A common belief is that you cannot get all of your required food groups, vitamins and minerals through a vegetarian or vegan diet, especially when protein or calcium come into question. If you’ve been following my blog though, you will notice how many vegetarian and vegan recipes are full of these essential things that your body needs.
So it got me thinking if there were things that these diets can miss out on and one of the main thing’s you have to watch out for is becoming deficient in Vitamin B12.
Unfortunately our bodies don’t produce enough of this naturally so it has to be absorbed through the food we eat. The vitamin B12 is only found in animal products such as meat, fish, shellfish, eggs and dairy, so it’s a complete no-go for vegans and can still be quite difficult for vegetarians and/or those that avoid dairy to get enough of it in their diet.
Vitamin B12 is extremely important for many of the body’s processes, it aids red blood cells carrying oxygen around the body, it’s used to produce DNA and is needed for a healthy nervous system to prevent you becoming anemic. There is also research that has linked low levels of B12 with Alzheimers and the production of energy as well as your heart health and to prevent osteoporosis.
Developing a deficiency is usually caused by either:
A. Not consuming enough of it.
B. Your body being unable to absorb it.
If you are vegan, it’s highly recommended to take supplements of vitamin B12 to prevent becoming deficient as despite fortified cereals containing trace amounts of B12, these alone don’t provide enough.
There is also research out there debating whether certain types of blue/green algae provide enough B12 but at present it’s unclear whether this is used in the body the same way as the vitamins found in animal products.
I’ve never really been much of an advocate for taking lots of different supplements as I believe you should be able to get the vast majority of your essential nutrients from your diet. However when you find something that is quite difficult to consume such as B12, you have to do what is right for your body.
But what happens if you are getting enough from your diet or supplements and you are still suffering from the symptoms of a deficiency?
These can include:
- weight loss
- poor memory
- sores in the mouth
B12 is attached to the animal protein and once it’s in your stomach the hydrochloric acid helps to break the vitamin free and reattach to another protein called Intrinsic Factor (IF) which your body produces naturally and then this allows it to be absorbed into the blood stream.
One reason why some people struggle to absorb B12 could be linked to the acidity levels in your stomach. To combat this you could take a spoonful of Apple Cider Vinegar before eating to help aid digestion and absorption.
Another reason could be called Pernicious Anemia, which is where your body doesn’t produce enough IF so therefore all of the B12 you are eating is just being lost.
Being deficient in this vitamin is more common for women, particularly those over 60 and of course for individuals who avoid these food groups. As B12 has an affect on your nervous system it’s really important to address any of the above issues as soon as possible.
Unfortunately there is little information available to provide alternative methods to increase your B12 intake if you are unable to absorb it and if you have already developed a deficiency the most common treatment is B12 injections. I was really hoping to find a less invasive treatment than this but it seems that this is the most effective way of ensuring the vitamin is absorbed straight into the blood stream rather than risk it being affected by the digestive process.
Obviously taking B12 injections is recommended if you have a deficiency but if you don’t or you are simply conscious of becoming deficient then you can start now. If you aren’t vegan then having a predominantly plant based, balanced diet with some diary or fish will be sufficient and provide you with all that you need.
The recommended daily amount for adults to consume is 1.5mg which is roughly 1 egg, 1 portion of yoghurt, 1 portion of fish etc. Below is a list of foods high in B12….
- Shellfish (Crab, Mussels, Lobster, Prawns etc)
- Smoked Salmon, Mackerel, Tuna (can be tinned or fresh), Trout , Sardines
- Eggs, Cheese (such as cottage cheese or mozzarella)
- Dairy Milk & Yoghurt…I would recommend greek or natural yoghurt as flavoured or “greek style” are often high in additives and sugar
Apart from the lobster, most of the above can be found in the supermarkets for pretty cheap and the good news is you can have tinned tuna, sardines and mackerel which will again save you on cost and wastage as they last for some time in the cupboard.
Getting enough can be achieved easily if you are able to eat the above foods. Having a poached egg for breakfast or greek yoghurt and granola for a snack or mackerel salad for dinner would easily reach your recommended daily amount – just of of those that is, not all 3 each day!
There are so many things that this essential vitamin is needed for so I would really recommend that you think about your diet and see whether you are getting as much of the above as you need to ensure you can be the healthiest possible!