What You Need To Know about Vitamin B-12, Especially if You’re Vegan

It’s funny. When people find out you’re vegan or vegetarian, suddenly everyone and their mother becomes your nutritionist, wondering if you get enough protein, if you take supplements and get enough Vitamin B-12, and if you’re malnourished and falling over yet, etc.

No one bats at eye or comments at people who sustain themselves off pizza, burgers, fries, and chips, but so many feel entitled to scrutinize the nutrient-content of plant-based diets.

But I digress. This post is about the main nutrient of concern for vegetarians and vegans. No, it’s not protein (which in fact, most people over-consume). It’s Vitamin B-12. If you’re vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, have chronic bowel issues, and/or are over the age of 50, you should assess and consider if you are getting enough vitamin B-12.

nutritional yeast

I don’t very often flex my MS in nutrition muscles on the blog. I always intend to, but I find my brain so exhausted of academic/science writing from school that much of the time the blog is filled with recipe and lifestyle posts because those are fun and relaxing to write.

But I really do want to make an effort to communicate more nutrition info here on kbaked.com. Let me know if you like this kind of content and/or what other topics you’d like to see covered! Without further adieu…here’s what you need to know about Vitamin B-12.

What is Vitamin B-12?

Vitamin B-12 (also known as cobalamin) is a water-soluble vitamin and was the last vitamin discovered. It’s found in various forms, including cyanocobalamin (often found in supplements and fortified food), as well as methylcoablamin (a methylated form) found in animal products.

Cyanocobalamin needs to me methylated for your body to make use of it. Both are well-absorbed, and it’s currently unknown if there’s a “better” or more bioavailable form to consume.

Why is Vitamin B-12 important?

Vitamin B-12 is an essential micronutrient (meaning you can’t make it, you have to get it from the diet) responsible for many vital functions in the human body.

Vitamin B-12 is necessary for proper DNA synthesis, formation of red blood cells, and neurological function.

Vitamin B-12 acts as a cofactor for methionine (an amino acid) synthase, which catalyzes the conversion of homocyestine to methionine. This is important for a few reasons.

First, high levels of homocysteine are associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke. The exact reason for this association (notice the word association, not causal relationship) is unclear. But it is well observed.

Second, the formation of methionine is important, as it is required for the formation of S-adenosylmethione (or SAM), which is considered a universal methyl-donor for a multitude of substrates, including DNA, RNA, proteins, hormones, and lipids.

How is Vitamin B-12 absorbed?

Vitamin B-12 absorption, like many things in nutrition, is a highly complex, intricate process. Vitamin B-12 found in foods is bound to protein, and needs to be released by hydrochloric acid and gastric protease in the stomach. Vitamin B-12 in supplement form does not require this separation.

Next, free vitamin B-12 must combine with intrinsic factor, a glycoprotein secreted by the stomach’s parietal cells. The intrinsic factor-vitamin B-12 complex can then travel to the small intestine. Most absorption of B-12 occurs in the distal ileum (aka further part of your small intestine) via receptor mediated endocytosis. Some is also absorbed by passive diffusion.

There’s a limit to how much can be absorbed at once. Usually no more than 1.5 micrograms per 5-50 microgram absorption can be absorbed from a single dose. Disorders that limit the amount of intrinsic factor can also limit B-12 absorption.

What are symptoms of Vitamin B-12 Deficiency?

Symptoms of Vitamin B-12 can seem vague or non-descript. For example, many people with Vitamin B-12 deficiency may experience  weakness, fatigue, lightheadness, pale skin, pale skin, diarrhea or constipation, tingling or numbness (especially in hands and feet), depression, memory loss, behavioral changes, depression, and vision loss.

Many of these symptoms are also symptoms of other conditions, so detecting Vitamin B-12 deficiency can be difficult without a test.

These symptoms may arise months or years after low B-12 consumption. It was formerly believed that vitamin B-12 could be stored in the liver for up to 20 years, but the scientific opinion on this is changing, and many believe it to be far less time. Some estimate 10 years, while others estimate 2.

For now, the exact amount of time between inadequate B-12 consumption and signs and symptoms of deficiency is unknown, but if you’d like my personal opinion I believe it is far less than 2-20 years and that it varies greatly between individuals.

The point is, you may go vegan and not notice symptoms right away. But do not ignore these symptoms if they begin to creep up, especially if you’ve been neglecting monitoring your B-12 intake!

