Vitamin B12 is found in most foods of animal origin. Therefore, if your doctor tells you that you need to eat more of it, you will have many foods to choose from. If you are a total vegetarian, you can still meet your needs, but you will need to take supplements or eat B12-fortified foods.
Why Is Vitamin B12 Important?
Vitamin B12 works with folate to make red blood cells. Some types of anemia are associated with a low vitamin B12 intake.
Your nervous system also needs vitamin B12 to function properly. Low levels of vitamin B12 can lead to memory impairment or depression. Also, if vitamin B12 levels get too low, you can develop numbness and tingling in your hands and feet.
What Is the Recommended Intake?
What Are the Food Sources?
There are many food sources of vitamin B12, as outlined in the table below. However, some people may consume enough of this vitamin, but not be able to absorb it all. This tends to occur as part of aging. Your body may not be able to absorb vitamin B12 as well as when you were younger. Although some older adults may not be able to easily absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12, most can absorb the crystalline form found in foods fortified with the vitamin. Certain medications, especially those that lower stomach acid, may also interfere with B12 absorption from food. Discuss this with your doctor. In some cases, you may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement.
Usable vitamin B12 is only found in animal products. Seaweed, algae, and spirulina contain vitamin B12, but in a form that cannot be well absorbed by the body. Fermented plant foods, such as tempeh and miso, are often said to contain vitamin B12. But, they actually contain virtually no measurable level of the vitamin.
If you are a vegan, someone who does not eat animal, eggs, or dairy products, you will need to eat foods fortified with vitamin B12 or take supplements. Commonly fortified foods include nutritional yeast, some breakfast cereals, soy milk products, and vegetarian burgers. Check the Nutrition Facts label on these foods for the amount of vitamin B12 they contain.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
- Review Date: 03/2017 -
- Update Date: 03/16/2015 -