We can try to make our diets as healthy and varied as possible, but sometimes, we need a bit of extra help. Our bodies require all kinds of vitamins, and none is more important than vitamin B12. This handy little vitamin, part of the B family, helps our bodies with a myriad of daily functions, from supporting positive mental health to keeping our nervous systems working to their top capacity. However, plenty of us aren’t getting the right amount of vitamin B12 in our diets, and some of us are more prone to deficiencies than others. Read on to find out all about vitamin B12 and which foods are best for introducing it into your diet.
What is vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is one of the most important vitamins in our bodies. Not only does it aid in the production of red blood cells while helping to release energy from the food we eat and keeping our nervous systems functioning normally, but the vitamin is also often prescribed for individuals suffering from fatigue and slow metabolisms. Vitamin B12 has also been shown to improve symptoms of depression, thanks to its role in producing serotonin in the brain. It can also support the early stage of pregnancy in women, keep the brain functioning normally and aid in the production of DNA/RNA. Some early research from the University of Athens has even suggested that low levels of B12 were more prominent in older people who developed Alzheimer’s. However, plenty of us aren’t getting the B12 that we need. Deficiencies in vitamin B12 can go undiagnosed for years, as we can often mistake it for tiredness or sluggishness. Many of us aren’t getting the right level of vitamin B12 in our diets, but for some, a deficiency can be more dangerous. According to the NHS, the average adult requires 1.5 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12 a day. When we eat foods that are high in vitamin B12 or we take additional supplements, the body absorbs the vitamins and uses them to keep us healthy and strong by strengthening our digestion and improving our mental wellbeing. Some people with medical conditions like Chron’s disease, coeliac disease or other digestive problems might struggle to naturally absorb B12 from the food they eat and require extra support. Vegans and vegetarians are also at risk, as large quantities of the vitamin are found in fish, eggs and dairy. Ultimately, if you are concerned about a B12 deficiency, you should talk to your doctor.
So, what foods are high in vitamin B12?The food groups that contain the most vitamin B12 are meat and poultry, dairy, and fortified foods. Studies have shown that animal by-products are likely to contain the most B12, with red meat demonstrating more B12 than leaner, white meats like chicken or turkey. Animal organs, including liver, heart, offal and kidneys are particularly high in B12, especially if they come from a lamb. A 100g serving of lamb’s liver provides over 3000% of your daily value of B12. Beef and veal are also incredibly high in B12, both in general meat and in organs, so if you’re a little squeamish about eating organs, any other cut of the animal will still have those essential nutrients. Shellfish is also an excellent source of B12, particularly clams, tuna, salmon trout and sardines, which are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Eggs and milk are also great sources of vitamin B12. Among the variety of dairy products high in vitamin B12, the best are natural yoghurt, milk with 2% milkfat and cheddar cheese. Eggs, while producing less vitamin B12 than animal dairy products, are also naturally high in the vitamin. Vegans and vegetarians need to get plenty of B12 too, as they’re often at far greater risk of developing a deficiency than individuals who eat meat. As they don’t consume the nutrients derived from meat and other animal-based products, they can struggle to reach their daily B12 requirement. However, there is a solution. Most plant-based milks and other dairy products not made with animal milk are often fortified with vitamin B12 in reduced amounts. Notable foods available for vegans and vegetarians that are high in B12 include tempeh, bananas, wholewheat bread, breakfast cereals, strawberries, kidney beans and spinach. Nutritional yeast is also a great source of B12 and can be incorporated into other meals, like salads, soups and pasta. Vegans and vegetarians, as well as individuals with medical conditions that stop their bodies from absorbing B12, could hugely benefit from the help of additional supplements outside their ordinary diet.