From duckweed to quinoa sprout extract, B12 claims are everywhere. Vegan Society Dietitian Heather Russell explains why we recommend fortified foods and supplementation as sources of this nutrient.
Plants can produce B vitamins such as folate, but, importantly, B12 is an exception. This nutrient is manufactured by microorganisms. Therefore, we should be suspicious of any claims suggesting that B12 is produced by plants (or animals).
In over 75 years of vegan experimentation, only fortified foods and supplements have proven themselves as reliable sources. These options are practical as well as safe, although it would be easier to obtain an adequate intake from fortified foods if higher amounts were added to foods like plant milk.
Before recommending anything else, we would need good quality evidence. If you’re looking at research around B12 sources, it’s good to be aware that many testing methods cannot distinguish the true nutrient from inactive analogues, which can interfere with actual B12 activity. Furthermore, the presence of active B12 does not necessarily mean that humans can obtain the consistent amounts required for long-term health. In a nutshell, a safe source must have been proven to reliably provide adequate quantities of active B12 and maintain B12 status in humans.
There is evidence suggesting that a significant proportion of vegans in the UK do not consume adequate amounts of B12 from fortified foods or supplementation. Data from the EPIC-Oxford study suggests that half were B12-deficient, suggesting that there is a need for support with nutritional planning. If you’re not familiar with The Vegan Society’s guidance, it is summarised here.
We can be good advocates for our cause by looking after our own health and that of others. So, let’s spread far and wide the message that the only safe sources of B12 for vegans are fortified foods and supplementation.
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