Finally, to wrap up vitamin B12 and vegan topic, my goal today is to answer the most important question: how to get vitamin B12.
Because low levels of vitamin B12 may lead to catastrophic changes in the human body, I will explore options for both groups – those who eat animal products and those who don’t.
If you read the previous article, Vitamin B12 and vegans: Are animal products reliable sources, you know that on a meat-based diet, your body has trouble keeping the integrity of vitamin B12 and absorbing the vitamin (moving it from intestines into blood). In contrast, if you follow a raw vegan diet, you have trouble tapping into non-animal sources of vitamin B12.
Best sources of vitamin B12 for those on a meat-based diet
If you eat animal products, the best sources of vitamin B12 are those that maximize the amount of vitamin B12 entering your blood and your cells. You have a couple choices.
First option is to include raw meat in your diet. Meat of ruminants, fish or shellfish – your choice, as long as meat is not cooked. No heat processing means no damage to the vitamin B12 found in meat.
Ruminant animals include cow, deer, elk and bison. Do not even try to eat raw pork or poultry, skip them! The reason is, it is easy to get infected with parasites from these meats. If you enjoy a particular fish or shellfish raw, go ahead and eat it, and if possible with its digestive tract.
Keep in mind that any meat you eat raw puts you in risk of getting infected with bacteria and parasites. To minimize the chance of getting infected, meat must come from organically raised or wild animals and must be at peak freshness. In addition, I would suggest you freeze meat right after you purchase it as this will kill some pathogens. Another effective method to decrease the chance of contracting pathogens is to dry meat at temperatures below 49 °C (120 °F). And I think drying is the optimal solution when trying to eat meat raw. Not only it makes your meat significantly more safe, it also greatly improves its taste ( for some people to the point of deliciousness 🙂 ). You can dry meat either in the sun or in a dehydrator.
However, the high stomach acidity destroying the vitamin would not be possible to fix since meat, cooked or raw, and lots of hydrochloric acid go together. Similarly, putrefaction of meat protein bad for friendly bacteria is still there as well. Both decrease the amount of vitamin B12 that enters your blood. Besides, for majority eating meat in raw form sounds far from appetizing.
Raw dairy and egg yolks
Another option is to eat organic raw egg yolks or raw dairy. In Canada and US, if you are not a farmer, raw dairy is a problem to find though. That leaves organic egg yolks. And in fact, raw egg yolks is an ideal choice. For two reasons. First, they are a concentrated source of vitamin B12. Second, they don’t have a lot of protein. Personally, during non-summer months I eat raw egg yolks and it terms of eating animal products, it is virtually the only exception that I make. In the raw food world, organic egg yolks as a source of vitamin B12 are recommended by several long-time raw vegans, so you won’t be the first to eat them. However, don’t eat raw egg whites as found in them avidin, a protein, is undesirable in raw form.
Sources of vitamin B12 for vegans
There are a couple sources of vitamin B12 for vegans and raw vegans who don’t want to do any exceptions as I do with raw egg yolks.
As I noted in the previous articles, as opposed to animal-based foods, plants (and mushrooms) do not contain vitamin B12. The only way they can provide vitamin B12 is if they are contaminated with soil or B12-producing bacteria. Or if they live in symbiosis (literally touch each other) with B12-producing bacteria (shiitake, nori, sea buckthorn). If you remember from Vitamin B12 and vegans: A little introduction to the vitamin, B12-producing bacteria gathers around the roots of plants.
On the other hand, in contrast to those eating animal-based foods, vegans and raw vegans have normal stomach acidity and thus vitamin B12 that they do get does not get damaged by the low acidity. Moreover, vitamin B12 in those on a raw vegan diet is even more secure as it does not get destroyed by heat. For these reasons and a generally much healthier lifestyle, the health of friendly bacteria of raw vegans and vegans is in better shape than of those eating a meat-based diet. Since friendly bacteria plays an important role in improving nutrient absorption, vegans and raw vegans have less problems absorbing vitamin B12. So, to summarize, relative to those eating a standard meat-based diet, those on a strict plant diet experience less damage to vitamin B12 and their absorption rate of the vitamin is higher. Consequently, the amount of vitamin B12 that enters blood relative to the amount of vitamin B12 ingested is higher in these individuals.
