Or how I learnt to stop worrying and love B12



Last week I wrote up a recipe that would give you 100% of your RNI (Recommended Nutrient Intake – set to provide the correct intake for 97% of the population) of calcium – as well as delivering maximum taste. That one was easy. This week I thought I would have more of a challenge. One plant-based meal that delivers all your B12 needs!

OK, told a fib. As I’m sure you know B12 is the only vitamin not found in plant-based food unless added through fortification or yeast products grown in a vitamin-rich primal stew. Like all health conscious vegans I take a supplement for B12 and this is why I hope you do to.

  1. It annoys the meat heads. Sooner or later you are going to have to talk to meat eaters and they love to ask us where we get our protein, our calcium and (those that can read at least) may know to ask us about B12. They think this is some kind of killer blow that proves that a vegan diet cannot be healthy or natural. Most B12 in a meat eaters diet comes from the same source as that in a vegan diet. Only bacteria synthesises B12. When animals graze they eat this bacteria – however, as we know most animals now don’t get their diet from grazing. They get it in huge torture chamber-like feedlots so the animals have to be fed a supplement. We just cut out the middle man (cow) and eat the supplement ourselves.
  2. It annoys some vegans. Only the ones who need annoying mind. There can be a lot of wishful thinking in the vegan community. Eating meat is evil, I get that. Being vegan is an easy solution. I get that too. But it does not follow that we are ‘designed be herbivores’ and falling into this trap just hands the argument to meat heads to argue that humans developed eating meat. They are right. However – here is the good part – it doesn’t matter! What we had to eat 10 000 years ago to survive is not relevant to how we can eat now. To get our B12 intake many moons ago we would have to have eaten a few grubs and a bit of road kill. Now we don’t. Yay us!
  3. It is healthy. B12 deficiency is no laughing matter. B12 is works alongside folate in the division of blood cells and in maintenance of the nervous system and deficiency can lead to permanent damage. It is worth pointing out the following though from Human Nutrition and Dietics 10th edition (Garrow et al) “Studies on [vegans] however, while they show biochemical evidence of deficiency such as raised homocysteine and MMA, never have overt deficiency such as anaemia or neuropathy. (However, reports of children with neuropathy who are breastfed by vegans have appeared)” Before we celebrate too much though we should remember that raised homocysteine and MMA have also been linked to other health problems such as heart disease and preeclampsia.
  4. It is sneaky. The liver is very good at stockpiling B12 and it only uses a tiny amount each day (between 0.05% – 0.2% of stores) so it can take years for a deficiency to show. High folate intake (which a well-planned vegan diet can deliver) can also mask B12 deficiency). Symptoms of deficiency often appear slowly over many years and include: low energy; tingling; numbness; blurred vision; sore tongue and confusion.
  5. Fortified foods can provide it but… It is less easy than taking your supplement. Most soy and nut milks (but not all) contain about 15% of your RNI and just 4g of marmite or nutritional yeast can provide all you need – however not all varieties are fortified and taking a supplement saves endless checking. Supplements also often contain high doses which keep your liver levels topped up. It is still a good idea to eat some fortified foods as the body absorbs B12 best in small doses over the day.

So take your supplement and relax about it.

What are your views on this? Do you see it as a more controversial issue? Does it prove that we need to eat meat to be healthy?

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9 thoughts on “Or how I learnt to stop worrying and love B12

  1. Many neuropathy supplements contain the common form of vitamin B1 called thiamine. The problem is that your body has a hard time absorbing thiamine. So when you take vitamin B1, you don’t get all of the beneficial nutrients your body needs to relieve neuropathy pain. Much of it passes right out of your body in your urine, without doing you a bit of good.

    • That is very true. It is one reason why supplements often contain doses well over the RDI – for example my B12 supplement contains 800% of my RDI.
      There is a big issue with our understanding of the bioavailability of nutrients that could do with more study.

  2. Some “supplements” that come in tubes like the picture above contain aspartame, this is a different brand however, but make sure you check the labels on those things. It’s more worth while to pick up supplements from holistic doctors, higher price does equal higher quality sometimes. I take a magnesium supplement with added Bs, my soy milk is fortified, and my savory nutrtional yeast brand has 400% rdi, so I’m not worried at all about it, also I eat plants from gardens which means they aren’t over-washed.

  3. I use alpro yoghurts as source of b12, my favourite being dark chocolate flavour. It contains 35ug of b12 per pot, so I only need to eat two a day to get my RDI.

  4. “For the last few months, I was feeling sluggish, had to lie down a couple of times a day, found it difficult to work evenings and to exercise for long periods. Under Michael Klaper, MD’s guidance, I was taking protein powder, creatine, testosterone, nystatin, etc., all to no avail. I was taking nutritional yeast every day, so I knew it wasn’t B12 deficiency. Then, one day, I came across your B12 article by sheer accident. I wasn’t going to read the whole thing, but I glanced through it and was struck by your insistence that none of the usual sources are adequate. I still didn’t believe it, but I had some old B12 pills in the fridge, so I popped one. The effect was almost immediate and remarkable. I have been taking them almost every day, my stamina and energy level are up, and I feel middle-aged again instead of a tired old man.’

    – Alex Hershaft, PhD, President of FARM

    The only article on vitamin b-12 you will ever need to read, by Jack Norris RD, cofounder of Vegan Outreach and a registered dietician:

    http://veganhealth.org/articles/vitaminb12

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