The Notorious Question
A question that vegans will be all too familiar with, ‘What about B12?’ or ‘We need to eat meat so we can get B12, right?’. This is something that often leads a lot of people to assume that a plant based diet is incomplete or ‘unnatural’, for many assume it shouldn’t require fortified foods or supplements in order to provide optimal health. In this article I’m going to explain the reasoning behind B12 supplementation and clear the air with regards to a plant based diet being ‘incomplete’.
Where Does B12 Come From?
First of all, B12 doesn’t just magically appear in animal flesh. Many years ago, long before the hygiene standards of today, we got all the B12 we needed from plant based foods and the water we drank. However, with the strict hygiene standards and applications used in today’s farming, B12 is much harder to get in its native form. Why is this? B12 is actually produced by microbes that blanket the earth, hence why we were able to get all we needed when we weren’t eating clean food. Due to how thoroughly we clean our foods today, both through methods used by farmers and also our own at home, most of us no longer get B12 from natural food sources. By consuming animal products, we’re getting a secondary source of B12 (many animals are supplemented with B12 now anyway).
Do Vegans (and others) Need to Supplement B12 and How Do I Make Sure I Get Enough?
Yes, if you don’t consume animal products then you should be supplementing B12 to ensure you’re getting the required amount. It’s extremely easy and cheap to get all the B12 you need, simply in tablet form or via a spray (I personally use a spray as studies show it’s better absorbed than tablets). Many plant based foods are fortified with B12 anyway, so providing you’re including a range of foods containing this added vitamin then you won’t have a problem even without supplementation, but I would still advise supplementing just to be on the safe side. B12 deficiency can be extremely detrimental to one’s health as it has a number of important roles in the body, but yet there are plenty of people that consume an omnivorous diet (meat etc.) who are B12 deficient, so it isn’t something exclusive to vegans and supplementation may be necessary for people with varying diets. The easiest way to check your levels would be through a blood test, in which you can see if you’re getting too little or possibly even too much and can then adjust your intake accordingly.
The Benefits of Supplementing B12
If you choose to cut out / cut down on animal products and get more of your B12 from supplementation then you can rest assured you’re getting the benefits of this important vitamin without all the additional negatives that come from consuming animal products. You’ll be avoiding antibiotics and hormones often found in meat, reducing your saturated fat intake and lowering / eliminating animal protein consumption, for which there is more and more evidence supporting the detrimental effect this source of protein can have on your health. It is also worth noting that synthetic B12 is often better absorbed than it is from animal products.