A plant-based diet can provide all the nutrients the human body needs to thrive, with the curious exception of vitamin B12. Neither plants nor animals directly produce vitamin B12. It’s produced by microbes that grow all over the earth’s surface and inside guts of animals, which is why meat is a common source of B12. Plant eaters would get plenty of B12 if they continued to eat unwashed food and dirt, but since most people don’t eat this way, they need to get creative.
Without B12 you’ll feel tired, sad and confused.
B12 is responsible for a host of functions, including red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, and energy metabolism. Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms include fatigue, weakness, confusion, and soreness of the mouth. Deficiency can also lead to severe health conditions, such as anemia, dementia, and depression.
The prevalence of B12 deficiency in semi-vegetarians, vegetarians, and vegans in research studies has been estimated to be anywhere from 21-69%, depending on the type and duration of plant-based diet, as well as the age of the population studied. While B12 supplementation is a perfectly good option to prevent deficiency, there is also a variety of B12-fortified foods on the market that can help you meet the 4-7 micro gram per day recommendation. Common plant-based foods fortified with B12 include:
- Plant-based milks such as soy milk, coconut milk, and nut milks, although not all brands and varieties are fortified.
- Vegan meat substitutes, such as Yves brand deli slices and ground faux meats.
- Tofu, although the Nasoya Organic Firm variety appears to be one of the few brands that contain B12.
- Some brands and varieties of cereals. Non-dairy, high-fiber, and low added sugar options include Kellogg’s All Bran and Special K, and General Mills Cheerios and Fiber One cereal varieties.
Try these tasty options.
One of the best plant-based sources of Vitamin B12 is nutritional yeast. This inactive form of yeast, which can be found in the bulk foods, health foods, or organic sections of most grocery stores, contains 40% of the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin B12 per tablespoon.
Nutritional yeast can be used in all types of recipes to add a slight cheese-like flavor. Add a tablespoon or two to salsas, dips, spreads, and sauces. Here are two quick, easy, and healthy recipes that incorporate nutritional yeast.
Baked Zucchini Fries
Adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie
- 2-3 small zucchini
- 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 cup non-dairy milk
- 1 cup nutritional yeast
- Preheat oven to 420 F. Slice zucchini in to matchstick-size pieces, similar to french fries.
- Set up an assembly station with flour, garlic powder, and salt in one bowl, milk in another, and nutritional yeast in a third bowl.
- Dip each zucchini stick in the flour mixture, then the milk, then the nutritional yeast. Place on lightly oiled baking tray and bake for 18-19 minutes.
Adapted from Oh She Glows
- 1 bunch kale leaves (spinach also works well)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- Preheat oven to 300F.
- Tear kale into large chip-sized pieces (kale will shrink while baking).
- Mix oil, nutritional yeast, and spices in a large bowl. Add kale pieces and toss until evenly coated.
- Spread out the kale onto baking sheet in a single layer. Use multiple baking sheets or bake in batches if necessary.
- Bake for kale for approximately 20-25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through. Allow to cool before enjoying.