Since becoming a vegan, I hadn't paid as much attention to the need for Vitamin B-12 from an external source as I should have. I'm on it now!!! Vitamin B-12 can only be manufactured by fungi and bacteria. Soil micro-organisms used to produce this nutrient, and transfer it into our food more when we were a hunter-gatherer society. However, the natural micro-biome has been largely destroyed due to modern over-fertilization and pesticide use. Adding in the our society's obsession of hyper-clean produce in stores and even farmer's markets, we have lost this natural source of Vitamin B-12 in the plant kingdom.
Vitamin B-12, can be found in animal based products like meat, eggs, fish, dairy. The bacteria from the soil is able to be stored in the animals tissues, and transferred to humans when they eat them. Because of the lack of animal products in their diet, vegans are highly susceptible to Vitamin B-12 deficiency. Adults older than 50 are also at risk, as nutrition and digestive function often begins to deteriorate as people age. Mushrooms, as they are fungi, produce and contain Vitamin B-12, as do fermented foods (bacteria) like tempeh and miso. Nutritional yeast is a good source as well. Nutritional yeast can provide one of the best vegan sources of Vitamin B-12, supplying 150% of daily needs in 3 tbsp (this is from the brand KAL).
Why do you need Vitamin B-12? Vitamin B-12 is essential for the formation of hemoglobin, the protein responsible for red blood cells to carry oxygen. Without enough Vitamin B-12, hemoglobin cannot form, and often leads to anemia. The presentation of anemia is exhaustion. Your body isn't getting enough oxygen to supply vital muscles and organs, and therefore cannot perform basic metabolic activities. B-12 helps in cardiovascular support and DNA production, and a deficiency can lead to cardiovascular disease . Without this vitamin, you can have neurologic issues as well. If the brain isn't supplied with enough oxygen, its function is greatly diminished. Nerve cells need the supply of this vitamin as well, and without it, breakdown of nervous tissue begins to occur. Side affects can include fogginess, neurological pain, and numbness in hands and feet. Osteoporosis, or the breakdown of bone health, is also more common if this nutrient goes missing. For more info on Vitamin B-12 click here.
It is HIGHLY recommended that if you lead a vegan life you should take a Vitamin B-12 supplement. How much do you need? There are various levels mentioned. Many multivitamins state the daily percentage they provide. This can be misleading. These numbers assume the body assimilates all that is taken in, which is not usually the case. If you are vegan, it is often recommended that you take a Vitamin B-complex or a Vitamin B-12 supplement. It is recommend that you obtain 2,500 mcg/week of Vitamin B-12 specifically. To take a sublingual (under the tongue), a daily tablet/capsule, or a once a week dose, is your choice. For an excellent video on Vitamin B-12 deficiency, check out Dr. Gregor's video on www.nutritionfacts.org
If you're looking for a recipe that uses nutritional yeast, try my tofu ricotta, that you can find in my Vegan Lasagna! Perfect to use on noodles or top on zucchini or eggplant and bake it up!
Remember-when someone tells you that a vegan diet can't provide all of the nutrition that you need, agree with them. It's true-we lack Vitamin B-12. However, I'd also add, a plant-based diet also doesn't supply an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, & cholesterol!
-Jessica of www.gardenfreshfoodie.com