Absolutely everyone needs it
Everybody needs regular, reliable sources of vitamin B12. Reputable vitamin B12 supplements or fortified foods (see reference) are needed by all vegans, and also by EVERYONE over the age of 50, no matter their diet. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause nasty side effects such as anaemia, nerve damage, heart disease or pregnancy complications - so it's not worth taking any chances!
Remember, vegans using adequate amounts of fortified foods or B12 supplements are much less likely to suffer from B12 deficiency than the typical older meat eater. See here for more information.
Vegan sources of vitamin B12
Look for plant milks, yoghurts, breakfast cereals, spreads, yeast extracts and nutritional yeast products that are fortified with vitamin B12. For example, taking 300 ml of a fortified plant milk plus 30 g of a fortified breakfast cereal is a good meal to supply vitamin B12 (1.5 micrograms). Or try fortified yeast extract with fortified spread on whole-wheat toast, or macaroni with fortified nutritional yeast 'cheezy sauce'.
Alternatively, chew a reliable vitamin B12 supplement to enable you to absorb as much as possible. All vitamin B12 is produced by micro-organisms. The only reliable sources of vitamin B12 on a plant-based diet are fortified foods and supplements. The less often you get vitamin B12, the more you need to take. Your body prefers a little vitamin B12 taken often - yet if that is a challenge for you, a weekly generous vitamin B12 supplement can also protect your health. If you're worried you may be missing out, your doctor can check your blood homocysteine levels to see if you're obtaining enough vitamin B12.
There's a lot of misinformation out there about B12 so stay smart. While B12 used to be found in the soil, it is not a healthy or reliable supply, which is why farmed animals are given B12 supplements of their own. By supplementing with B12 you're merely bypassing the poor non-humans, and taking it directly.
Still not sure?
To enjoy the full benefit of your vegan diet, either:
- Eat fortified foods with every meal, to obtain 3 micrograms of vitamin B12 each day
- OR take one supplement containing at least 10 micrograms of vitamin B12 every day. The Vegan Society's VEG 1 supplement has been specifically formulated for vegans
- OR take one supplement containing at least 2000 micrograms of vitamin B12 every week.
Check food nutrition labels and supplement details to see how many micrograms (also written μg or mcg) of vitamin B12 you are receiving. Make sure B12 is on your radar!
Want to know the technical details? Read the open letter on vitamin B12 from health professionals and vegan organisations.