Sept. 3, 2011
**This is not medical advice. Consult with your doctor**
Almost daily I get this question on Facebook, Twitter, etc:
How do vegans avoid Vitamin B12 deficiency? or HH, how do you get your b12?
Did you know that B-12 is fortified into several foods we eat? Most non dairy milks like soymilk and almond milk are fortified with it. Commercial cereals are too, especially the healthier brands. My favorite dietary source of B12 is nutritional yeast, which I eat daily. (Make sure your nutritional yeast brand has B12! see below for more information and resources).
I, personally, don't take any supplements or a supplement for B12 (unless you count nutritional yeast -- I can't get supplements where I live)... But we all have to do what we're most comfortable with and what is best for our bodies.
If you want to, or need to take a supplement -- do so. Make sure to get checkups regularly, too. (A good physical including blood work should check for this annually--whether the patient is vegan or not).
Is B12 a "Vegan" Problem?
No. I have several friends---friends who proudly describe themselves as "carnivores"--- who are on supplements for B12 because they have inadequate levels.
Deficiencies can happen on any diet and for a host of reasons. Eating meat and dairy does not mean all your nutritional needs are going to be automatically met, or they're going to be met more easily or more likely than if you only ate plants... which is why I get so upset about vegan "myths" (like the protein myth!) and all the disclaimers attached to articles about vegans -- you can be unhealthy or deficient on any diet -- why aren't the disclaimers universal?
Everyone, regardless of their diet, should get blood work done to make sure they're not deficient in B12 or anything else. B12 deficiency is serious and sometimes the damage is permanent, so it's something you want to have checked out.
Recently, a vegan friend of mine discovered she had high levels of B12 and her doctor told her to stop taking a supplement. Different bodies, different needs. This is why blood tests are important.
Maybe you'll need a supplement. Maybe you won't... Go by the blood work. Talk to your doctor. Engage in independent research and educate yourself.
Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, omnivore or a flexitarian--- your diet must be balanced, with a wide variety of nutritious foods. It's your responsibility to make sure all your needs are met. You can't trust anything or anyone else to make sure that happens for you.
Get blood tests and checkups at least annually no matter what your diet is.
Here is a great article about B12 by Dr. McDougall.
Follow Up: Someone asked on Facebook--how much nutritional yeast does one need to get their B12 daily minimum.
According to Vegetarian Resource Group (another article about B12), 1 tbsp of Red Star Nutritional yeast. Since Veg Resource Group listed a specific brand, I'm guessing this could be different for other brands if they fortify or supplement their product differently? I'm not sure...
Dr. McDougall recommends a minimum of 5 micrograms of supplemental B12 each day (more for pregnant and lactating women, and children). See his article for more information.
Another Update: It also came up in discussion on Facebook, about organic foods possibly containing B12, etc. I did a quick google and came across this post on Raw Food Health. I'll look for more articles on the topic later, it's certainly interesting to see how the ecosystem is interwoven and I'd love to have more reading on B12 and organics.
**This is not medical advice. Consult with your doctor.**