Vitamin B12 In A Plant-Based Diet And Why You MUST Eat It
Let me start from the bottom line. B12 is an absolutely crucial micronutrient for our bodies, and a lot of people (both plant-based and not, but more so the former) don’t get enough of it. But worry not: you can get an ample supply of B12 on a 100% plant-based diet. After reading this article, you’ll know exactly how to get it.
What is B12 and why is it important?
B12 is one of 8 B-vitamins, that’s involved in the metabolism of every cell in the body. Whoa, that’s a lot, isn’t it? You got that right- we have approximately 40 trillion (million X million) cells in our bodies, and they all use B12 for their metabolism. But that’s not all- B12 is also critical in enabling normal function of the nervous system and in synthesizing red blood cells. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for one single vitamin. BTW, as a vitamin, B12 is a micronutrient, which means that we only need minuscule amounts of it. But getting that necessary amount is absolutely vital for the healthy functioning of our bodies. So,
Where does B12 come from?
Unlike all other B vitamins, B12 isn’t contained in plants. In fact, all living creatures- humans and animals alike- rely on bacteria in our guts to create this vitamin. In pre-modern times, natural fertilization of the soil meant that these B12-synethsizing bacteria were naturally present in the soil. Thus humans, like animals, could get B12 by simply eating that plant matter, or the animals that consumed it. However, modern sanitation practices have resulted in the removal of these bacteria, meaning that we can’t expect to get B12 just by eating fruits, vegetables and grains. In fact, even animals in industrial farms no longer naturally get B12, as they aren’t able to graze and are fed an artificial mix of grain and soy that doesn’t contain any ‘B12 bacteria’. Instead, their feed is enriched with B12 or cobalt. An interesting (or alarming) fact is that more than half of all B12 supplement globally is fed to animals, not humans!
How do I get B-12 on a plant-based diet?
So the bad news is that B12 no longer occurs naturally in our diets. Meat-eaters can get it because the animals they eat absorb it through supplements to their food, but how about the non-meat-eaters? Are we doomed to a life of nervous damage and red blood cell deficiency? Of course not! The good news is that today, with the rising popularity of plant-based diets, there’s a wide variety of plant-base sources for B12 vitamin. The easiest way to get it is through B12 supplements (there’s lots of them!), but to be honest I’ve never used one of those. Not that I can see a strong reason against it- it’s just that I’ve never had to. So what’s my secret? Well, just like farm animals have their feed enriched with B12, lots of kinds of human food is enriched in the same way. Morning cereals, soy products, and nutritional yeast are common ones- just look out for the nutrition facts labels. My personal favorite is nutritional yeast, which is packed with B12 and also has a wonderful cheesy flavor (tip: check our recipes page…). Just to give you an idea, the nutritional yeast that I use from a brand called ‘now’ contains 15 micrograms in every 10 grams (make sure to read the label- amounts vary between brands). That’s between 3-5 times the daily recommended amount of B12 intake. So with one tablespoon of yeast a day, you have more than enough B12 to keep your bone marrow churning out red blood cells! And remember, there is nothing artificial about this- B12 was never something that our bodies knew how to create and absorb themselves.
Back to the bottom line
B12 is important enough to deserve the hype it’s gotten. While the onset of modern food sanitation standards has made it tricky to find, with a bit of pre-planning you can ensure that you provide your body enough B12 on delicious, 100% plant-based diet.
I believe that animals are here to share the Earth with us, not to satisfy our desires. This led me to drop meat from my menu at an early age. In 2011, after learning about the process involved in the production of eggs and dairy, I started researching about veganism and decided to become plant-based. As I continue to learn and experiment, I still marvel at the many benefits that a plant-based lifestyle offers. I’ve lectured in schools about animal welfare and I hope that through veggino, we can help people in Japan explore this life-changing journey. The number of plant-based people worldwide has been skyrocketing in recent years, and it’s Japan’s turn now!