Getting enough Vitamin B12

AndieM.Ed., RD, LDN, CLC, RYT-200

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak.

During pregnancy, vitamin B12 is believed to combine with folic acid to help prevent spina bifida and other spinal and central nervous system birth defects in your baby.

Vitamin B12 that is found in food needs the acidic environment of the stomach to separate it from the protein that it is bound to. The synthetic B12 found in supplements does not need to be separated, so if you have a low acid level (maybe you are taking medication to treat reflux or peptic ulcer disease for an extended time period) then you may have low blood levels of B12 and a supplement taken by mouth should be just fine.

Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. Vitamin B12 is generally not present in plant foods however it is commonly fortified and found in breakfast cereals, soy and other plant-based milks, nutrition bars, meat substitutes, and Red Star Vegetarian Support Nutritional Yeast.

The top food sources of Vitamin B12 are clams, liver, certain fortified breakfast cereals, fish, beef and dairy products.

Supplemental vitamin B12 for vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians is recommended during both pregnancy and lactation to ensure that enough vitamin B12 is transferred to the fetus and infant. Pregnant and lactating women who follow strict vegetarian or vegan diets should consult with their health care practitioner regarding vitamin B12 supplements for themselves, their babies and their children.

Recommended intakes for vitamin B12 vary.  They are as follows:

  • Babies 0-6 months require .4 micrograms
  • Infants 7-12 months require .5 micrograms
  • Children 1-3 years require .9 micrograms
  • Children 4-8 years require 1.2 micrograms
  • Children 9-13 years require 1.8 micrograms
  • Ages over 14 years require 2.4 micrograms
  • If you are pregnant you require 2.6 micrograms
  • If you are lactating you require 2.8 micrograms

What To Do

Include foods supplemented with vitamin B12 such as breakfast cereals fortified with 100% of vitamin B12.

Include foods that are naturally high in vitamin B12 such as clams, liver, sockeye salmon and rainbow trout.

If you are a vegan or vegetarian, talk to your health care practitioner about a vitamin B12 supplement.

If your diet is low on animal foods such as meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese and eggs look for fortified vitamin B12 foods. Check nutrition labels because not all fortified foods have the same amounts.

If you are a long time user of certain medications to treat gastroesophageal reflux, peptic ulcer disease or are on metformin, talk to your health care practitioner about checking your vitamin B12 levels or supplementation.