At Vegan Norway we often worry about the people who make the transition to veganism without properly considering how cutting out meat from their diet can affect their health. As long time vegans we know that veganism is a healthy and wonderful lifestyle and that we can get all the same levels of nutrients, protein and vitamins from a vegan diet as we did when we ate meat. However, making our vegan diets complete and nutritious took a little research and learning and involved more than just taking the meat part away from our normal dishes. We learned what protein really is and how to get enough of it from plant based sources, we learned more about fat and carbohydrates and most importantly we learned what vitamins and minerals were essential to a plant based diet. Whether you are vegan or just vegetarian, the most important supplement of a meat free diet has to be B12. To get the full benefit of a vegan diet, vegans should do one of the following:
- Eat fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (mcg or µg) of B12 a day.
- Take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms.
- Take a weekly B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms.
Check food nutrition labels and supplement details to see how many micrograms (also written μg or mcg) of vitamin B12 you are receiving. Make sure B12 is on your radar!
The wonderful Norwegian association of plant based medical professionals (Hepla) have written this amazing guide to a maintaining a healthy vegan diet. I would really recommend checking out what they have to say about B12 too.
What is B12?
Vitamin B12 is required for the proper function and development of the brain, nerves, blood cells, and many other parts of the body. The only natural places it can be found in good enough quantities are foods such as meat, fish, and dairy products, that's why vegans and vegetarians must take it as a supplement.
B12 helps your body in so many ways so please put some time aside in your morning routine to down your pill with your morning coffee, orange juice and toast. Here's just some of the cool stuff B12 can do for you (info from WebMD)
'B12 is used to treat pernicious anemia, a serious type of anemia that is due to vitamin B12 deficiency and is found mostly in older people. Vitamin B12 is also used for memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease; boosting mood, energy, concentration and the immune system; and slowing ageing. It is also used for heart disease, lowering high homocysteine levels (which may contribute to heart disease), male infertility, diabetes, sleep disorders, depression, mental disorders, weak bones (osteoporosis), swollen tendons, AIDS, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, allergies, a skin disease called vitiligo, preventing cervical and other cancers, and skin infections. Some people use vitamin B12 for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), multiple sclerosis, preventing the eye disease age-related macular degeneration (AMD), Lyme disease and gum disease. It is also used for ringing in the ears, bleeding, liver and kidney disease, and for protection against the poisons and allergens in tobacco smoke.'
What if I don't take B12?
If you don't take B12 supplement and you don't eat meat, it is going to be a massive effort for you to get enough of it into your diet from fortified plant sources. To us at Vegan Norway it just makes way more sense for our health, and our wallets (all that special B12 fortified health food can get expensive!) to get some B12 supplements and sleep safely at night knowing that we are taking no chances.
B12 deficiencies can cause lasting damage to our health in so many ways. In adults typical deficiency symptoms include loss of energy, tingling, numbness, reduced sensitivity to pain or pressure, blurred vision, abnormal gait, sore tongue, poor memory, confusion, hallucinations and personality changes.
Infants typically show more rapid onset of symptoms than adults. B12 deficiency may lead to loss of energy and appetite and failure to thrive. If not promptly corrected this can progress to coma or death. Again there is no entirely consistent pattern of symptoms. Infants are more vulnerable to permanent damage than adults. Some make a full recovery, but others show retarded development.
Am I deficient in B12?
You can have a B12 deficiency without having any of the obvious symptoms listed above. It's really hard to tell if you have a B12 deficiency because many of the symptoms listed could apply to other diseases and illnesses and symptoms often don't show up right away. In fact, symptoms usually take five years or more to develop in adults, though some people experience problems within a year. A very small number of individuals with no obvious reliable B12 source appear to avoid clinical deficiency symptoms for twenty years or more! All this time, a B12 deficiency could be causing your body lasting damage without you knowing anything about it. The most important thing you can do is go get a blood test at your doctors, and we would recommend that you ask for an MMA test. A normal blood B12 level measurement is a very unreliable test for vegans, particularly for vegans using any form of algae. Algae and some other plant foods contain B12-analogues (false B12) that can imitate true B12 in blood tests while actually interfering with B12 metabolism. Blood counts are also unreliable as high folate intakes suppress the anaemia symptoms of B12 deficiency that can be detected by blood counts. Blood homocysteine testing is more reliable, with levels less than 10 micromol/litre being desirable. Many doctors still rely on blood B12 levels and blood counts. These are not adequate, especially in vegans.
As a side note, I must say that we should all be checking with our doctors regularly anyway, staying aware and critical of but also trusting in their advice. You may have to let them know about the MMA thing and many other little things about the vegan lifestyle, but remember that overall, their knowledge of medicine is much more reliable than a random health blogger on the internet with dubious credentials. Veganism is often touted by non medical individuals as a sure way to cure or prevent many illnesses and diseases and whilst that may be true in some cases, here at Vegan Norway we hope to spread a message that your should put your trust in medical professionals, research and hard evidence instead of pseudoscience and the stories of a few individuals.
Where can I get B12?
In Norway there are some very strange laws about the dosage of vitamins that are allowed to be sold here. You can buy Bjäst B12 supplements in many health food stores, but most doctors would recommend a higher dosage than what you can find here in Norway (only 9 microgram). It can become very expensive if you need to take more than one pill a day so many vegans order their B12 from overseas. You can do this in a cheap and effective way avoiding expensive toll charges by ordering from iHerb. If you are currently suffering with a B12 deficiency you should ask your doctor how much B12 you need to get your levels back up as it will be significantly more than the regular dosage.
B12 supplements in a higher dosage can be ordered from iHerb. They have several options. Here are some of our favourites:
Its useful to know that when you order from iHerb it usually takes around 1-2 weeks for your order to arrive. Remember to keep your order under 350 NOK ($40), including shipping, to avoid toll fees. iHerb has low price shipping for orders up to 1.8 kg (4lbs). If you need to order many things it would make sense to do a few separate orders.
The Vegan Society
VEG1 is an orange flavoured multivitamin formulated by The Vegan Society in conjunction with HealthPlus. Designed specifically for vegans, but suitable for everyone, this supplement provides EU recommended daily allowances (RDAs) of:
- Vitamin B2 (1.6mg - 114%)
- Vitamin B6 (2mg - 143%)
- Vitamin B12 (10µg - 400%)
- Vitamin D (10µg - 200%)
- Folic Acid (200µg - 100%)
- Iodine (150µg - 100%)
- Selenium (60µg - 109%)
Its only around 12GBP (around 140,-kr) for a 6 month supply which is pretty good value really! The shipping from the UK is quite cheap too!
Where can I get more info about B12?
Veganhealth.org - A really great article explaining doses of B12.
What every vegan should know about B12 - A great article by The Vegan Society
Næringsstoffer i vegetarisk kosthold - A wonderful article from Hepla.