Can you get enough vitamin B12 on a vegan diet?

Veganuary is in full swing! With ethical, environmental, and health benefits attached to a vegan diet it’s easy to see why record numbers are taking part this January. Plus, it’s easier than ever to stick to — vegan cheese anyone?

A well-planned vegan diet includes lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses, and whole grains — essentially minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods. But there’s a catch — it can be really, really difficult to get enough vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin that’s only naturally found in animal-based products. If you don’t get enough it can lead to a deficiency and have serious side effects like anaemia, nerve damage, and depression. But don’t worry, we’ve got some tips to help you make sure that doesn’t happen.

Watch out for things that sound like they’re too good to be true

Some people claim that foods like tempeh, spirulina, and nori are good plant-based sources of vitamin B12. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Unless a plant-based food has been fortified with vitamin B12, don’t count on it as a reliable source.

Reap the benefits of nutritional yeast

Nutritional yeast, or “nooch”, is similar to the yeast used in baking and brewing. It has a cheesy, nutty flavour (great to satisfy any non-vegan cravings) and best of all it’s full of vitamin B12. Unfortified nutritional yeast will have some vitamin B12 (yeast cells naturally produce it as they grow) but it’s usually not enough so make sure to buy the fortified kind. And read the label as the nutrient levels can vary between brands.

Got ‘milk’?

In the last few years, non-dairy milk has exploded onto the market. From oat milk to coconut milk and hazelnut milk you really have your pick — in fact, 25% of the milk in Waitrose is now non-dairy! These can be a good way to get in some much-needed vitamin B12. Again, always read the label to make sure you choose a brand of milk that’s been fortified with vitamin B12.

Consider a supplement

Of course, it’s optimal to get all the nutrients you need from food. But for some people it’s not always possible and in these cases it’s definitely worth considering a supplement. A vitamin B12 supplement is usually available in the form cyanocobalmin — a form your body can easily use. Or you can opt for a hydroxocobalamin injection from your GP that will keep your vitamin B12 levels topped up for three months.

Take measures into your own hands

If you’re still worried you’re not getting enough you can measure your vitamin B12 levels with a blood test. An active vitamin B12 test is the best way to measure your levels as this tells you the amount that’s actually available for your body to use.