A vegan diet is incredibly high in nutrients, vitamins and minerals (yep, even protein!), but it’s wise to do your research about supplements for optimum health, regardless of your diet.

For vegans a particular topic of discussion is B12. You may have heard of B12, but if you haven’t you’re in the right place!

What is B12? 

B12 is a vitamin made from bacteria in both water and soil – it is essential for brain health and development and very low B12 can cause anemia and nervous system damage.

B12 is required in smaller amounts than any other known vitamin. In fact, only ten micrograms of B12 spread over a day appears to supply as much as the body can use. Symptoms of B12 deficiency usually takes five years or more to develop in adults, however it can be easily avoided by taking a B12 supplement or fortified foods.

Why is B12 associated with a vegan diet?

B12 is the only vitamin that is not recognised as being reliably supplied from a varied wholefood, plant-based diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, together with exposure to sun.

As a result, a common misconception is that B12 is an animal derived vitamin, which is why those following a vegan lifestyle need to take a B12 supplement. However in fact the reason why B12 isn’t easily obtainable in a plant based diet is the way in which our fruits and vegetables are now grown, treated and sanitized prior to sale. Whereas cattle and livestock are fed B12 fortified foods to ensure the vitamin is present in a meat-eaters diet, as well as many herbivorous mammals who absorb B12 produced by bacteria in their own digestive system.

How can you get enough B12 in your diet?

Good news is there are lots of B12 supplements available, including tablets, capsules and also liquid form. In addition, Nutritional Yeast is a key cupboard ingredient used in many vegan recipes – this is also a great source of B12.

Everyone could benefit from taking a B12 supp, not just those following a vegan diet, because it can be tricky to absorb and is most effective in small doses. So get yourself down to your local health store and stock up on B12!

How to identify serious B12 Deficiency?

Clinical B12 deficiency can cause a range of serious health problems, such as anaemia or nervous system damage, loss of energy, tingling, numbness, reduced sensitivity to pain or pressure, blurred vision, abnormal gait, sore tongue, poor memory, confusion, hallucinations and personality changes. Often these symptoms develop gradually over several months to a year before being recognised as being due to B12 deficiency, however they are usually reversible when B12 is taken.

If you suspect a problem then go to your doctor and get a blood test, as many of these symptoms can be caused by problems other than B12 deficiency.

Make sure you’re getting your B12 kids!