Are You Vitamin B12 Deficient? (And Does it Matter?)

Vitamin B 12 deficiency has links to an array of health problems, and many Americans fall short on this critical vitamin.

Vegans are probably pretty familiar with vitamin B12. It’s the only vitamin that you can’t get from unfortified plant-based sources, so if you’re eating a vegan diet, you most likely are either eating B 12 fortified foods or taking a supplement. For vegetarians and omnivores, though, B12 might not be a vitamin you think about on a regular basis.

As you’ll see in the graphic below, animal products contain vitamin B12, and you can also get it through supplements. The only source the graphic below misses is fortified foods. From nutritional yeast to fortified vegan milks and cereals, there are lots of ways to get B12 into your diet without eating animal foods, if that’s your goal.

Related Reading: The Weekend Vegan Challenge

B12 is a hot button issue in the vegan community. Because so many vegans consider ourselves advocates for a vegan lifestyle, too, there’s a hesitation to admit that there are any nutrients that this diet can’t meet. The thing is, it’s pretty tough to find any diet that meets 100 percent of your nutritional needs. I think Ginny Messina, a vegan registered dietician, spells it out best:

“Taking a B12 supplement is the easiest thing in the world. It doesn’t make sense to wait until stores diminish or you are approaching deficiency before you start to supplement. And it certainly is not good vegan advocacy to promote inadequate advice about vitamin B12.”

It turns out that it’s not just vegans who have a hard time meeting vitamin B12 requirements, though. About 2/3 of Americans have low B12 levels, and the effects on your health can be quite serious. Check out this infographic that spells out the signs and symptoms of B12 deficiency:

B12 Deficiency

When I was pregnant my blood work started showing low levels of B12 during my third trimester, even though there was B12 in my prenatal vitamin. Adding a separate B12 supplement on top of my prenatal fixed things up in a matter of weeks. If you think you might be B12 deficient, your best next move is talking to your doctor who can do blood work and let you know what dosage is best for you.

Related Reading: Is it safe to have a vegan pregnancy?

Looking for a vegan B12 supplement? They’re out there! Vegan B12 supplements are made from microorganisms instead of animal products. Brands like Deva make vegan B12 supplements. You can find vegan B12 online and often at brick and mortar stores, too.

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