Vitamin B12, a water-soluble vitamin is naturally present in some foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement and a prescription medication. Since it is generally present only in animal foods, it stands as one of the greatest nutritional concerns for vegetarians and vegans. Vegetarians as compared to vegans consume dairy foods and eggs but these food items are virtually non-existent in a vegan’s diet.
ü Vitamin B12 is required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis
ü Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products.
ü Vitamin B12 is generally not present in plant foods, but fortified breakfast cereals are a readily available source of vitamin B12 with high bioavailability for vegetarians.
ü Some nutritional yeast products also contain vitamin B12. Fortified foods vary in formulation, so it is important to read product labels to determine the added nutrients in them. Nonetheless, it is important that a regular and an adequate supply of vitamin B12 is provided in the daily diet to prevent deficiencies such as megaloblastic anemia and conditions such as memory loss, depression, mood swings and even disorientation. Presence of folate in a vegetarian and a vegan diet can curb the presence of vitamin B12 deficiency.
ü In addition to the above, the National Institute of Health recommends supplementation of vitamin B12 for adults over 50 years and consumption of fortified foods in their eating regime due to poor absorption that occurs due to aging.
Know Your Facts Well
ü A daily B12 supplement or consuming foods with B12 is a must if you are a vegan. Get your B12 levels checked on an annual basis.
ü Check your Vitamin B12 levels in case you have been on a drug metformin (anti diabetic drug) for a long period of time.
ü Ensure your B12 levels are adequate prior to conception, during pregnancy and during lactation. The preferred form of vitamin B12 supplement is cyanocobalamin as it is more than twice as effective in increasing the serum vitamin b12 levels in deficient individuals. Absorption of the vitamin is higher when the supplement is crushed or chewed when ingested.
ü Similarly, it is also believed that vitamin b12 can be obtained from fermented soy products (e.g. miso, tempeh), probiotics and algae such as spirulina. These products do not contain vitamin B12 and research regarding the content of this vitamin in spirulina and other algae types is conflicting. Thus these products are not considered to be a reliable source of vitamin B12.