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Why is Low Vitamin B12 Common in Vegans and Vegetarians?

Why is Low Vitamin B12 Common in Vegans and Vegetarians?

Many people are continuing to cut out meat and/or all other animal products, such as dairy and eggs, from their diet. Some find that as a result of their new dietary choices, certain vitamin levels become unbalanced in their bodies. For example, low vitamin B12 is a commonly reported vitamin imbalance in vegans and vegetarians.

However, this doesn’t mean people should give up on a plant-based or vegetarian lifestyle. Instead, people with strict dietary restrictions like these simply need to pay some extra attention to their nutrient intake from food, as well as potential useful supplements. This article covers everything from what vitamin B12 is to how to get enough of it while following a vegetarian or plant-based diet.


What is vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient that plays various different roles in the body. For example, it contributes to red blood cell and DNA formation, supports normal function of the immune system, and promotes normal energy-yielding metabolism. Additionally, it helps support normal psychological and nervous system function. These are all crucial elements of overall health and wellbeing, which means that vitamin B12 is key to general wellness. 


What are the natural dietary sources of vitamin B12?

There are many natural sources of vitamin B12. Unfortunately for vegans and vegetarians, most of these are derived from animal products. For example, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products all contain vitamin B12. 

While plant-based foods don’t naturally contain vitamin B12, there are some plant foods that are fortified with it. These include products like meat substitutes, nutritional yeast, and some cereals, among various others. Product labels can help vegans and vegetarians identify vitamin B12 fortified foods to help increase their intake of this crucial nutrient.


Why do vegans and vegetarians often lack B12?

As mentioned above, natural sources of vitamin B12 perfectly match the list of food and drinks that vegans and vegetarians cut out of their diets. This means they have to find new ways to get enough vitamin B12 into their system to live a healthy life. Otherwise, people following these diets may end up with symptoms of low vitamin B12 levels, and in more severe cases, may develop a vitamin B12 deficiency. Symptoms can include tiredness, mouth ulcers, brain fog, low mood, muscle weakness, and lack of energy, among numerous others. 


How can vegans and vegetarians increase their vitamin B12 intake?

While others can pretty safely assume that they’re getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet alone, vegans and vegetarians need to put more thought and effort into it. Luckily, there are a couple of simple options that can help people following these diets get the right levels of this nutrient in their system.


Dietary adjustments

The first thing worth considering when looking to increase vitamin B12 is where it can be incorporated into the diet. For example, vegetarians can get some of their vitamin B12 from dairy and eggs. However, vegans will have an even more difficult time getting vitamin B12 in their diet as these items are also off the menu. Searching for foods fortified with vitamin B12, like dairy and meat substitutes, some bread products, and nutritional yeast, can help boost vitamin B12 intake. This is also worthwhile for vegetarians so they don’t have to rely solely on dairy and eggs for this purpose. 



One of the easiest ways for vegans and vegetarians to ensure they’re getting enough vitamin B12 is by taking a supplement. This may come in the form of a multivitamin that’s high in vitamin B12, or a complex that contains a specific range of vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients, including vitamin B12. There are also simple vitamin B12 supplements that primarily focus on this nutrient. The best option depends on each individual’s body and if there are any other areas of concern. For example, someone looking to supplement vitamin B12 who also has low iron may take an iron complex that’s high in vitamin B12.


Key takeaways

Here are the key points to remember about vitamin B12 and how vegans and vegetarians can ensure they consume enough of it:

  • Vitamin B12 is a key nutrient that plays multiple essential roles in the body.
  • People who follow vegetarian and vegan diets are more susceptible to low vitamin B12 levels than those who eat meat and other animal products.
  • Most natural food sources of vitamin B12 come from dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, and fish, none of which vegans can eat and only some of which vegetarians can eat. 
  • Some plant based foods are fortified with vitamin B12, and vegans and vegetarians should seek out these options to help increase their vitamin B12 consumption.
  • Supplements that are high in vitamin B12 can help vegans and vegetarians balance their levels of this important nutrient.
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