One of the criticisms levelled at the vegan diet is that it doesn’t supply enough vitamin B12 to meet most people’s needs. To defenders of the Standard Australian Diet (the SAD), this is proof positive that humans are ‘meant’ to eat animal products, because only flesh foods, dairy products and eggs contain reliable amounts of ‘true’ vitamin B12. (The compound found in spirulina, which is often touted as vitamin B12, is actually an inactive B12 analogue which can reduce absorption of ‘true’ B12.)
Now, I take the vitamin B12 issue seriously, because deficiency leads to very nasty consequences: macrocytic anaemia, which causes fatigue and weakness; neurological degeneration, which can result in dementia, depression and even mania, psychosis and schizophrenia-like illness; and elevated homocysteine, which increases the risk of stroke.
However, vitamin B12 deficiency affects up to 40% of the general population, with a high prevalence in the elderly (very few of whom are vegetarian or vegan!!!), so it is clearly not a problem confined to those eating plant-based diets.
The fact is, vitamin B12 is made by bacteria – either living on the roots of plants, in the guts of animals or in water – and it only occurs in animal-derived foods as a product of bacterial activity. If we drank water out of ponds, pulled vegetables out of the ground and ate them dirt and all, and generally weren’t so scrupulous with our food hygiene, we would all receive a perfectly adequate amount of vitamin B12 each day. But chlorination of town water supplies kills B12-producing bacteria, and our vegies reach us in a scrubbed state, so we have very little exposure to these natural sources of B12.
Anyone adopting a plant-based diet should ask their GP for a serum B12 test every year, and aim to keep their B12 level above 300 pmol/L. If you’re over 50, you should also have an annual B12 blood test, because our ability to absorb B12 declines with age.
The best B12 supplement is a sublingual (under the tongue) spray. These sprays are absorbed far better than tablets that you swallow. Sublingual sprays have been found to be just as effective as B12 injections, even for people suffering from pernicious anaemia (a condition in which secretion of intrinsic factor, which is necessary for B12 absorption in the gut, is impaired). So there’s no need for B12 injections, which contain preservatives that may cause adverse reactions.
A dose of 500 mcg of B12 per day, or 1000 mcg every second day, is sufficient for most adults; children require proportionately less depending on body weight.
I use and recommend BioCeuticals B12 spray which contains 500 mcg per spray. It is produced from bacteria which are grown on a cobalt-enriched medium. It’s just as ‘natural’ as the bacterial B12 found in flesh, dairy and eggs.
The bottom line: ensure your B12 level is sitting pretty by using a B12 supplement, then relax and enjoy your yummy, healthy vegan food. (Or eat dirt if you’d rather…)
Visit my website for more info and great recipes.