Updated: Mar 15
When people are vegan bashing they love to talk about protein, "but protein though", "where do you get your protein", on and on. You can tell them that there is protein in everything, that gorillas, cows, even giraffes get enough protein from plants. But one thing that vegans really do need to make sure that they get is vitamin B12, but what is it and how do you make sure that you're getting enough?
What is Vitamin B12
B12 is a vitamin and is also known as cobalamin and is used by every cell of the human body. B12 is also really important in the normal working of the brain and in the process of making red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body. In food vitamin B12 isn’t made by animals, it is made by certain bacteria which can be found in soil and water that isn’t clean. When animals eat the plants that grow in the soil and drink the water they take in the bacteria which then live inside the gut of the animal and carry on making the vitamin, but humans can't do this. When the bacteria goes into the gut of a human it travels down to the part of the gut that doesn't absorb nutrients so we don't get any vitamin B12 from the bacteria.
What Happens If You Don't Get Enough?
When you don't have enough of something that your body needs it's called a deficiency and B12 deficiency can be incredible bad for your health if it's not spotted and dealt with quickly enough. Anaemia is where you don't have enough red blood cells or haemoglobin which is inside red blood cells. This can cause:
Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
Lack of energy (lethargy)
Breathlessness feeling faint headaches
Pale skin noticeable heartbeats (palpitations)
Hearing sounds coming from inside the body, rather than from an outside source (tinnitus)
Loss of appetite and weight loss
Other symptoms that you could get that are hard to live with and can also become dangerous are:
A pale yellow tinge to your skin a sore and red tongue (glossitis)
Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
Changes in the way that you walk and move around
Changes in the way you think, feel and having problems like being forgetful
Getting Vitamin B12 From Food
Plants can't make B12, just as animals can't, and so plant foods are not a way to get it. For people that eat animals products, meat, dairy and eggs all contain some B12 so most of them will not have to worry about it, however most people that have low levels for vitamin B12, to the point that it makes them ill, are not vegan, they are meat eaters. For vegans and people that can't easily absorb the vitamin more care is needed to make sure that their levels don't drop too low.
One way to get B12 is to use fortified foods; these are foods and drinks with vitamin B12 added to them. These foods can include breakfast cereals, plant milks and plant based cheeses, even meat substitutes. These products are made so that one portion will not give you all of your vitamin B12 for the day, so you need to make sure that you're eating lots of different fortified foods to keep your levels up if you want to get B12 in this way.
Another way to get B12 when you are vegan is to use a supplement. Vitamin B12 supplements can be a tablet or a spray and B12 is almost always included are available in multivitamins, however multivitamins are not a good way to get your nutrients; using a B12 only supplement is much better for you. The UK Vegan Society, the Vegetarian Resource Group, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, recommend that every vegan who is not eating enough B12 from fortified foods should take supplements.
How do you get you B12? I get mine from a tablet once a day but some people prefer the sprays because they are so easier to swallow. However you get your B12 make sure you enough.