Top 10 Vitamin B12 Foods for Vegetarians

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Top 10 Vitamin B12 Foods for Vegetarians

Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin needed for proper development and functioning of the nervous system. (1)

A deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to weight loss, constipation, and anemia. Numbness (tingling) in hands and feet may also occur in addition to depression, dementia, and memory loss. (2)

Vitamin B12 is created by bacteria and can only be found naturally in animal products. (1) Fortunately, a wide variety of plant foods are fortified with vitamin B12. Furthermore dairy, eggs, and cheese are all good natural sources of vitamin B12.

Vegetarian foods high in vitamin B12 include fortified cereals, fortified fruit juices, fortified tofu, yogurt, milk, cheese, eggs, vitamin water, and whey powder. The daily value (DV) for vitamin B12 is 2.4mcg per day. In 2016, this was reduced from 6mcg per day, because the scientific evidence shows that 2.4mcg is enough to prevent symptoms of deficiency in the majority of people. (3) For this reason, the percentage of the daily value (%DV) may appear lower on outdated product labels.

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, so the body is able to easily get rid of excess. This is why it's considered a safe vitamin, and there is no established upper limit for consumption. However, extremely high doses can cause bothersome symptoms.

The liver stores enough vitamin B12 to last for several years, which is why it usually takes a long time for a person to realize that they have a deficiency of this vitamin. (4)

Below are the top 10 vegetarian foods highest in vitamin B12. For more see the lists cereals high in vitamin B12, and cheeses high in vitamin B12.

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Printables list of the top 10 Vegetarian Sources of Vitamin B12.

How Much Vitamin B12 Do You Need?

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for Vitamin B12 ranges from 0.4 to 2.8mcg per day. The daily value (DV) for vitamin B12 is 2.4mcg per day. (3) In 2016, this was reduced from 6mcg per day, because the scientific evidence shows that 2.4mcg is enough to prevent symptoms of deficiency in the majority of people.

Life StageRDA
0-6 months old0.4mcg
7-12 months old0.5mcg
1-3 years old0.9mcg
4-8 years old1.2mcg
9-13 years old1.8mcg
14-18 years old2.4mcg
19-50 years old2.4mcg
50+ years old2.4mcg
9-13 years old1.8mcg
14-18 years old2.4mcg
19-50 years old2.4mcg
50+ years old2.4mcg
14-18 years old2.6mcg
18+ years old2.6mcg
14-18 years old2.8mcg
18+ years old2.8mcg
*The amounts for children less than 12 months old is the adequate intake (AI) not RDA.
Source: Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin B12.

Which form of vitamin B12 is best?

Vitamin B12 comes in multiple different forms, including methylcobalamin, cyanocobalamin, and hydroxycobalamin. All of these forms are bioavailable, and are converted within the body to active forms of the vitamin. Some evidence does suggest that cyanocobalamin may be somewhat more bioavailable than other forms. (5)

What is intrinsic factor and how does it affect vitamin B12 absorption?

Intrinsic factor is a protein produced in the stomach, which is required for the absorption of vitamin B12. This limits the amount of B12 that can be absorbed in the digestive tract. For people whose bodies don't make enough intrinsic factor, very little vitamin B12 can be absorbed. (6)

Because of this, many people receive their supplemental B12 through injections, to bypass the digestive tract and allow the vitamin to enter the bloodstream directly. (7)

Another option is to take very high doses of oral vitamin B12, which has also been shown to be an effective way to address vitamin B12 deficiency in people with pernicious anemia. (8)

Further, an intranasal vitamin B12 gel also exists as a way to boost vitamin B12 levels. Talk to your doctor or primary care provider about this method, if you prefer it over injections. (9)

How much Vitamin B12 is in Brewer's Yeast?

Brewer's yeast is used to brew beer and can be used to make bread. The amount of vitamin B12 in yeast is inconsistent, so it cannot be relied on as a source of vitamin B12 unless it is fortified. Interestingly, a 12oz can of beer does contain 0.07mcg (or 3% of the DV) of the DV for vitamin B12.

How much vitamin B12 is in Dried Seaweed (Nori)?

Nori is the thin dried seaweed wrap typically used to make sushi rolls. Studies have found that nori nori seaweed contains up to 51.7mcg of vitamin B12 in 100 grams. (10) A sheet of nori typically weighs 1.25 grams so a single sheet would provide aabout 0.5mcg of vitamin B12 (8% DV).

While this sounds great, it is unlikely that nori can be relied upon to be a consistent B12 source. While it does make a good addition to a balanced vegan diet, it should not be solely relied upon to provide a person's vitamin B12 needs.

How Much Vitamin B12 is in Mushrooms?

Most mushrooms do not accumulate vitamin B12 in their tissues, and so they're not a good dietary source of this vitamin. Certain mushrooms, including shiitake and lion's mane, have been found to contain B12. However, the levels of B12 in these mushrooms are relatively low, and it would take an unrealistically large amount of daily mushroom consumption to meet the dietary need for B12. (10)

What are the health benefits of Vitamin B12?

