The best sources of B12 for vegans — and when to take a supplement

One hundred grams of shiitake mushrooms has 230% of your daily value of B12. miriam-doerr/Getty Images

Vitamin B12 is one of the most difficult vitamins for vegans to get because it exists primarily in animal products like meat and dairy.

It’s important to get enough vitamin B12 in your diet because B12 has many health benefits including helping the body form nerve and red blood cells. And a vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to fatigue, constipation, and weakness.

If you are a vegan and looking for some ways to incorporate vitamin B12 into your diet here are four vegan-friendly food options:

1. Fortified foods

Many cereals are fortified with vitamin B12. Yevgen Romanenko/Getty Images

Fortified foods are foods that have vitamins or minerals added to them that they normally do not contain. Food manufacturers and government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration work together to fortify foods as a way to address nutrient deficiencies within populations.

Some examples of vegan-friendly foods fortified with vitamin B-12 include:

  • Breakfast cereal, like Kellogg’s All-Bran: one serving contains 11.7 mcg of vitamin B12 or about 480% of your daily value.
  • Fortified soy milk, chocolate: 1.7 mcg of B12, or about 70% of your daily value
  • Fortified coconut milk: one cup contains 3 mcg of vitamin B12, or about 125% of your daily value.

2. Nori

Nori seaweed sushi
Nori is a type of dry seaweed used in many Japanese dishes. Capelle.r/Getty Images

Nori is an edible form of seaweed, most commonly found in Japanese dishes. One sheet of nori contains 1.9 mcg of vitamin B12, or about 80% of your daily value.

Studies are mixed as to whether or not the B12 in nori is beneficial to humans. “Some [studies] showed nori containing the active vitamin B12, while others found nori containing exclusively pseudo-B12, which are not active in humans,” says Roman M Pawlak, PhD, RDN, an associate professor at East Carolina University.

Pawlak says vegans should incorporate a variety of foods in their diet to reach their daily B12 requirements. So, while you shouldn’t write nori off, don’t rely on it for all your B12 needs.

Nori can be easy to incorporate into your diet. Jeff Gilis, MFN, RDN, NCSF-CPT, a lecturer in the department of nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Carolina says some vegan-friendly meals and snacks with nori include:

  • Vegan sushi rolls such as avocado, cucumber, or sweet potato rolls
  • Substitute dried seaweed packets in place of chips or pretzels
  • Add dried nori flakes to vegan poke bowls or rice

3. Nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast is a form of deactivated yeast that’s high in vitamin B12. krblokhin/Getty Images

Nutritional yeast is a member of the fungus kingdom and is vegan-friendly. It’s a form of deactivated yeast — meaning it’s similar to the yeast used in bread baking but it is no longer alive — says Pawlak. It can be found in most grocery stores in either powder, granule, or flake format.

A fourth of a cup of nutritional yeast flakes contains 17.6 mcg of vitamin B12, which accounts for 730% of your recommended daily value, making it a great option for vegans.

“[It] has a cheesy flavour, most closely resembling parmesan cheese, so using it with Italian dishes works quite well. It can also be used in making plant-based “cheese” sauces to provide more of the cheesy-type of flavour that you typically look for,” says Gillis.

4. Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms make a great snack and they are a good source of B12. wulingyun/Getty Images

One hundred grams of shiitake mushrooms contain an average of 5.6 mcg (230% DV) of vitamin B12, making it a good option for both vegans and vegetarians.

These are easily incorporated into various dishes, depending on the person’s preferences,” says Gillis.

Some meals that can be enhanced by shiitake mushrooms’ umami flavour include:

  • Stir-fries
  • Risotto
  • Pasta dishes

You can even sautee them alone as a quick snack.

Should vegans take a B12 supplement?

According to the National Institute of Health, the daily recommended dose of vitamin B12 is as follows:

If you’re not hitting your daily requirement of B12, Gilis recommends trying to incorporate some of the above food options before turning to a supplement: “Getting nutrients from food is always better.”

B12 can be stored in adequate amounts in the liver for several years, says Gilis. Therefore, if you recently became vegan and were getting plenty of B12 beforehand, there shouldn’t be an immediate cause of concern.

If you are deficient in B12, a one to two mg daily supplement of B12 should help your levels return to normal, he says. But, once you’re no longer deficient, you should aim to get your daily requirement through dietary intake.

The bottom line

Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin with many health benefits, including proper nervous system functioning. But, it’s most commonly found in meats and other animal-based products, making it difficult for vegans to hit their daily requirements. Therefore, vegans can try adding nori, nutritional yeast, or shiitake mushrooms to their diet.

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