Who is at Risk for Vitamin B-12 Deficiency?

Vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, and people who don’t eat a lot of meat should all monitor their Vitamin B-12 intake.

But it’s not just vegetarians and vegans who are at risk. Because Vitamin B-12 relies on proper function of intestines and stomach for absorption, those with stomach and/or intestine distress may be at risk for Vitamin B-12 deficiency. Individuals with IBD, Chron’s disease, IBS-D, atrophic gastrtis, celiac’s disease, parasite infection, and/or intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

Additionally, individuals who take proton-pump inhibiting medications (often taken for acid reflux/heartburn) may be at risk, as these medications can decrease acid produced in the stomach, which is essential for B-12 absorption.

Exposure to nitric oxide (aka laughing gas) at the dentist can also halt B-12 absorption and multiple exposures can lead to deficiency.

Interestingly, high levels of serum folic acid can make B-12 deficiency. As folic acid fortification is mandatory in the United States, some scientists find this is an area of increasing concern. In fact, some are calling for a reassessment of the folate fortification level, and/or an addition of a B-12 fortification.

With age, the body is less and less able to absorb Vitamin B-12. According to national dietary surveys and blood level tests, 10-15% of the elderly population in the United States is B-12 deficient. As cognition also tends to decline around this time, this is a concern.

Those with prenicious anemia are also B-12 deficient, due to an autoimmune reaction that attacks the stomach cells that make intrinsic factor necessary for B-12 absorption.

How much Vitamin B-12 do I need?

The current  recommendation dietary allowance (RDA) of Vitamin B-12 for healthy adults is 2.4 micrograms per day. That’s a teeny tiny amount.

Pregnant women are advised to consume 2.6 micrograms, while breastfeeding women should consume a recommended 2.8 micrograms each day.

What foods contain Vitamin B-12?

Vitamin B-12 is found mostly in animal products, including fish, meat, eggs, poultry, milk, milk products, algae products, nutritional yeast select fortified breakfast cereals, and other fortified foods.

Clams and beef liver, in particular, are very rich in Vitamin B-12, with 84.1 micrograms and 70.7 micrograms per 3 ounce portion, respectively.

Trout, salmon, and tuna can also be good sources of Vitamin B-12, each with over 100% of the RDA per 3 ounce serving.

A single egg contains 0.6 micrograms of Vitamin B-12, however, due to some of the proteins found in egg, much of the B-12 found in eggs isn’t well-absorbed.

Milk contains about 1.2 micrograms per cup, while chicken contains 0.3 micrograms per 3 ounce portion.

Some breakfast cereals, plant-based milks, and vegan condiments like nutritional yeast are also fortified with Vitamin B-12 (see section, below).

What are vegan sources of Vitamin B-12?

Vegan sources of naturally occurring Vitamin B-12 are few and far between. Certain types of algae are known to contain Vitamin B-12, and some studies have found these are well absorbed when taken in supplement form, but there is debate on whether or not algae foods alone can provide enough B-12 in one’s diet.

Outside of algae, vegans need to rely on fortified foods to reach their B-12 requirements. Below is a list of vegan Vitamin B-12 containing foods:

  1. Total Cereal: 100% RDA per 3/4 cup serving
  2. Silk Soymilk : 50% DV per 1 cup serving
  3. Marmite: 0.5 micgrograms / 15% DV per 35 gram serving
  4. Trader Joe’s Original Coconut Milk (the refrigerated one in the carton): 50% per 1 cup serving
  5. Bragg’s Nutritional Yeast: 40% per 1 tablespoon serving
  6. Trader Joe’s Nutritional Yeast: 130% per 1 tablespoon serving
  7. Malt-O-Meal High Fiber Bran Flakes:
  8. Kellogg’s All Bran Cereal: 100% per 1/2 cup serving
  9. Cheerios: 25% per 1 cup serving
  10. Kellogg’s Special K Cereal: 50% per 3/4 cup serving
  11. Nasoya Tofu Plus: 20% DV RDA per 3 ounce serving
  12. Corn Flakes: 15% per 1 cup serving
  13. Tempeh: amounts vary; the viability of tempeh-produced vitamin B-12 is, however, debated in literature and it is generally agreed that this should not be an individual’s primarily source

This list is by no means exhaustive. It’s simply meant to give you a few ideas next time you’re at the store, and/or inspire you to check products/compare brands of similar products. If you find any B-12 gems out there, let me know in the comments!

