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Vitamin B12 For Vegetarians and Vegans: A Guide For Women

I’m Kayli Anderson, dietitian and natural foods chef. PBM is your headquarters for empowering, woman-centered plant-based nutrition and lifestyle guidance. 

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When it comes to plant-based nutrition, vitamin B12 is a hot topic. Can you get it from plant-based foods? How do you make sure you’re getting enough? And what is the best B12 supplement? Here’s everything you need to know about vitamin B12 for vegetarians, vegans, and plant-based women.

Why is vitamin B12 important for vegetarians and vegans?

Not getting enough B12 puts you at risk for depression, heart disease, and memory loss. B12 deficiency is very dangerous and can result in irreversible neurological damage before it’s even detected. A consistent source of B12 is a MUST for every woman eating a completely plant-based diet!

Best Sources of Vitamin B12 For Vegetarians and Vegans

Vitamin B12 is one of the only ones (along with vitamin D) that we cannot get enough of from plants. B12 is made from microorganisms, and it is thought that we used to be able to get enough from the dirt, soil, and microscopic “creatures” living on our unwashed wild plants. Since plants are no longer a reliable way to meet B12 needs, we either need to diligently eat enough B12-fortified foods or take a B12 supplement.

Some cereals, plant-based milks, and nutritional yeasts are fortified with B12. Be sure to check labels because not all brands are fortified. If you decide to rely on nutritional yeast as a B12 source, look for the VSF symbol on the label which stands for Vegetarian Supported Formula and indicates fortification. If you want to get your B12 from fortified foods, you must eat multiple servings every day to meet needs.

Related:  How To Get Iodine For Vegan and Plant-based Women

I find that a B12 supplement is the easiest way to meet needs. Supplements are inexpensive and safe, so the only barrier is remembering to take them! Look for a cyanocobalamin form that’s either liquid or sublingual (absorbed under the tongue). You will also see methylcobalamin, but we just don’t have enough evidence to support the effectiveness of this form of B12.

How much vitamin B12 do women need?

B12 is the only B vitamin that we are able to store in the body, indicating that we’ve evolved to eat semi-infrequent sources. Because we can store it, you’ll see B12 supplements that you can take weekly (instead of daily) to top off stores. Below is a look at the recommendations for B12 intake for women. Supplement dosages are much higher than recommended daily needs to account for the fact that we only absorb a small amount of the supplement.

Vitamin B12 Needs For Women


Tips For Meeting Vitamin B12 Needs on a Plant-based Diet

  • Regularly eat fortified foods

    • Two servings per day, 2 to 3.5 µg each
    • Nutritional yeast, plant-based milks, and cereals are commonly fortified foods. Check labels! Not all brands are fortified, and the amount of fortification varies.

  • Take a B12 supplement (cyanocobalamin)

    • 2,000µg 1-2 times a week or at least 25µg daily
    • We can only absorb small amounts at a time – that’s why supplement dosages are so much higher than the recommended intake.

Can you get vitamin B12 from any plant-based foods?

The short answer is no. There are claims that some plant-based foods like fermented foods, spirulina, chlorella, mushrooms, and sea vegetables contain B12, but these are not reliable sources. There are many molecules that are similar to B12, called B12 analogues, that are inactive and provide no benefit to humans. The current methods we have available for measuring B12 content in foods cannot distinguish between true vitamin B12 and these inactive analogues, so claims of supposed “naturally-occurring” B12 in foods may be mistaking the analogues for B12.

Related:  Vitamin D Needs For Women: A Guide

BTW, you might also like The Complete Guide To Plant-based Benefits For Women and Protein and Women’s Health.

Want more help with your nutrition plan?

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