The importance of vitamin B12 and how to get enough through diet alone

Why is vitamin B12 so important?

Vitamin B12 is an essential water-soluble vitamin that keeps the nerves healthy, and plays a role in the production of DNA and red blood cells. A deficiency in this vitamin can result in anaemia, and cause damage to the brain, nerves, bones, heart and other organs when sustained in the long-term.

Therefore, it is important to ensure that you are getting enough vitamin B12 in your diets to stay healthy, particularly if you are at risk of deficiency. This includes women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people who follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet as vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal produce. As a guideline, the reference daily intake (RDI) is approximately 2.4mcg, although it is high for women who are breastfeeding or pregnant.

How do I increase my vitamin B12 intake through diet alone?

There are a number of foods that are high in vitamin B12, including:

  • Clams: You can get a huge 7,000% of the RDI by eating 20 small clams. Additionally, clams are a great source of antioxidants and a lean source of protein.
  • Liver and kidneys: organ meats are extremely high in vitamin B12 as well as other nutrients such as selenium, copper, and vitamins A and B2. Lamb meat is particularly high in vitamin B12, providing over 3,000% of the RDI per 100g.
  • Beef, liver, and chicken provide over 100% of the RDI per 100g
  • Fish such as trout, salmon, tuna fish can also all provide over 100% of the RDI per 100g.
  • Eggs: two large eggs can provide about half of the RDI.
  • Milk and other dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese can also provide a good amount of vitamin B12.

Including the foods mentioned above as an integral part of your diet can help you ensure you are getting enough vitamin B12. You can check food labels to ensure your intake is in line with the RDI.

Can I get enough vitamin B12 on a vegetarian or vegan diet?

As vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal produce, it can be difficult for vegetarians and vegans to get enough of the vitamin through diet alone. However, there are a number of ways that vitamin B12 intake can be increased, such as:

  • Eating fortified foods: You can increase your vitamin B12 intake with foods fortified in vitamin B12 such as fortified cereals, plant-based milks, dairy-free yoghurts, fruit juice and other common vegan diet ingredients such as nutritional yeast, tofu and margarine. The amount of vitamin B12 provided by fortified foods vary greatly depending on the product chosen, therefore it is worth checking the label if you are buying this type of food for vitamin B12 purposes. It is also essential to note that such products are not always healthy, particularly fortified cereals as they can contain a lot of added sugars.
  • Supplementation: As it is difficult to gain a high enough vitamin B12 intake through diet alone on a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is recommended to use supplements to make up for the deficit. Vitamin B12 supplements are vastly available and can be found in various forms such as gummies, liquids, tablets and capsules. You should check with your GP before starting any kind of supplementation course in order to ensure it is right for you.