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The Best Vitamin B12 Foods for Vegetarians

Written by Daisy Whitbread, MScN
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The Best Vitamin B12 Foods for Vegetarians

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

Since vitamin B12 is naturally found only in animal foods, vegetarians are considered an at-risk group for vitamin B12 deficiency. Fortunately, a wide variety of plant foods are fortified with vitamin B12. Further 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 for vitamin B12 is 2.4μg per day, which has been recently reduced from 6μg per the USDA food labeling standards.

Since vitamin B12 is well regulated by the body, and stores of vitamin B12 can be accumulated in the liver, there is no tolerable upper intake for vitamin B12.

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

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Top 10 Vegetarian Vitamin B12 Foods

1 Fortified Cereals
Circle cereals
See the full list of 200 Cereals High in Vitamin B12.
2 Fortified Juice
A glass of orange juice

Specific brands high in vitamin B12

-250% DV in 1 cup (8oz) of Naked Blue Machine
-108% DV in 1 cup of Bolthouse Farms Daily Greens
-96% DV in 1 cup of Bolthouse Farms Berry Boost

As with all fortified foods, the quantity of vitamin B12 can vary, check labels for specific amounts, and see the full ranking of drinks high in vitamin B12.
3 Unsweetened Soymilk
Soymilk

Other Milk Substitutes High in Vitamin B12

-250% DV in a 16oz glass of fortified almond milk
-250% DV in a 16oz glass of fortified coconut milk drink
-126% DV in a 16oz glass of rice milk

The quantity of vitamin B12 can vary greatly, check product labels.
4 Fortified Tofu
A block of tofu
5 Low-Fat Milk
A glass of milk
See the full ranking of dairy high in vitamin B12.
6 Low-Fat Yogurt
Plain yogurt with raspberries
See the full ranking of dairy high in vitamin B12.
7 Swiss Cheese
A slice of swiss cheese
Swiss cheese provides the most vitamin B12 with 36% DV per ounce. On average, cheese provides 15% DV per ounce. See the full list of cheeses high in vitamin B12.
8 Vitamin Water
A glass of water
See the full ranking of drinks high in vitamin B12.
9 Eggs
Eggs
-63% DV in 1 cup of chopped hard-boiled eggs

Eggs are also a high protein food.
10 Whey Powder
Whey Powder

See All 132 Vegetarian Foods High in Vitamin B12

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How much Vitamin B12 do you need?

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for Vitamin B12 ranges from 0.4 to 2.8μg per day. The daily value for vitamin B12 is 2.4μg per day, which has been recently reduced from 6μg per the USDA food labeling standards.

AgeMaleFemalePregnancyLactation
0-6 months0.4 μg0.4 μg
7-12 months0.5 μg0.5 μg
1-3 years0.9 μg0.9 μg
4-8 years1.2 μg1.2 μg
9-13 years1.8 μg1.8 μg
14+ years2.4 μg2.4 μg2.6 μg2.8 μg
Source: Office of Dietary Supplements.

For the values above the amounts for children less than 12 months old is actually the adequate intake (AI) not RDA.

Which form vitamin B12 is best?

Cyanocobalamin is the most common synthetic form of vitamin B12. However, methylcobalamin may also be used. Current evidence does not suggest one form is better than the other, so any form of added B12 can be considered to be equally effective.(2)

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

Intrinsic factor can be thought of as "absorption chemicals" in your gut needed for absorption of vitamin B12. Your body only creates and secretes a limited amount of intrinsic factor. So despite consuming supplements or fortified foods, only limited amounts of vitamin B12 will be absorbed by your body. As such you might only absorb 10μg of a 500μg supplement.(2)

Due to this factor, sometimes vitamin B12 is injected directly into patients, as opposed to supplements taken orally. These vitamin B12 injections can be a faster way to boost vitamin B12 levels and alleviate symptoms from anemia.

How much Vitamin B12 is in Brewers Yeast?

Brewers yeast is used to brew beer and can be used to make bread. The amount of vitamin B12 in yeast is inconsistent at best, and so it can not be relied on as a source of vitamin B12 unless it is fortified. Interestingly a 12oz can of beer does contain 0.1μg or 1% 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. According to this article published in the journal Nutrients, dried nori seaweed contains up to 51.7μg of vitamin b12 in 100 grams. A sheet of nori typically weights 1.25 grams so a single sheet would provide about 0.5μg of vitamin B12 or 8% DV.

While this sounds great, it is unlikely that nori can be relied upon to be a consistent B12 source, so while it will make a good addition to a balanced vegan diet, it should not be solely relied upon. Further, nori seaweed is very high in iodine, and should be avoided by people with thyroid issues.

How Much Vitamin B12 is in Mushrooms?

Interestingly, some mushrooms do contain vitamin B12, but due to their inability to accumulate and store it, it is never a consistent or large amount.