Also, none of these are affiliate links. I do not generally sponsor posts and am always 100% transparent when I do, as I want to instill trust in my readers.

Should I take a Vitamin B-12 supplement?

If you don’t eat fortified foods daily, I would suggest vegans, vegetarians, the elderly. those with malabsorption issues, adding a Vitamin B-12 supplement to your diet.

Importantly, many supplements come in mega-doses.According to the IOM, there is no known adverse outcomes associated with over-consumption of B-12.

Still, there’s no need to take a pill that gives you 50000% RDA Vitamin B-12 per day. You can easily halve or quarter supplements to not only meet your needs, and extend the life of your supplement bottle in the process.

Some supplements contain animal-derived sources of Vitamin B-12 and/or gelatin (usually the gummy varieties). Certain brands are vegan-friendly, and their packaging will usually let you know. If you’re concerned, I suggest searching on Amazon for vegan-specific vitamins.

Long Story Short:

You’re not invincible. Pay attention to your B-12 intact if you are plant-based or not a big meat eater or have digestive health issues! Supplementation can’t hurt.

Vegan Hemp Parmesan

True story: I grew up with a tiny Silician grandmother (“Oma” who loved to feed me lots and lots of yummy food. My favorite forever and always was her pasta with homemade sauce with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top. The lady also made the most amazing salads. No other food has ever tasted as good.

Nut-free Vegan Hemp Parmesan

The woman had a gift: she could make the simplest ingredients taste phenomenal. No recipes, just all by look and feel. Bless her genius culinary skills.

Oma always had Kraft parmesan out on the table. Yup, the totally American, shelf-stable stuff in a blue shaker jar. According to my mom, it was the ‘only game in town’ for a long time before importing foods became more mainstream and better options were available. Regardless, Kraft parm will always remind me of her.

Hemp Hearts

I was never big on melted cheese, but I always did love me some parm on top of pasta or salad. Since going dairy-free, I’ve ventured into the world of making my own parm.

For a very long time, I’ve pulsed up walnuts or cashews and added nutritional yeast as the base for parm. While this works well, I recently brought a bag of hemp seeds and thought the shape, size, and nutty flavor would work perfectly for vegan parm. Turns out, I was right.

Nut-free Vegan Hemp Parm

Hemp seeds/hearts have recently entered my life and I can’t get enough. And they’re one of those hype foods that’s actually quite good for you. 3 Tablespoons packs 10 grams of protein, 20% DV iron, and 3 grams of fiber.

On top of that, they are rich in omega-6 fatty acids and contain a decent amount of omega-3s, as well. If you are plant-based or don’t eat a lot of fish, making friend with omega fatty-acid-rich foods is a wise idea for optimal brain health and neurological function.

Wow so that was a fun 5 seconds of my academic voice coming out there^.

Easy Nut-free Vegan Hemp Parmesan

Paired with nutritional yeast, which is rich in many B vitamins including the difficult-for-vegans-to-consume B12, protein, and other important trace nutrients, you’ve got a plant-based nourishment slam dunk. Also, importantly, it tastes good!

Anyways, behold the easiest vegan Parmesan you’ll ever make. It’s also nut-free for those with allergies. It’s delicious on salads, pasta, Mexican dishes, or in any recipe you’d use traditional parm.

Easy Delicious Nut-free Vegan Hemp Parmesan

I hope you make this vegan parmesan and I hope you like it! Champagne wishes and vegan parmesan dreams!

Nut-free Vegan Hemp Parmesan Cheese

Vegan Hemp Parmesan

Prep Time:  5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Servings: about 1/2 cup vegan parmesan

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds or hemp hearts
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)

Method:

  1. Combine ingredients in a bowl. Toss.
  2. Serve on pasta, salads, roasted vegetables, or wherever you would use dairy parmesan. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Easy Homemade Vegan Cream Cheese

On Saturday I stopped into the most adorable Italian bakery (Prato) and bought myself a giant loaf of still-warm multigrain bread. It was so fresh and so tasty and it was the best $3.80 I’ve spend in a while.

