This fall, Green America member Jack Ryan sent us a letter asking if one could get all the nutrients one needs through a vegan diet, particularly vitamin B12. He’d heard that diets without meat are often deficient in B12, and that the vitamin in pill form is actually obtained from animals rather than plant sources.
We posed his questions to Anything Vegan owners Jasmine Simon and Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld, two sisters who are both certified plant-based nutritionists. While an abbreviated version of their informative response appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of our Green American magazine, we wanted to post the full version here for anyone else who might be wondering how to eat less meat and still get the nutrients you need.
We’re going to plant some truths about vitamin B12 and pull out the weeds that have grown around it—namely the so-called Vegan B12 Deficiency myths. People who adhere to a healthy plant-based lifestyle have reduced risks of heart attack or stroke, breast cancer, prostate cancer, obesity, and diabetes, and rarely suffer from osteoporosis, constipation, indigestion, and arthritis. But let’s take a look at some things that vegans and non-vegans alike need to be aware of when it comes to B12.
Our dear friend Dr. Greger (NutritionFacts.org) says “Vitamin B12 is made by neither animals nor plants, but by microbes. Thankfully, in our sanitized world, there are safe, cheap, convenient sources. It is imperative that those eating plant-based include B12 fortified foods in their diet or intake supplements, especially pregnant or nursing women. Eggs and dairy are not optimal sources of vitamin B12 because foods come as a package deal, and eggs and dairy may bring along as baggage saturated fat, cholesterol, and hormones. The easiest and cheapest way to get our B12 is to take at least 2,500 mcg (µg) cyanocobalamin once each week, ideally as a chewable, sublingual, or liquid supplement.” Let’s examine some truths and myths surrounding this important vitamin.
There is such thing as vitamin B12 deficiency. TRUTH. The symptoms include memory loss, confusion, upset stomach, weight loss, very pale skin, stomach issues, exhaustion, and diarrhea. Vitamin B12 Deficiency does exist, but it’s not caused by veganism. It’s not caused from a plant-based lifestyle but usually is a sign of non-related digestive problems where the body has a problem absorbing nutrients from food. Crohn’s disease, pernicious anemia, celiac disease, and other digestive disorders are the usual problems. There are over 5000 possible causes of digestive disorders—and enjoying a healthy, plant-based lifestyle isn’t one of them. Vitamin B12 is present naturally in humans, so those with digestive-related deficiencies usually can’t even be cured by simply in-taking additional vitamin B12 from any source.
People don’t have to eat meat or other animal products to survive and thrive with B12. TRUTH. Both humans and animals eat food from the soil that contain B12. However since most food animals today aren’t even fed their proper diets, farmers actually inject their livestock with B12 in order to say animal products contain B12.
Vegans need to start taking special supplements or eat nutritional yeast because the only source of vitamin B12 is through animal-based foods (meat, dairy products, etc.) MYTH … and TRUTH. Even if a person only eats plant foods, vitamin B12 actually comes from coenzymes, which are already present in bacteria found on the human body (in and around the mouth, for example). We all should take in Vitamin B12 daily, in small doses.
People need B12 supplements not because of lack of meat or animal products, but because of poor soil in much of the world today that our food is grown in. Even the animals aren’t naturally getting what is needed anymore. All people, not just vegans, should be concerned about proper vitamin B12 intake. And it does not have to come from animal sources injected with it.
There are vegan sources of vitamin B12. TRUTH. Outside of B12-injected animals, B12 fortified foods and supplements are available. According to the Vegan Society, the best thing to do is to look for plant milks, plant yoghurts, breakfast cereals, spreads, yeast extracts, and nutritional yeast products that are fortified with vitamin B12. Or try fortified yeast extract with fortified spread on whole-wheat toast, or macaroni with fortified nutritional yeast “cheezy sauce”. See www.AnythingVegan.com for O’So Cheesy, a delicious plant-based cheese alternative containing Vitamin B12 packed nutritional yeast as well as plant-based protein! You can also chew a reliable vitamin B12 supplement to enable you to absorb as much as possible.
Your doctor can check your blood homocysteine levels to see if you’re obtaining enough vitamin B12. Always seek prompt professional medical advice about the cause of any symptom. And don’t just accept the quick and easy answer from traditional schools of American medicine. Seek out the medical advisors that have gone above the medical school curriculum and learned the benefits of plant-based nutrition over pills, surgeries, and eating animals. This is not the primary focus in traditional medical schools, so you have to be as proactive with your health as you are with other areas of your life to seek the doctors that have this knowledge.
Vitamin B12 intake should be a small part of your daily decisions. Focus on being a healthy plant eater with lots of water, raw foods, whole plant-based foods, nuts, seeds, grains, fruits, and vegetables. And get outside and exercise in nature for at least 30 minutes a day to help your body operate in its most optimal state.
—Jasmine Simon and Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld
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