Are you getting enough Vitamin B12? This question has certainly been put before everyone who has a plant-based diet. However, no matter how your diet may look, it is important to know the answer to this question.
Although we need vitamin B12 in very small amounts, it is important to take it with your food. In contrast to many other vitamins, the body does not produce B12 itself. Most people meet their needs for B12 by consuming animal products.
Why is Vitamin B-12 important?
Why is vitamin B12 an essential part of our diet? First of all, a deficiency of this vitamin leads to pernicious anemia. “Pernicious” because it leads to irreversible damage to nerve and brain cells, and “anemia” because it also affects the blood. A consequence of vitamin B12 deficiency is that the cells are no longer dividing properly. Without B12, the cells are non-divisible and become excessively large.
The nerve cells also need vitamin B12 to maintain the function of the myelin sheath so that rapid communication within the body is possible. Due to a deficiency, nerve cells can be irreversibly damaged. In addition, the vitamin plays a crucial role in maintaining the central nervous system. Studies have shown that deficiency in small children leads to a decline in the development and function of the brain.
How to cover your need for B12
For people who have no stomach disease, there are enough healthy foods that contain B12. The plant sources, in which vitamin B12 naturally occurs, include, for example, some fermented soy products such as Tempeh and miso, as well as some marine algae. It is important to note that these products don’t contain the vitamin in sufficient quantities. Since the amount of vitamin B12 can vary in natural products, especially in seaweed, it is advisable to consume plant foods enriched with vitamin B12 to ensure that you eat enough. These include many dairy and cheese substitute products, e.g. Soya, almond and rice milk.
Nutritional tables and ingredients lists indicate whether or not a food contains B12. Another valuable source is yeast flakes. Just make sure that they are really enriched with vitamin B12. These inactive yeast flakes lend a discreet cheese flavor and can be added to all kinds of dishes – from soups to spreads and “cheese” dips to popcorn. They taste excellent!
Although the foods mentioned above are good sources of vitamin B12, most people still meet their vitamin B12 requirements with animal products. This leads us to an interesting question: Where do the animals (at least the plant-eating ones) get their B12? It turns out that this vitamin is produced by soil microorganisms, which are located in the roots of plants! This means that our ancestors were able to cover their needs for vitamin B12 by vegetables (or rather by traces of soil that had remained on the vegetables). Unfortunately, the plants have to be thoroughly scrubbed before consumption, due to environmental contamination, in order to remove potentially harmful substances.
While it is important to ensure that you eat enough vitamin B12, you should not worry too much. The body is able to store a vitamin B12 content for several years in the liver and does an excellent job of providing it for reuse. However, it is difficult to store a sufficient B12 content for several years if one does not absorb enough. There are no known negative effects when consuming too large amounts of B12; so it’s better to be safe.
How to prevent Vitamin B12 deficiency?
People most likely to suffer from it
The groups of people most likely to suffer from B12 deficiency include elderly people, people with Crohn’s disease, celiac disease or gastritis type A or B, vegans, vegetarians, pregnant women, people taking gastric acid inhibitors, and anyone who surgically removes parts of the stomach or small intestine or have been blocked.
After B12 is absorbed, it is bound to the proteins in the diet. As soon as it reaches the small intestine, the vitamin is cleaved by the stomach acid from its protein transporter and can thus be linked with the so-called intrinsic factor (IF), a glycoprotein. It then enters the blood and is available to the body.
With age, the body begins to produce less and less intrinsic factor, which means that the elderly are not able to absorb B12 on this path. Those suffering from Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or gastritis type A or B who take gastric acid inhibitors or who have been operated on stomach or small intestine tend to decrease the production of stomach acid or it is completely stopped, which means that the body Vitamin B12 cannot split and absorb (even if it is present in the diet).
Vegans and Vegetarians:
The main problem of vegans and vegetarians is not that they do not absorb enough B12 with their food. The need to wash the food well, reduced or eliminated the content of B12 completely.
Ovo-Lacto vegetarians also often have a B12 deficiency because milk products and eggs are not a sufficient source. Pregnant women and women who may become pregnant should ensure adequate care with B12.
What to do?
Those who belong to one of the above risk groups should consider making a vitamin B12 test with their doctor to determine if their values are in line with the norm. Those whose gastric acid values are impaired due to age, disease, medication or surgery should take purified forms of vitamin B12. These do not have to be cleaved by the stomach acid from the protein – since it is purified, the body can already absorb it in this form. To correct B12 deficiency immediately, the doctor can administer a B12 syringe, but in most cases, food supplements or fortified products are sufficient.
Although it is not difficult to get vitamin B12 via an herbal diet (by using B12 fortified foods), the deficiency of B12 in plant foods has led many to question the benefits of a vegan or vegetarian diet. They ask, “If an herbal diet is so good, then why is there a risk of having a deficiency of this vitamin?”
As already mentioned, vitamin B12 is produced by microorganisms in soil. In the past, people have not washed or peeled the vegetables as thoroughly as we do today and have been eating them just enough to get enough vitamin B12. Nowadays, we live in a suboptimal world full of pollution and chemicals, so we wash our B12 when we clean our vegetables. Although it is now harder to get vitamin B12 on the natural path, a plant diet enriched with it is still a much better option than the typical Western diet, whose vitamin B12 is derived from animal products. Basically, you get this way vitamin B12 as a package along with an increased risk of heart attack, diabetes and a long list of other diseases.