Easy Vegan Tofu Cream Cheese Recipe

Naturally, everything I’ve eaten since purchasing said loaf has revolved around things to eat with bread. I didn’t have any avocados (boo), nor vegan cream cheese (double boo) and wanted something savory to eat with my bread.

tofu

So I decided to use some tofu to make a plant-based whipped cream cheese spread. I figured, if delis can make cream cheese out of tofu, so can I. So there.

homemade vegan cream cheese

Now. I whipped this cream cheese up with a whisk because I don’t have my food processor with me in NJ yet. I keep forgetting to bring it out here and am setting a reminder to do so when I come back from spring break.

whipped tofu

Anyways, whipping the tofu gave me a whipped fluffy texture, like a whipped cream cheese.

nutritional yeast

If you like whipped cream cheese, do this. If you want it smooth, process it in a food processor or blender. Either way, YUM.

easy vegan cream cheese homemade

I also only had firm tofu on hand, but I highly suggest using silken for a smoother texture.

easy homemade vegan tofu cream cheese

Lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and a hefty dose of salt give the tofu a tangy salty slightly-cheesy flavor reminiscent of cream cheese.

easy vegan cream cheese recipe

You can certainly add a wide variety of mix-ins to make this cream cheese flavored. I think fresh herbs would be delicious, as would some berry compote, or some maple syrup and walnuts.

homemade vegan tofu cream cheese

This easy homemade vegan tofu cream cheese excellent on bread and bagels with jam or jelly or Trader Joe’s Everything Bagel Salt (which I can’t get enough of).

easy vegan cream cheese homemade

I hope you make this and I hope you love it! If you do, let me know. Comment below or hmu on Insta (@katherinebaker4).

Easy Homemade Vegan Tofu Cream Cheese

Prep Time:  10 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Servings: about 1 cup vegan cream cheese

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces silken tofu (1/2 a 16-ounce package or 3/4 of a 12-ounce package)
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Optional mix-ins: fresh herbs, walnuts + maple syrup, fruit puree, diced jalapenos, everything bagel seasoning

Method:

  1. Open tofu package and drain liquid. If using a firmer block, press any additional liquid out from tofu by placing tofu on a plate, covering with a paper towel, and pressing down with a cutting board on top of the paper towel.
  2. If using an electric mixer or whisk, mash tofu in a bowl. Add nutritional yeast, lemon juice, and salt, and whip until fluffy. If using a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients and process until smooth.
  3. Enjoy with all the carbs your heart desires. 🙂

Simple Lemon Pasta

Hello! Sorry if you’ve tried to visit kbaked this past week; due to technically difficulties the page was down for six whole days! But I’m happy to say we’re BACK baby (and that I stopped breathing when it was down).

Lemon Pasta Kbaked Vegan Simple

Blah. Life has been busy and hectic and weird this last week. So do you know what chaos means? Easy pasta. Like this beautiful Simple Lemon Pasta. 5 Ingredients. 15 minutes start to finish. Refreshing and light, yet filling.

Lemon Pasta Kbaked Vegan Simple

I used to make this a lot when I was busy. And then that thing happened where you forget about a recipe for a while and then you remember it and it’s the whole everything-old-was-new-again infatuation like when you find that old mix CD you used to jam out to all the time two Januarys ago. This pasta is just like that, but better.

Lemon Pasta Kbaked Vegan Simple

Pasta is love. Easy pasta = double love. And triple love = puppies. Today is my adoption anniversary with my dog, Millie, aka the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Happy one year to my sweet nugget!

millie the nugget <3

Make this pasta. Pretend it’s spring if you want to. It’s refreshing lemon zing will make you feel hopeful that spring is indeed coming, even though it’s like 14 degrees. Add peas if you like. Or add asparagus. Or don’t. As long as the noodles and lemon juice, salt, and olive oil are there, you won’t be let down. Happy noodling and happy eating! 😎

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 2.20.41 PM

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 9-11 minutes, depending on pasta used
Level: Easy
serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces (1/2 pound or 1/2 a box) linguine, spaghetti, or any other pasta of choice
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast, freshly grated parmasen or vegan parmesan, depending on preference
  • 3/4 cup fresh peas or asparagus (optional)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Cook pasta according to directions on box.
2. While pasta is cooking, juice lemons and set lemon juice aside.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 2.19.39 PM 3. When al dente, drain pasta and return to pan. Add olive oil and toss to coat. Add lemon juice and nutritional yeast or parmesan. Add fresh peas or asparagus. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl and serve with more nutritional yeast or parmesan.