Veganism - Plant Power

B12 or not B12?

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Here’s the skinny on vitamin B12 and food fortification – spoiler, it has nothing to do with forts!”

Ah yes, B12, the vegan nemesis – apparently…

New scaremongering tactics by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) about B12 is causing unnecessary concern that without animal derived B12 (ie eating animals) you will suffer acne, loss of energy, weak nails, and basically become a bloated, gassy mess. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternative ways to get B12 into your diet that don’t involve industrialised farming. Here’s the skinny on vitamin B12…

 

B12 is one of 13 ‘essential vitamins’ our bodies need to function correctly. The 13 essential vitamins we need are vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamins: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyroxidine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12).

 

The four fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E, and K – are stored in the body’s fatty tissues. The other nine vitamins are water-soluble and therefore must be replenished regularly because they are removed from the body in your urine. Vitamin B12 is the only water-soluble vitamin that is stored in the liver, and can be stored for up to four years.

 

The body requires B12 for metabolism, maintenance of the nervous system and production of red blood cells. It appears naturally in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products and fortified prepared foods (foods that have nutrients added that don’t naturally occur in the food – cereal, yogurts, and milk). Symptoms of a B12 deficiency include tingling, numbness, weakness, imbalance and anaemia.

 

According to the NHS, the daily recommended requirement of B12 is 1-2 micrograms (mg) a day. Those following a plant-based diet only get B12 through fortified food or supplementation. Fortunately, to avoid supplementation there are a growing number of B12 fortified foods widely available. However, it may still be wise to take a supplement to guarantee enough B12 is consumed.

 

Here’s a list of foods I regularly eat which are fortified with B12:

  • Engevita (nutritional yeast) – 2.2 μg (mg) per 5g serving
  • Marmite – 1.2 0.5 μg (mg) per 8g serving
  • alpro oat (milk) – 0.38 μg (mg) per 100g
  • alpro plain (yogurt) – 0.38 μg (mg) per 100g
  • Violife (cheese) slices – 0.5 μg (mg) per 20g slice
  • Pure sunflower (spread) – 0.5 μg (mg) per 10g serving

Generally speaking, fortified foods can be found in the following product categories:

  • non-dairy milk
  • meat substitutes
  • breakfast cereals
  • nutritional yeast
  • vegan spreads

Fortified foods are those that have nutrients added to them that don’t naturally occur in the food. The fortification of food started back in the 1920’s to improve intake of vitamins and minerals. These foods are meant to improve nutrition and add health benefits. You may have seen that milk is often fortified with vitamin D, and calcium may be added to cereals.

 

Nutritional yeast is another fortified food, but what the hell is it, I hear you quaff into your coffee (which btw isn’t fortified). It’s a dried yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae (bear with me) – it’s the same type of yeast that’s used to bake bread and brew beer (see, not so bad). It’s much more appetising than it sounds, promise, and adds a creamy, cheesy flavour to dishes which is helpful when you don’t eat cheese. Along with B12 it serves-up the rest of the B-Vitamin family as well folic acid and zinc. It comes as flakes, granules or powder and can be found in the spice section, or bulk bins of health food stores. Really versatile, I like to:

  • sprinkle it on popcorn
  • add to vegan cheese sauces and vegan cheese
  • mix into mashed potatoes
  • mix with spices and a tiny bit of water for scrambled tofu
  • stir into soup
  • add to pasta dishes
  • put it on salads

Would love to know how you guys are using nutritional yeast in your recipes…

If you’re considering switching to a plant-based diet then the Vegan Society and NHS provide information on B12, and supplementation.

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