Vitamin B12 plays an active role in keeping many important parts of the human body working correctly, including red blood cells, nerves, and DNA. Humans can’t live without this nutrient, and a vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to fatigue, dementia, and even a type of anemia. As such, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends adults consume 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day with pregnant and lactating women requiring even more.
Found almost entirely in animal products, vitamin B12 is one of the most important nutrients vegetarians need to prioritize. Because it’s nearly impossible to obtain vitamin B12 from plant-based foods, many vegetarians opt to take a supplement or daily multivitamin that contains vitamin B12. (Some websites claim certain seaweeds and mushrooms provide sources of vitamin B12, but scientific research has yet to confirm this.)
It’s possible for vegetarians to consume enough vitamin B12 in their diets, however, if they pay close attention to what they eat. By combining the vegetarian foods that naturally contain vitamin B12 with B12-fortified foods, you can meet your daily requirement.
Read on to learn more about six vegetarian sources of vitamin B12 and how to ensure you consume enough of this important nutrient every day.
1. Milk and Cheese
A cup of skim milk contains 0.9 micrograms of vitamin B12 while a quarter of a cup of crumbled feta cheese contains 0.6 micrograms and a slice of cheddar contains o.2 micrograms. Two or three servings of milk or cheese each day could provide most of the vitamin B12 you need. Dairy, perhaps surprisingly, offers a superior source of vitamin B12 than meat with the exception of organ meat. One advantage is the vitamin B12 content of milk and cheese remains constant across products while the level of this nutrient varies in meat based on the cut, the preparation method, and what the animal ate. Humans also seem to absorb more vitamin B12 from milk than from fish.
One cup of plain yogurt contains 0.9 micrograms of vitamin B12 — along with probiotics thought to help increase vitamin absorption and protect against deficiencies. However, not all yogurts provide equal nutritional value. The best options often include Greek yogurt and other full-fat yogurts. Check labels and choose a yogurt high in nutrients, low in sugar, and free of artificial sweeteners.
3. Fortified Cereal
Food manufacturers fortify nearly all breakfast cereals with multiple vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12. The original Cheerios™ cereal, for example, contains 25 percent of the RDA for vitamin B12 in one serving. A single serving of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes™ cereal contains the same amount. Combine cereal with milk and you’ll meet about one third of your daily vitamin B12 needs after breakfast. Be sure to check labels, however, and avoid high-sugar cereals.
4. Fortified Nutritional Yeast
Popular among vegans and people with lactose intolerance, nutritional yeast provides a complete protein that can add a cheesy flavor to a variety of dishes. Importantly, nutritional yeast is not the same as baker’s yeast or brewer’s yeast. Just a dash of fortified nutritional yeast will allow you to meet your daily vitamin B12 needs. For example, Bragg™ premium nutritional yeast seasoning contains 563 percent of the RDA for adults. Not all nutritional yeasts are fortified, however, so be sure to check labels before buying.
5. Fortified Non-Dairy Milk
Vegetarians with lactose intolerance or who avoid cow’s milk for other reasons will be happy to learn that manufacturers fortify most non-dairy milks with multiple vitamins, including vitamin B12. Common non-dairy milks include:
- Soy milk
- Almond milk
- Rice milk
- Coconut milk
- Cashew milk
- Oat milk
- Hemp milk
Most fortified milks contain 25 percent of an adult’s vitamin B12 RDA per serving. However, be sure to read labels before buying because some brands don’t offer fortified versions of their non-dairy milks. Sugar content also varies quite a bit from one milk to another, so keep that in mind as you choose a healthy, non-dairy milk.
Getting Enough Vitamin B12 as a Vegetarian
Consuming your RDA of vitamin B12 as a vegetarian is possible through foods alone. Use the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Composition Database nutrient search or the SELFNutritionData database to determine the vitamin B12 content of foods not listed here. However, you may struggle to consume enough vitamin B12 if you’re unable to take time to plan meals and track your intake. If you’re unable to consume enough of this important nutrient from food for whatever reason, consider taking a daily supplement. Daily vitamin B12 supplements provide a relatively inexpensive option to help you meet your RDA. Check the packaging to ensure it says “vegetarian” or “vegan.” Without that specific labeling, the supplement most likely contains some animal products.