Vitamin B12 (called cobalamin if you want to get fancy) is a vitamin that our bodies require on a daily basis. This little trooper is important for production of blood cells and for a well-functioning central nervous system (read: to sustain your brainiac-ness 🙂 ). Because this vitamin is primarily found in animal products such as meat, shellfish, milk, cheese and eggs, vegans are at increased risk of developing vitamin B12 anaemia, as plant foods contain very little vitamin B12 unless they are fortified. Vitamin B12 can actually be stored in your liver for years (oh liver, let me count the ways
I love thee). For actual anaemia to occur, the vitamin deficiency needs to be quite severe and occur over a long period of time before symptoms to appear (or deficiency may arise in individuals who have problems absorbing B12). That being stated, B12 deficiency is one of the more common deficiencies vegans tend to suffer from, especially because unfortunately, vitamin B12 from plant foods is not absorbed as well as from animal sources. Anaemia, loss of balance, numbness or tingling of the legs and arms and weakness are all potential symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. However, hear ye, hear ye, deficiency of this precious vitamin is preventable.
To fulfill your daily need:
1 tablespoon of B12 enriched nutritional yeast (Red Star, for instance), which you can add to pasta dishes, salads, soups, smoothies, etc.
2 cups (500 ml) of fortified soy beverage
OR… you can take a vitamin B12 supplement. Aim for 25-100 micrograms per day or 1000 micrograms twice a week.
I often recommend eating B12-containing foods (nutritional yeast, fortified soy beverage, even “fake meats like Yves Veggie Cuisine”) and taking a supplement, to be on the safe side.
Just to be sure, if you are vegan, it is advisable that you have your blood tested for vitamin B12 every two years. Another simpler way to assess your body’s vitamin B12 status is to check your urinary levels of methylmalonic acid. High levels of methylmalonic acid revealed by the latter test are indicative of a B12 deficiency.
Please note that some people may have deficiencies due to absorption issues. If you suspect this to be the case, speak to your doctor about this.
B1 and B2 may be great, but vitamin B12 is indispensable (please excuse the corniness).