Vitamin B12: are you getting enough?

The only B vitamin of real concern to vegetarians and vegans is vitamin B12 which does not occur naturally in plant foods (there is some in dairy products and eggs, although these are relatively poor sources). However, vitamin B12 is added to many fortified foods including some breakfast cereals, yeast extracts and plant ‘milks’ (check the labels). The UK reference intake for vitamin B12 (the quantity considered adequate for most of the population) is 1.5 micrograms per day (mcg/d). Fortified plant milks typically contain 0.38 mcg per 100 ml, so consuming just 400 ml per day (less than half a standard one litre carton) would meet the daily requirement. Another way to ensure an adequate intake of vitamin B12 is to take a nutritional supplement such as the VEG1 tablets sold by the Vegan Society (www.vegansociety.com). Each VEG1 tablet contains 10 mcg vitamin B12 plus several other potential ‘problem’ nutrients for vegetarians and vegans in quantities that meet or exceed the EU recommended daily allowance. A 90-tablet pack (3 months supply) costs £5-99 plus postage.

However, it should be noted that the recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg in the USA and 2.5 mcg in the European Union, both figures considerably higher than the UK reference intake of 1.5 mcg per day. Also, when vitamin B12 is taken in a single dose a smaller amount is absorbed than if you ingested the same amount in separate portions. For these reasons, dietitians Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, authors of Becoming Vegan (reviewed previously), advise that “if you take a single daily supplement, the suggested intake is 25 to 100 mcg per day. Another option is to take 1,000 mcg twice per week.” I have written to the Vegan Society drawing their attention to the fact that the 10 mcg vitamin B12 in each VEG1 tablet is below the minimum quantity recommended by Davis and Melina for a daily supplement, urging them to reformulate the product accordingly. Meanwhile, I would advise readers to obtain their vitamin B12 from a combination of dietary supplements and fortified foods.

Paul Appleby

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