introduction to Vitamin B12
In layman’s terms, Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin that’s one of the total 8 B vitamins. Popularly known as methylcobalamin or cyanocobalamin on your medicines, supplements or foods, this vitamin is extremely crucial for the proper functioning of the human body and mind. While the concern about protein deficiency in plant based foods generally stems from a lack of information, the concern surrounding Vitamin B12 actually has its basis in science. Before we find out how this concern may be well founded, let's figure out how this vitamin is important for us.
Importance of Vitamin B12
As alluded to before, Vitamin B12 plays a lot of important roles in our bodies. Its functions affect everything right from our blood to our mood, and they have been listed down below.
Might help in preventing major birth defects - Multiple studies have shown that sufficient vitamin B12 from a mother to a fetus is crucial for the fetus’s brain and nervous system.
A deficiency in vitamin B12 for pregnant women also showed to contribute to complications such as premature birth or miscarriage.
- May reduce the risk of Macular Degeneration - Having sufficient levels of Vitamin B12 in one’s bloodstream has shown to reduce the risk of suffering from macular degeneration.
- Helps with prevention of Anemia - Since Vitamin B12 helps with the proper development and production of red blood cells, insufficiency of the same can lead to megaloblastic anemia.
- May help in preventing Osteoporosis - Multiple studies have shown a direct correlation between Vitamin B12 levels and bone health, specifically for women.
- May improve brain health - Studies have proven that a vitamin B12 can slow down mental decline and can even improve memory.
- Can improve one’s mood - Antidepressants have shown to work better when given with vitamin B12, which goes on to prove that Vitamin B12 can really help in improving one’s mood.
- Promote health of hair, skin and nails - Lack of vitamin B12 levels have shown to cause various issues such as hyperpigmentation, nail discoloration, hair changes and vitiligo.
- May provide an energy boost - One of the most common signs of Vitamin B12 deficiency is fatigue and a lack of energy. While B12 supplements haven’t shown to provide a boost of energy for people with normal levels of the vitamin, they definitely do provide a surge of energy to people with the vitamin’s deficiency.
Now let’s look at the potential drawbacks of this vitamin
Side Effects of Vitamin B12
As such, Vitamin B12 does not have any side effects, if taken orally in recommended doses. However, injected doses of Vitamin B12 have extremely high concentrations of this vitamin and that can cause a few side effects such as:
- Skin Rash
However, it must be noted, these side effects only occur after ingestion of extremely high doses of vitamin B12 and not with normal consumption.
Now that we’ve discussed Vitamin B12 in detail, let’s get back to the main question, and try to figure out why the concerns about Vitamin B12 in plant based foods may be well-founded.
Vitamin B12 in Foods
This is where the shocker comes in. While Vitamin B12 is found in abundance in animal foods and most animal based products, it is actually not naturally produced by plants. Therefore, it is scientifically proven that vegans are at a high risk of vitamin B12 deficiency if their diet isn't supplemented with vitamin B12 sources. However, this doesn’t mean that vegans have to survive without this essential vitamin. There are a few food sources which vegans can rely on for their B12 consumption, in addition to the medicinal supplements available in the market.
We’ve listed some vegan food sources of Vitamin B12 which you could include in your diet to make it wholesome.
- Nutritional yeast
- Fortified foods such as cereals.
Now, let's see some plant-based and vegan B12 supplements
- Unived Basics B12+Folate capsules - These have 500mcg of Vitamin B12 per capsule along with 500mcg of folic acid. These have the methylcobalamin version of vitamin B12 which has 99% purity, along with a 1 year shelf life.
- Swisse Ultiboost Iron Supplement with Vitamin C, B6 and B12 - These have 20mg of Iron, 17.9mg of Vitamin C, 2mg of Vitamin B6 and 0.001mg of Vitamin B12, making it a great supplement for multiple important vitamins. In addition to their nutritional value, these have a shelf life of 3 years from the date of manufacture.
- Unived B12+D3 - These contain 2500 I.U. of Vitamin D3, 500mcg of Folate and 1500mcg of Vitamin B12 per capsule. Both B12 & D3 are involved in the proper function of the neurological system and have direct implications on overall health, making these a great supplement. As an added benefit, these have a shelf life of 2 years.