Vitamin B12 and the Vegetarian Diet

Author: Kaylee Dunbar   Date Posted:17 November 2015 

Do you follow a vegetarian diet? Do you know what your B12 levels are like? Have you had them tested recently? Did you know that vitamin B12 is found primarily in meat and animal by products? This is due to B12 being produced by the bacteria in an animal’s large intestine?

This means that individuals following a vegetarian diet may have a greater risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency.

So why is vitamin B12 so important for us? It:

  • Aids in the formation of DNA
  • Maintains healthy blood cells
  • Supports healthy heart function
  • Supports the nervous system to maintain a healthy mood and stress response
  • Converts our food into energy to help keep us moving!

Following a vegetarian diet is a choice that some of us make for all sorts of different reasons but mainly for ethical and religious reasons. There are many different types of vegetarian diet subclasses that people choose to follow so let’s take a closer look!

Lacto Vegetarian

  • Consume dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt but do not consume eggs.

Ovo Vegetarian

  • Consume egg products but not dairy products.

Lacto-Ovo

  • Consume both eggs and dairy products.

Pesco Vegetarian or Pescatarian

  • Consume dairy products, eggs and fish but don’t not consume any other animal products

So as you can see depending on which vegetarian diet you choose to follow, it may be difficult to obtain an adequate amount of vitamin B12 strictly from the diet. Especially for those vegetarians who do not consume eggs and or dairy like lacto vegetarians and ovo vegetarians.

So how do you know if you are getting enough vitamin B12?

The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing recommends the following daily intake of vitamin B12:

  • Adults (19-70 years of age) - 2.4mcg (micrograms)/day
  • During Pregnancy (14-50 years old) - 2.6mcg (micrograms/day
  • During Lactation (14-50 years old) - 2.8mcg (micrograms)/day

It is important to note that increased requirements for vitamin B12 occur during excess alcohol intake and during pregnancy and lactation.

How are vitamin B12 levels measured?

Serum vitamin B12 concentrations are measured by a blood test so you will need to get a referral from your doctor. Along with vitamin B12, it is also beneficial to have a blood test to determine your serum homocysteine levels (an amino acid) because it gives insight about your body’s vitamin B12 stores.

It is recommended that individuals who follow a vegetarian diet have regular blood tests to determine if a deficiency is present.

So how can we get adequate vitamin B12 intake from a vegetarian diet?!

Unfortunately most vegetarian food sources do not contain large amounts of vitamin B12 as once was thought, so this is why it is important if you do follow a vegetarian diet to include vitamin B12 fortified foods in your diet. These mainly consist of dairy products, yeast spreads and meat analogues such as vegetarian soy based burgers and sausages.

Let’s take a look at some examples of foods rich in vitamin B12!

 Food Source Vitamin B12 content Per 100gm2
Yogurt, regular fat flavoured 0.2ug
Sausage, vegetarian style, fortified 2.0ug
Cheddar cheese, reduced fat (16%) 1.8ug
Egg (chicken), whole poached 1.7ug
Milk, cow, regular or reduced fat 0.6ug
Soy beverage, unflavoured, regular fat, reduced fat (1.5%), fortified 0.9ug
Soy beverage, unflavoured, low fat (0.5%), fortified 0.3ug

 

What are the symptoms associated with a vitamin B12 deficiency?(Please note that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms to please consult your doctor).

  • Low mood
  • Low energy
  • Poor memory/concentration
  • Irritability
  • Tingling hands and feet
  • Pale skin

You now know the facts about vitamin B12 including why it is important for us, the recommended daily intake, its food sources and symptoms associated with a deficiency! So if you follow a vegetarian diet be mindful of your vitamin B12 intake!

If you are considering becoming a vegetarian or are a vegetarian and are concerned you are not getting enough B12 in your diet or would like some dietary support, contact your local naturopath or nutritionist and they will be able to design a dietary and supplemental regime specific to your needs.

Written by Kaylee Dunbar

Kaylee has a Bachelor of Health Science in Naturopathy and an Advanced Diploma as a Pharmacy Technician. Her passion for natural medicine first began when she worked as a pharmacy technician and saw how many people were looking for more ways to support their health. This sparked her interest in learning how to support health using complementary medicine alongside orthodox medicine. Her main objective is to inspire and educate others about the benefits of natural medicine and how to apply it to everyday life.

Although Kaylee is passionate about natural medicine she does not mind a glass of red wine every now and again!