I would like to cut out all animal products. I have been doing this for a while now and I already feel so much lighter and more energetic! I heard that I would need to take B12 supplements when I go fully vegan. Can you recommend how much I should take. How about children? I would be very grateful for some resources!



Vitamin B12 from natural sources

With regards to B12, yes, it is a very important vitamin that has to be given special consideration in a fully plant-based or vegan diet. We first need to be aware that the original and most natural source of vitamin B12 are the vitamin B12-producing bacteria found in nature - in the soil, water, and air. This is how all herbivorous animals naturally get their vitamin B12 - by eating the plants directly from the soil and water. It is misleading to associate vitamin B12 with animal foods, as the animals that are commonly eaten in a human diet originally got their vitamin B12 from the bacteria on their plant food. Animals are not the original source of vitamin B12, rather, specific bacteria are.

For modern humans, who mostly depend on grocery stores, processed foods, and numerous food sanitization methods, it is no longer easy to eat naturally straight from the Earth the way our ancestors did to get our B12. However, there are still several ways in which we can obtain vitamin B12 naturally, in addition to getting it from fortified foods or supplements.

One option comes from naturally-grown, local, organic produce that came from healthy soils, was not transported far distances or across any borders, and is not cleaned with any chemicals before being eaten. This means the way people would get it naturally from their garden or nature and just brush off any dirt or wipe it with a cloth or simply wash it with clean water before eating it.

Another, completely natural, option is if one regularly drinks safe, high-quality spring water that comes directly from the Earth and has not been treated or bottled in any way. This may mean having access to a good local spring or having your own safe and high-quality well water. This can provide an abundance of vitamin B12-producing bacteria for us but the key takeaway is that you must be sure that the natural water you choose is safe to drink and not contaminated with any harmful bacteria, toxins, chemicals, or heavy metals. Unfortunately, it is not easy to find such water any longer in much of the world.

Although they are not technically plants, mushrooms are part of a whole food, plant-based and vegan diet and are one of the easiest foods to include for getting some vitamin B12. In fact, mushrooms are often overlooked and underappreciated, while they are one of the healthiest foods as they contain so many beneficial nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Thanks to the fact that mushrooms grow in soil and on natural fibers, like logs, they are wonderful, natural sources of vitamin-B12 producing bacteria. Some store-bought mushrooms will state on the package that they are a source of vitamin B12. However, if they don’t, it does not necessarily mean that they are not. Commercially-available shiitake mushrooms have relatively high levels of B12. Generally, all wild and organically-grown mushrooms will be a source of some B12.

A valuable, and also often overlooked, food source of natural vitamin B12 in a whole food, plant-based and vegan diet is tempeh. This is a fermented food product that was originally made from whole, fermented soybeans in many parts of Asia. These days, with the rise of plant-based eating, it has expanded the potential of tempeh to also be made using other beans, including mung bean tempeh, garbanzo bean tempeh, pea tempeh, and other legume variations. The source of the vitamin B12 in tempeh are not the beans or the fungus that it is made of but the natural bacteria that are part of the fermentation process. In fact, we can assume that most, if not all, naturally-fermented foods will be a source of vitamin B12 thanks to the presence of those healthy bacteria. This includes foods like naturally-fermented sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kimchi, and other fermented vegetables and pther fermented legumes. Note that heavily-processed, commercial types of such feremented foods that are available in most supermarkets are not likely to be reliable options of B12 due to the way they are processed, pasteurized, and preserved. They must be naturally-fermented options such as those one can make at home or ones found at farmer’s markets.

Another whole food, plant-based, and natural source of vitamin B12 are some sea vegetables. Studies have found that nori is the most suitable vitamin B12 source for those eating plant-based diets. Similar to mushrooms and organic, naturally grown produce, sea vegetables are in close proximity to the Earth (water and soil), which makes them a natural source of vitamin-B12 producing bacteria and B12 content in general.

Some sources also cite that spirulina, which is a blue-green algae or cyanobacteria, can be a great source of vitamin B12 or improve the vitamin B12 levels in the body. However, not all experts are in agreement about this, and some claim it is not the right form of B12 that is required by our body. Therefore, if you choose to use spirulina as a form of vitamin B12, you should do more research about it and have other backups in your diet.

Vitamin B12 from fortified sources

In addition to the above-mentioned natural food sources, many processed plant-based and vegan foods are fortified with vitamin B12. These commonly include commercial milk made from plants, like almond milk or soy milk, and other plant-based, non-dairy foods, like vegan cheese and yogurt. Many grocery stores today have special sections in the store for vegan processed foods and many of these options are fortified with vitamin B12. Most health food stores are full of them too. To be sure, simply check the nutrition facts label and the ingredient list of the food that you are interested in. While many of these foods are not normally part of a whole food, plant-based diet because they are heavily processed foods, people who follow a vegan lifestyle do rely on them and, thus, get vitamin some B12 through them.

Another common, fortified food source of B12 in a plant-based and vegan diet is nutritional yeast. This is an inactive form of yeast that has been grown on a specified nutrient base that often includes all of the B vitamins, including B12. However, one must check the label of this product as well, as not all of them include B12. It must specifically mention that it is a source of vitamin B12. Nutritional yeast is typically used as part of dishes or as a sprinkle on dishes to add a type of umami savory flavor. It is also one of the main ingredients in some non-dairy vegan cheese and in tofu scramble.