  • Protection Against Heart Disease - Adequate levels of vitamins B12, B6, and B9 have been shown to lower levels of a protein in the blood known as homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine have been shown to cause damage to blood vessels, and lowering the levels of this substance can help to improve blood vessel function, which in turn may boost cardiovascular health and decrease the risk of heart attacks. (11)
  • Protect and Repair DNA to Reduce Cancer Risk and Slow Aging - Absorption of vitamin B12 and Folate (B9) is essential for DNA metabolism and maintenance, which may reduce the risk of cancer and slow down aging. (12)
  • Protect Against Dementia and Cognitive Decline - Vitamin B12 is important for nervous system functions, including cognition and memory. Some studies have linked low vitamin B12 levels and high homocysteine levels to an increased risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. In people with vitamin B12 deficiency, replacing B12 has been shown to lead to memory improvements in many cases. Although more research is needed to confirm this association, it's currently believed that maintaining adequate vitamin B12 levels could help to reduce the risk of dementia. (13)
  • Energy and Endurance - Vitamin B12 deficiency leads to anemia, low energy, and weakness. (1) Adequate levels of vitamin B12 are necessary to maintain normal energy levels. However, in people who have normal B12 levels, taking extra B12 has not been shown to improve athletic performance or lead to increased energy levels. (14)

Does Cyanocobalamin Contain Cyanide?

Cyanocobalamin is a common synthetic form of vitamin B12 used in supplements and fortified foods. There is a cyanide molecule present in cyanocobalamin. However, the amount of cyanide present even in a very high dose of vitamin B12 is so tiny that it's inconsequential. The cyanide is quickly excreted in the urine without negative effects. (15)

If vitamin B12 is only found in plant foods where do cows get vitamin B12 from?

Cows are not given any form of synthetic vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is naturally synthesized by bacteria that flourish in certain animals although not in humans. (1) Cows and other ruminants (such as sheep and goats) ferment their food in 4 different stomachs as they digest it. The bacteria involved in this fermentation also create vitamin B12, and this vitamin then enters the animal's flesh and milk.

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Data Sources and References

  1. Allen LH. Vitamin B12 in health and disease Adv Exp Med Biol. 1994;352:173-86. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4899-2575-6_14. 7832046
  2. Molloy AM, Kirke PN, Brody LC, Scott JM, Mills JL. Effects of vitamin B12 and folate deficiency on brain development in children Food Nutr Bull. 2008 Jun;29(2 Suppl):S101-11; discussion S112-5. doi: 10.1177/15648265080292S114. 18709885
  3. U.S.FDA - Daily Value on the New Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels
  4. Bastrup-Madsen P. Toxicity induced by multiple high doses of vitamin B12 during pernicious anemia treatment: a case report Scand J Gastroenterol Suppl. 1974;29:89-95. 4530460
  5. Selinger E, Kühn T, Procházková M, And?l M, Gojda J. Efficacy of supplementation with methylcobalamin and cyancobalamin in maintaining the level of serum holotranscobalamin in a group of plant-based diet (vegan) adults Nutrients. 2019 Dec 10;11(12):3019. doi: 10.3390/nu11123019. 31835560
  6. Green R, Allen LH, Bjørke-Monsen AL, Brito A, Guéant JL, Miller JW, Molloy AM, Nexo E, Stabler S, Toh BH, Ueland PM, Yajnik C. Vitamin B12 deficiency Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2017 Jul 20;3:17054. doi: 10.1038/nrdp.2017.54. 28726793
  7. Oo TH. Vitamin B12 deficiency - A 21st century perspective Clin Med (Lond). 2015 Aug;15(4):402. doi: 10.7861/clinmedicine.15-4-402. 26407399
  8. Andrès E, Zulfiqar AA, Serraj K, Vogel T, Kaltenbach G. Oral Vitamin B12 Replacement for the Treatment of Pernicious Anemia J Clin Med. 2018 Sep 26;7(10):304. doi: 10.3390/jcm7100304. 30261596
  9. Serefhanoglu S, Aydogdu I, Kekilli E, Ilhan A, Kuku I. Patient acceptance of intranasal cobalamin gel for vitamin B12 replacement therapy Ann Hematol. 2008 May;87(5):391-5. doi: 10.1007/s00277-007-0406-3. Epub 2007 Nov 9. 17992530
  10. Watanabe F, Yabuta Y, Tanioka Y, Bito T. Vitamin B??-containing plant food sources for vegetarians J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Jul 17;61(28):6769-75. doi: 10.1021/jf401545z. Epub 2013 Jul 2. 23782218
  11. Larsson SC, Traylor M, Markus HS. Homocysteine, B vitamins, and cardiovascular disease: a Mendelian randomization study Ann Neurol. 2019 Apr;85(4):495-501. doi: 10.1002/ana.25440. Epub 2019 Mar 11. 30785218
  12. Fenech M. The role of folic acid and Vitamin B12 in genomic stability of human cells Mutat Res. 2012 May 1;733(1-2):21-33. doi: 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2011.11.003. Epub 2011 Nov 7. 22093367
  13. Malouf M, Grimley EJ, Areosa SA. Low Vitamin B12 Levels: An Underestimated Cause Of Minimal Cognitive Impairment And Dementia Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(4):CD004514. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004514. 14584018
  14. Bourre JM. Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence J Nutr Health Aging. 2006 Sep-Oct;10(5):377-85. 17066209
  15. Ramezanpour Ahangar E, Annamaraju P. Cyanocobalamin 2023 May 29. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan–. 32491564
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