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Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for good health. Most people can obtain it from a varied diet that includes animal products. However, people eating a plant-based diet can only get vitamin B12 from fortified foods or supplements.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that is
A vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anemia, as well as neurological and psychiatric symptoms.
People who may be at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency include older adults, people following a vegan diet, and individuals with increased vitamin B12 requirements due to specific health conditions.
Animal products, such as meat, fish, and eggs, contain vitamin B12 in varying amounts. The following is a list of
- canned tuna
- low fat yogurt
- low fat milk
- chicken breast
A person should consume these foods in moderation as part of a healthful diet. Learn how to eat a healthful diet here.
The above food sources are all unsuitable for people following an entirely plant-based diet.
Vitamin B12 is not present in plant foods, so people on a plant-based diet need to obtain it through
Foods that are sometimes fortified and may contain vitamin B12 in varying amounts include:
- plant milk, such as soy, almond, oat, cashew, and coconut milk
- breakfast cereals
- margarine and spreads
- nutritional yeast
- fruit juice
- dairy-free yogurt
It is important to read the nutritional information on a fortified product to ensure that it contains vitamin B12.
Learn more about vegetarian and vegan sources of vitamin B12 here.
Some foods and drinks can interfere with vitamin B12 intake:
Folic acid-fortified foods
Folate (vitamin B9) is an essential nutrient, especially before and during pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that women of reproductive age need
However, too much folic acid can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency.
An older study indicated that moderate alcohol intake diminished vitamin B12 by
Alcohol-related liver disease may falsely
Foods with insufficient vitamin B12
Some people believe that certain plant-based foods are good sources of vitamin B12. These foods include:
However, many researchers believe that these foods are not adequate to correct a deficiency of vitamin B12. For instance, the vitamin B12 in cyanobacteria, such as spirulina, has very
Therefore, although people can include the above foods as part of a healthful diet, they should not rely on them as a source of vitamin B12.
The following table shows the RDA for vitamin B12:
|14 years and over||2.4 mcg|
|9–13 years||1.8 mcg|
|4–8 years||1.2 mcg|
|1–3 years||0.9 mcg|
|7–12 months||0.5 mcg|
|0–6 months||0.4 mcg|
|During pregnancy||2.6 mcg|
|While breastfeeding||2.8 mcg|
Vitamin B12 supplements are available in the form of tablets or liquids that a person can take under the tongue (sublingually).
People eating a plant-based diet may need additional vitamin B12 in the form of supplements, especially when pregnant or breastfeeding.
Additionally, older adults, people with gastrointestinal conditions, and those on certain medications, including proton pump inhibitors and metformin, may need to take a supplement.
The absorption of vitamin B12 can vary from about 56% of a dose of 1 mcg to 0.5% of a dose of 1,000 mcg. Therefore, if someone consumes vitamin B12 less frequently, they will need a higher total amount to achieve a sufficient absorbed quantity.
If a person has a severe vitamin B12 deficiency, a doctor may advise them to have injections to increase their levels of this nutrient.
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient, and deficiency can lead to severe complications and ill health.
People who eat a varied diet and are generally in good health can obtain the required amount from food. However, older adults, those on certain medications or with gastrointestinal issues, and people who follow a plant-based diet may be more at risk of deficiency. These people can take a supplement or speak to their doctor, who may recommend vitamin B12 injections.
Those on a vegan or mostly plant-based diet should be wary of information sources advising that foods such as seaweeds deliver adequate amounts of vitamin B12.
A range of vitamin B12 supplements is available to purchase online.
A person should speak to their doctor if they have any concerns about nutritional supplements.