Vitamin B12 from supplements

In addition to choosing what may work best for you from the above-mentioned B12 options, if you would like to have an even greater guarantee that you are getting enough vitamin B12 and to be on the safe side given the importance of this vitamin for your nervous system, you can also opt to take a high-quality vitamin B12 supplement. It is easy to take and a relatively economical supplement.

Supplemental vitamin B12 exists in several forms of the B12 compound. Unless there is some medical reason or underlying health condition that requires a specific form of vitamin B12 supplementation to be taken, for the majority of people it is recommended to go with the methylcobalamin form of B12 instead of the cyanocobalamin form or any other form.

Methylcobalamin is the natural and active form of this vitamin, whereas cyanocobalamin is synthetic, meaning that it does not exist in nature and is chemically-derived, and much cheaper to produce, which is mainly why most vitamin B12 supplements contain it. There are certain health cases that may warrant the use of cyanocobalamin or even another form of B12 altogether, but these usually apply to people who have problems digesting or assimilating vitamin B12 or suffer from serious deficiencies of it. For more information, please read the following article about methylcobalamin versus cyanocobalamin use.

With regards to choosing the best brands of B12 methylcobalamin, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of supplement brands worldwide, and most vary in availability by region in the world. It is therefore not possible to recommend a specific brand for a number of logistic reasons. The most important advice I recommend is to, first, rely on supplements as little as possible. Nothing in a bottle, no formula or supplement, will ever be truly risk-free or be able to fully replace what only whole natural plant food is capable of providing. To understand this further, I recommend the following video episode I did with Dr. John McDougall about supplements and plant-based eating.

The second, most important, guideline to follow when it comes to supplements, is to seek products that are as pure and high-quality as possible. This means that you always read the other ingredients listed on the product package and determine whether you feel comfortable with those ingredients. It is here that we will usually find all sorts of animal by-products, colors, flavors, artificial sweeteners, fillers, GMOs, allergens, and preservatives. At minimum, any supplement we choose should be vegan, with no gelatin or any other animal-derived ingredients, and free of such harmful ingredients. After that, it may be necessary to sacrifice a little, where a formula may contain some natural flavor or sugar alcohols, like xylitol. Neither of these are high risk ingredients, and will usually be found in negligible amounts in supplements. Organic supplements, especially when they contain whole food parts, can provide a big advantage, but it is not easy to prove if they include what they claim to include or whether it is even significant. Other than that, it is next to impossible to find a truly “pure” supplement, and why, aside from vitamin B12, the less we depend on them, the better.

Do your own research

Ingredients aside, to determine whether the supplement is of a really high quality, specifically when it comes to potency and efficacy, it takes some research. Don’t fall for any of the claims on the package or the product website. Marketing and advertising can bend rules like crazy and make all sorts of claims. Given that supplements are very poorly regulated in most countries, consumers are most often left in the dark about the quality of the product they are using. Remember, image sells and is highly persuasive given our emotional tendency to make decisions. So just because a brand comes across as pure or natural, does not mean it is.

The most important thing is to avoid the common, conventional and generic brands that have supplement formulas full of numerous risky, harmful, and allergenic ingredients. There is no need to sacrifice your health when there are so many better and safer alternative choices today.

Vitamin B12 pills or liquids

When it comes to effectiveness, both a pill and a liquid can be sublingual, and thus contain the methylcobalamin form of B12. Similarly, both a pill and a liquid of B12 methylcobalamin can be non-sublingual and made to be swallowed. Given the characteristics of methylcobalamin, in terms of how readily it cab be absorbed by our body and how much it can be destroyed going through the digestive tract, sublingual forms of it are most recommended. Amongst the methyl sublingual forms, there won’t be much difference between a dissolvable pill and a liquid, as long as the tablet dissolves well. In this case, you can pick either a pill or liquid in sublingual form based on what you personally prefer.

Vitamin B12 dosage

In terms of dosage, there is great flexibility. Recommended adult dose is 4 - 7 mcgs, but much more is required from a supplemental form. So some people prefer the daily dose of about 250 - 1000mcg daily, while others prefer 1 weekly dose of 2,000 - 5,000mcg. A lower dose is recommended for smaller people, healthier people, younger people, and people without previous problems related to anemia, heart disease, etc. A higher dose may be needed if the opposite are the case. And depending on the overall quality of the diet, including the factors mentioned above, some people may choose to take it for several months of the year or for intermittent weeks or months. Basically, a supplemental B12 is not something that one must adhere to strictly or daily, but rather something that should be there on some sort of regular basis in the diet.

For a child, a dose on the lower end of the amounts above would be required (around 250 - 500mcg), but it is best to check with your child’s primary healthcare provider with regards to the dose and frequency of use, depending on their health, diet, and lifestyle needs. Either way, B12 is water soluble, and it is not a vitamin or supplement that normally causes a risk of overdosing or toxicity.

In fact, our body is very good at recycling B12, and even with no supplements the B12 stores usually last for several years. But as current research indicates, most people benefit from taking a B12 supplement regardless if they eat animal foods or not, and it doesn’t hurt to use it right away when starting a whole-food, plant-based diet to help the body adjust to the new way of eating.

It is also a good idea to get a B12 blood test done once every 2 to 3 years, assuming that past tests had normal results. If B12 deficiencies ever existed, a B12 test once a year may be required.

On-Demand Video Courses with Evita Ochel

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