Now, because the health of friendly bacteria in vegans is in good shape and vitamin B12 is produced by certain type of friendly bacteria in intestines of animals, including humans, vegans have a very good chance of vitamin B12 production taking place in their gut. This is what puts plant eaters ahead of those on the animal-based diets – vitamin B12 can be synthesized internally in their small intestine! However, some research studies claim that the place where vitamin B12 is synthesized is located too low in the intestine to be properly absorbed by the body. On the other hand, other studies have shown that vitamin B12 is absorbed quite well from that location. Honestly, for the purposes of today’s article I don’t think there is a need to know this for sure because plant eaters don’t have solely rely on intestinal vitamin B12. Intestinal vitamin B12 can be looked at simply as an additional source of the vitamin.
Finally, if you feel like eating greens with traces of soil is not for you or you don’t think you have a healthy enough microflora to enable B12 synthesis in your gut or you don’t want to bet on its absorption, you can take a vitamin B12 supplement. The supplement is also effective way to raise vitamin B12 levels quickly in case of diagnosed B12 deficiency. Having said that, unlike soil and intestinal vitamin B12, I don’t think the supplement is a suitable long-term solution.
To recap the above, here are the three sources to keep in mind when trying to acquire vitamin B12 on a raw vegan or any other plant-based diet.
Eat soil from time to time. I know it sounds bizarre. However, you don’t need to eat it by the spoon! Try to grow some veggies or herbs in your yard or even indoor in pots. Grow them organically – without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. When they are ready, harvest and eat them with roots and don’t wash them too much, just splash with water so that some traces of soil are left behind. At the end of the day, it does not matter whether you ingest soil with unwashed produce or straight from the yard – whatever you prefer. Personally, in the summer months, I eat slightly washed greens and their roots instead of egg yolks.
In fact, when I was a kid I don’t remember washing greens at all. And that went for 4 months straight (I spent summers in the countryside). For example, I remember I would get up and instead of brushing my teeth with a toothpaste I would go to the garden and pile up on dill with roots and everything to quickly refresh my mouth! Not that I thought about vitamin B12 at the time… Washing meant I had to find a hose. It could have been turned off, which means I had to check the closest barrel for rain water. Water could have been all dried out. That means I had to do it inside the house. Which means I had to climb the long staircase. Why spend time on all this when fun, wild activities awaited me? I don’t remember getting sick at all. Or no, lying, I remember I vomited once. But that took only 5 minutes, and then I was off to go! One thing I remember for sure – I never lay in bed during the day!
Improve living conditions of friendly bacteria in your gut. B12-producing bacteria lives in your small intestine and in vegans, raw vegans especially, small intestine is already healthier than the average, so congratulations! However, according to Dr. Shaw you can further improve your intestinal health by limiting the amount of stimulants like garlic, onion, pepper and mustard. There is a reason you get tears and lots of saliva in your mouth after eating them – although natural, they are antibiotics! Also, one-day water or juice fasts once per week would help as well.
Vitamin B12 supplement
Take a high-quality vitamin B12 supplement if for some reason B12 from soil or your gut are not the options for you. The supplement is also a quick and effective way to bring vitamin B12 levels up in case of dangerously low levels of the vitamin in blood. There are plenty of vitamin B12 supplements on the market. Just make sure you take naturally-derived vitamin B12, methycobalamin, not synthetic one, cyanocobalamin.
In the past, I used to take vitamin B12 in the form of a supplement by MegaFood. MegaFood is relatively old (established in 1973) company with a solid reputation and one of the few companies in North America that makes all their dietary supplements exclusively from fresh whole foods. If you have decided to go with a supplement, definitely I would recommend their vitamin B12.
The formula is called Vegan B12. You can purchase MegaFood Vegan B12 supplement here.
Also, you can find MegaFood supplements nearly in every natural health store.
I hope the above information will save you some headaches when tackling vitamin B12 on a raw vegan diet or even a standard meat-based diet… whatever you follow.
Question? Feedback? Leave your thoughts here!
Albert, M.J., Mathan, V.I., Baker S.J. (1980). Vitamin B12 synthesis by human small intestinal bacteria, 283 (5749): 781-782
http://www.vibrancyuk.com/B12.html – Dr. Shaw’s website