A few days ago, Bikya Masr, a blog we frequently read, posted an article in their new ‘food’ section called Top Ten Vegan Health Tips (originally from another blog called ChooseVeg.com). This article covered some very important points that we have been planning to discuss here at Alf Hana. In fact, we have already discussed Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids here and protein; two that were discussed in the article.
In this post, we would like to address one of the most talked about nutrients in the vegan community: B12.
What is B12?
B12 is a vitamin that helps create healthy blood cells. In fact, it protects a fatty material that coats your nerves and makes it possible to send messages (or electrical signals) between nerve cells.
Where does B12 come from?
B12 comes from bacteria. It is not available from plant sources. Foods that come from animals are rich in B12 because bacteria living in the animals’ intestine make B12. Thus, if plant foods are well cleaned, it is very unlikely to find B12 in a vegan diet. (This is different for the other kinds of vegetarians, as they may still consume some animal products like milk or cheese, in which case they get plenty of Vitamin B12.)
How much B12 do we need?
We need very little B12 in our diet. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 2 micrograms a day. (That’s a tiny tiny tiny amount.) In fact, our bodies are so good at storing and recycling B12 that some sources claim that it is possible to have enough B12 stored in our liver to last up to 3 years.
If we don’t get the right amounts of B12, all kinds of symptoms may result, even though it may take quite a while for these symptoms to appear. Because B12 is so essential to the nervous system, the impacts of B12 deficiency is very serious and can result in permanent damage. Symptoms include:
- decreased sensation
- difficulty walking
- loss of bowel or bladder control
- memory loss
- general weakness
What are vegan sources of B12?
Most vegans get their B12 from supplements or fortified foods. Fortified foods include cereals, nondairy milks or other speciality foods like nutritional yeast or meat analogues. Unfortunately, in Egypt, it is rare to find nutritional yeast or meat analogues (once in a blue moon…). As for nondairy milks: West Soy, which is commonly available, is not fortified with B12, while Silk, on the other hand, is.
You can find a number of vegan cereals in Egypt that are fortified with B12. Read the label to be sure. Our favorite is Fitness (Nestle).
To be absolutely sure, however, that you get enough B12, most health professionals suggest that you take a Vitamin B12 supplement. Although we only need 2 micrograms of Vitamin B12 daily, you can find B12 (or cyanocobalamin) in 1000 microgram capsules or sublingual tablets. We buy our B12 from Seif pharmacy, but it should be available anywhere. We usually buy sublingual because it’s easy to take. As far as we know both are completely vegan and contain no gelatin.
Vitamin B12 Capsules
Vitamin B12 capsules
As a caveat, we want to remind you that information we provide here is from research and years of being vegan. We are not health professionals. If you need more information about your diet, ask a doctor or licensed nutritionist.
For more information:
Vitamin B12: Jack Norris, VeganHealth.org
Don’t Vegetarians Have Trouble Getting Enough Vitamin B12? : Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine