If you have been vegan for 1/2 a second, you know how frequently people can seem concerned with you B12 intake. Magically, your “concerned” friends are nutrition experts and you’re feeling a little weary about your new lifestyle. Well rest easy, my vegan friend, I’m here to give you the run down on B12, how to get it, how to address these “nutrition experts” and fall even more in love with your compassionate diet.
Let’s start with why Vitamin B12 is important.
Not receiving adequate amounts of Vitamin B12 can lead to anemia and nervous system damage.
The top 5 health benefits of vitamin B 12 are:
- It is needed to convert carbohydrates into glucose in the body, thus leading to energy production and a decrease in fatigue and lethargy in the body.
- It helps in healthy regulation of the nervous system, reducing depression, stress, and brain shrinkage.
- It helps maintain a healthy digestive system. Vitamin B12 also protects against heart disease by curbing and improving unhealthy cholesterol levels, protecting against stroke, and high blood pressure.
- It is essential for healthy skin, hair, and nails. It helps in cell reproduction and constant renewal of the skin.
- Vitamin B 12 helps protect against cancers including breast, colon, lung, and prostrate cancer.
Make Sure You’re Getting Enough B12
“National recommendations for B12 intakes vary significantly from country to country. The US recommended intake is 2.4 micrograms a day for ordinary adults rising to 2.8 micrograms for nursing mothers. The German recommendation is 3 micrograms a day. Recommended intakes are usually based on 50% absorption, as this is typical for small amounts from foods. To meet the US and German recommendations you need to obtain sufficient B12 to absorb 1.5 micrograms per day on average. This amount should be sufficient to avoid even the initial signs of inadequate B12 intake, such as slightly elevated homocysteine and MMA levels, in most people. Even slightly elevated homocysteine is associated with increased risk of many health problems including heart disease in adults, preeclampsia during pregnancy and neural tube defects in babies.” (source)
Debunking the Myth That We Have to Eat Animal Products to Get Vitamin B12
A lot of people believe the only way to get Vitamin B12 is through animal products, thus the “controversy” over the vegan diet. However, according to Dr. McDougall that is not the case, “Although vitamin B12 is found in animal foods it is not synthesized by plants or animals. Only bacteria make biologically active vitamin B12—animal tissues store ‘bacteria-synthesized B12,’ which can then be passed along the food chain by animals eating another animal’s tissues. Ruminants (like cows, goats, sheep, giraffes, llamas, buffalo, and deer) are unique in that bacteria in their rumens (stomachs) synthesize vitamin B12, which is then passed down and absorbed by their small intestines. Lions and tigers get their B12 from eating these grazers.
The presence of these bacteria is an important reason that disease from vitamin B12 deficiency occurs very rarely in people, even those who have been strict vegetarians (vegans) all of their lives. The colon contains the greatest number of bacteria (4 trillion/cc of feces), and here most of our intestinal B12 is produced. However, because B12 is absorbed in the ileum, which lies upstream of the colon, this plentiful source of B12 is not immediately available for absorption—unless people eat feces (don’t gasp). Feces of cows, chickens, sheep and people contain large amounts of active B12. Until recently most people lived in close contact with their farm animals, and all people consumed B12 left as residues by bacteria living on their un-sanitized vegetable foods.
Why would a plant-food-based diet, heralded as a preventative and cure for our most common chronic diseases be deficient in any way? Such a diet appears to be the proper, intended, diet for humans, except for this one blemish. The reason for this apparent inconsistency is we now live in unnatural conditions—our surroundings have been sanitized by fanatical washing, powerful cleansers, antiseptics, and antibiotics. Since the germ theory of disease was developed by Louis Pasteur in 1877 our society has waged an all-out war on these tiny creatures—most of them extremely beneficial with only a very few acting as pathogens. The rare case of B12 deficiency may be one important consequence of too much cleanliness.” (source)
How Can We Get Enough B12?
Most people’s diets don’t give them adequate amounts of B12, meat eater or not. Luckily, we only need a small amount a day. Ways to get this vitamin are pretty easy.
- Take a multivitamin, just be careful which brand you are taking.(Read this article on synthetic vs. natural vitamins) I love RainbowLight since it’s a whole food supplement that our body recognizes as food and is easily digestible. They make a prenatal one that I highly recommend if you’re breastfeeding or pregnant. This brand can be found at Target, Walgreens, most grocery stores, etc. It does have adequate amounts of Vitamin B12. Just make sure if you’re buying a B-complex on its own, that it has folic acid in it to make it easier for your body to absorb.
- Fortified breakfast cereals, non-dairy fortified milks such as almond, hemp, rice or soy milk.
- There are some experts in the nutrition and cleansing world, such as Dr Brian Clement, who firmly believe that the B12 produced in the digestive tract is re-absorbed into the bloodstream giving enough of this vitamin for the body to function well. While this view is only supported by the few, it is worth considering that there are a number of very clean-celled people in the health world who do not supplement with B12 or eat any sources of B12, such as animal products. What all these people seem to have in common however, is a complete commitment to eating a very high quality, highly alkaline, hydrating, mostly raw fruit and vegetable diet and they consistently cleanse their colon as an ongoing lifestyle practice. (source)
- Energy bars like Clif and Luna bars are fortified with B12
- Fortified nutritional yeasts or fortified brewer’s yeast
- Dried Nori
- Barley grass
To be truly healthful, a diet must be best not just for individuals in isolation but must allow all six billion people to thrive and achieve a sustainable coexistence with the many other species that form the “living earth”. From this standpoint the natural adaptation for most (possibly all) humans in the modern world is a vegan diet. There is nothing natural about the abomination of modern factory farming and its attempt to reduce living, feeling beings to machines. In choosing to use fortified foods or B12 supplements, vegans are taking their B12 from the same source as every other animal on the planet – micro-organisms – without causing suffering to any sentient being or causing environmental damage.
Vegans using adequate amounts of fortified foods or B12 supplements are much less likely to suffer from B12 deficiency than the typical meat eater. The Institute of Medicine, in setting the US recommended intakes for B12 makes this very clear. “Because 10 to 30 percent of older people may be unable to absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12, it is advisable for those older than 50 years to meet their RDA mainly by consuming foods fortified with vitamin B12 or a vitamin B12-containing supplement.” Vegans should take this advice about 50 years younger, to the benefit of both themselves and the animals. B12 need never be a problem for well-informed vegans. (source)