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: homocysteine. Lower levelsof homocysteine has been shown to improve endothelial function, which in turn may boost cardiovascular health and decrease risk of heartattacks.(3-5)
  • 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 helps to prevent cancer and slow aging.(6)
  • Protect Against Dementia and Cognitive Decline - Lack of vitamin B12 increases homocysteine levels, which in turn decreases the body's ability to metabolize neurotransmitters (7) Due to limitations with creating long term controlled studies in human populations, no definite link between increased vitamin b12 levels and cognitive function has been found,(8-12) however several observational studies suggest increased homocysteine levels increase the incidence of Alzheimer's disease and dementia,(13-15) and low levels of vitamin B12 has been associated with cognitive decline.(16)
  • Alzheimer's Protection - A study has shown that a deficiency in Vitamin B12 and Folate (B9) can double the risk of Alzheimer's Disease.(17)
  • Energy and Endurance - A lack of vitamin B12 will lead to anemia and weakness. Adequate levels of vitamin B12 are necessary to maintain normal energy levels. Claims of vitamin B12 as an energy or atheletic enhancer remain unproven.(18)

Does Cyanocobalamin Contain Cyanide?

Cyanocobalamin is a common synthetic form of vitamin B12 used in supplements and fortified foods. While cyanide is present in this form of vitamin B12, it is not present in large enough amounts to be dangerous and is excreted by the body. Numerous other foods naturally contain cyanide, including almonds, lima beans, and spinach.

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 (most animals actually, just not humans). Cows, in particular, ferment their food in 4 different stomachs as they digest it. This fermentation lets the bacteria in cows create vitamin B12, and allows cows to store any excess vitamin B12.

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Data Sources and References

  1. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28.
  2. Office Of Dietary Supplements Fact Sheet
  3. Doshi SN, McDowell IF, Moat SJ, Payne N, Durrant HJ, Lewis MJ, Goodfellos J. Folic acid improves endothelial function in coronary artery disease via mechanisms largely independent of homocysteine. Circulation. 2002;105:22-6.
  4. Doshi SN, McDowell IFW, Moat SJ, Lang D, Newcombe RG, Kredean MB, Lewis MJ, Goodfellow J. Folate improves endothelial function in coronary artery disease. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2001;21:1196-1202.
  5. Wald DS, Bishop L, Wald NJ, Law M, Hennessy E, Weir D, McPartlin J, Scott J. Randomized trial of folic acid supplementation and serum homocysteine levels. Arch Intern Med 2001;161:695-700.
  6. A Paoloni-Giacobino, R Grimble, C Pichard. Genetics and nutrition. Clinical Nutrition Volume 22, Issue 5, Pages 429-435 (October 2003)
  7. Hutto BR. Folate and cobalamin in psychiatric illness. Compr Psychiatry 1997;38:305-14.
  8. Eussen SJ, de Groot LC, Joosten LW, Bloo RJ, Clarke R, Ueland PM, et al. Effect of oral vitamin B-12 with or without folic acid on cognitive function in older people with mild vitamin B-12 deficiency: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84:361-70.
  9. Hvas AM, Juul S, Lauritzen L, Nexo E, Ellegaard J. No effect of vitamin B-12 treatment on cognitive function and depression: a randomized placebo-controlled study. J Affect Disord 2004;81:269-73.
  10. Vital Trial Collaborative Group. Effect of vitamins and aspirin on markers of platelet activation, oxidative stress and homocysteine in people at high risk of dementia. J Intern Med 2003; 254:67-75.
  11. Kang JH, Cook N, Manson J, Buring JE, Albert CM, Grodstein F. A trial of B vitamins and cognitive function among women at high risk of cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;88:1602-10.
  12. Aisen PS, Schneider LS, Sano M, Diaz-Arrastia R, van Dyck CH, Weiner MF, et al.; Alzheimer Disease Cooperative Study. High-dose B vitamin supplementation and cognitive decline in Alzheimer disease: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2008 ;300:1774-83.
  13. Clarke R. B-vitamins and prevention of dementia. Proc Nutr Soc 2008;67:75-81.
  14. Schulz RJ. Homocysteine as a biomarker for cognitive dysfunction in the elderly. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2007;10:718-23.
  15. Seshadri S, Beiser A, Selhub J, Jacques PF, Rosenberg IH, D'Agostino RB, et al. Plasma homocysteine as a risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer's disease. N Engl J Med 2002;346:476-83.
  16. Clarke R, Birks J, Nexo E, Ueland PM, Schneede J, Scott J, et al. Low vitamin B-12 status and risk of cognitive decline in older adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:1384-91.
  17. Wang HX, Wahlin A, Basun H, Fastbom J, Winblad B, Fratiglioni L. Vitamin B12 and folate in relation to the development of Alzheimer?s disease. Neurology May 8, 2001 vol. 56 no. 9 1188-1194.
  18. Lukaski HC. Vitamin and mineral status: effects on physical performance. Nutrition 2004;20:632-44.

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