You probably know that vegetarians have to seek out alternatives to meat sources of protein and iron, and that vegans need to find non-dairy calcium options. But you may not have thought about the need for vegetarians to manage their Vitamin B12 intake. B12 is an important vitamin that’s involved in maintaining healthy nerve cells, creating energy, and producing DNA. Because Vitamin B12 is found only in animal foods and fortified foods, vegetarians – and especially vegans – are at risk for deficiency of this critical B vitamin. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to fatigue, constipation, weight loss, and confusion, among other symptoms.
The recommended daily requirement of Vitamin B12 per day is 2.4 mcg for adults 19 years and up.
Vegetarian Sources of Vitamin B12
Vegetarians who consume dairy and eggs can get their B12 from those foods.
Dairy and Egg Sources of B12
- Cheese contains about 1.4 mcg to 3.6 mcg of Vitamin B12 per cup.
- Milk provides about 1.2 to 1.4 mcg per cup.
- Like milk, yogurt’s B12 content varies with the amount of milk fat; it contains about 1.2-1.3 mcg per cup.
- One egg contains about 0.36 mcg of Vitamin B12.
Vegan Sources of Vitamin B12
Vegans need to get their B12 from fortified foods or a B12 supplement.
- Meat alternatives: Soy-based vegetarian “meat” has 3.6 mcg per 3 oz serving, and fortified tofu has about 2 mcg per 3 oz serving.
- Enriched soy milk: Look for brands with about 2.9 mcg per 1 cup serving.
- Fortified cereals: Fortified cereals are an excellent source of Vitamin B12 – offering up to 25 mcg or so per cup. Many popular breakfast cereals are fortified, so check the label of your current favorite.
- Nutritional yeast: Nutritional yeast may contain Vitamin B12. Be sure to check the label if you’re using nutritional yeast to meet your B12 needs.
The Bottom Line
Vitamin B12 is a very important nutrient that vegetarians and vegans need to seek out. Ensure you eat a range of foods from the lists here to maintain an adequate intake and avoid Vitamin B12 anemia. If food intake is insufficient, a sublingual Vitamin B12 supplement may be needed.