by Janet Ashforth
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that your body does not produce on its own. It’s naturally available in some foods, fortified in others and available as a supplement. Since it’s mostly found in animal products, it’s especially important for people who don’t eat meat to add sources of vitamin B12 to their diets. Fruits and vegetables do not contain B12. Root vegetables used to contain B12, but the continued use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers have reduced its presence in the soil.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “What is vitamin B12 good for, exactly?” The answer is: a lot. In fact, it’s a vitamin you simply can’t live without. Adults need approximately 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of B12 daily in order to avoid deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause some serious health risks. Vegans are particularly at risk for B12 deficiency, so they need to plan their diets to include enough B12 from different, healthy sources. Here are five vegan-friendly foods that contain B12:
1. Fortified Cereals
Most whole grain cereals are fortified with B12, making them a go-to staple for most vegans. Topping the ready-to-eat list with a whopping 28 mcg per serving is Malt-O-Meal High Fiber Bran Flakes. Coming in at a close second with 24 mcg is Kellogg’s All-Bran with Extra Fiber.
2. Tofu or Tempeh
It’s the bacteria in the fermentation process of these two soy-based foods that create the small amount of B12 found in them; 3.5 oz of the stuff provides just 0.8 mcg. While adults only need about 2.4 mcg daily, you don’t want to pig out on tempeh all day to get your recommended daily allowance because of its phytoestrogen content. Consuming too much phytoestrogen can cause health issues in both men and women.
3. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional Yeast is made by culturing specific strains of yeast for a few days in molasses or from beets or sugar-cane syrup. One tablespoon has approximately 40 percent of your necessary daily intake, but only because it’s fortified. The yeast doesn’t actually contain any B12 naturally. It does have other nutritional benefits though, and it is known to have a cheesy, nutty flavor, making it a great addition to other dishes.
Some varieties of mushrooms have trace amounts of B12: porcini, oyster, parasol, black morels, and golden chanterelle. The amounts are almost negligible, but when you’re vegan every bit counts. Add mushrooms to salads, sauces and savory dishes or sauté them as a delicious side dish.
5. Meat Substitutes
Meat substitutes are also fortified with B12 and other vitamins and minerals. Depending on the brand, you can get a good amount of your daily needs of B12 met with meat substitutes.
There are virtually no vegan foods with naturally occurring vitamin B12, with the exception of the trace amounts found in some mushrooms. Fortified foods and supplements are the only options for vegans to maintain healthy levels of this essential nutrient. Although certain types of seaweed have been commonly thought to have B12, scientific research has proven otherwise. Keep track of your intake of B12 and occasionally have your levels checked to ensure you’re not deficient. UBU natural energy drinks and CBD sparkling water are infused with vitamin B12 as an easy source.
Janet Ashforth is an ACE certified Personal Trainer and licensed Massage Therapist. She first studied to be a Personal Trainer in 1997 and has since worked at several popular gyms and owned her own fitness company. She has helped countless individuals maintain or regain their health and wellness. Janet also writes about food, nutrition, cooking and baking and is a “real food” advocate.