Of all the supplements in veganism, B12 is hands-down the most hot-button issue within the community.
Can we get it from plants alone?
Do we need to supplement?
Does it compromise the validity of a vegan diet?
This small but very important nutrient reveals a lot of questions and, sometimes, brings up concerns about vegan diets.
Quick NavigationList of Vegan-Friendly B12 SupplementsWhat Does B12 Do?Is Supplementation Necessary?Types of B12: Methylcobalamin vs. CyanocobalaminHow Much B12 Do I Need?Dangers of B12 DeficiencyPlant-Based Sources of B12Vitamin B12 and Veganism
List of Vegan-Friendly B12 Supplements
For vegans, the world of supplements can be a tough thing to navigate. You want to make sure you’re getting all the necessary nutrients from the supplement, but you don’t want to ingest things like gelatin, which is often an ingredient in capsules.
Additionally, it’s important to make sure the B12 used in a supplement is the most bioactive, or most effective, form possible, so you’re getting the most bang out of your supplement buck.
Vegan-friendly B12 supplements can include gelatin-free capsules, as well as chewable tablets and drops/sprays, which take all the difficulty out of swallowing a pill and are good for kids and elderly adults.
To make things convenient for you, we’ve rounded up the top five vegan-friendly B12 supplements below. The list includes a variety of supplement methods, including traditional capsules, chewables, and liquids so you can get exactly what your family needs.
A highly rated supplement from Amazon, Vegan Safe B12 comes in easy-to-use drops instead of a tablet or chewable.
The Vegan Safe brand uses methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin, the two most bioactive forms of the vitamin.
What We Love
These drops are free of xylitol, mannitol, and other artificial sweeteners that can cause a chemical taste and major digestive distress. It is a pure way to take in B12 without any added sweeteners or fillers.
The taste of these drops is truly an acquired taste – some users note that it is simply too strong and too sweet for their liking.Check Price on Amazon
With over 2,000 customer reviews and counting, and an average rating of 4.5 stars, Jarrow Formulas B12 is one of Amazon’s best-selling supplements.
It’s available in cherry, lemon, and tropical flavors, and has a subscribe & save option so you can schedule deliveries without having to re-order.
What We Love
The Jarrow B12 formula is available in several flavors and doses, going all the way up to 5,000mcg capsules. These high-dose supplements are perfect for people with pernicious anemia, or who have intestinal problems and have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 through food or lower dose supplements.
Some users reported acne as a side effect of this product. Additionally, these lozenges contain artificial sweeteners like xylitol and mannitol, so be wary if you are sensitive to these ingredients.Check Price on Amazon
The two-pack of Deva Vegan Sublingual B12 vitamins are available via Amazon Prime with a vast number of positive customer reviews.
What We Love
These capsules combine B12 with B6 and Folic acid for the most effective protection against Hyperhomocysteinemia, a condition linked to heart disease. Additionally, the quick-dissolving tablets are easy to take, described as reminiscent of a chewable, but with less artificial taste and crumbly texture.
These capsules contain xylitol, a sweetener that can cause gastric distress for certain people. If you’re very sensitive or allergic to artificial sweeteners, you may want to substitute another product.Check Price on Amazon
Natural Health Goodies Chewable B12 reduces stress as well as improving sleep, brain function and energy levels which are vital for optimal health at all ages.
We’d also note that this brand of B12 helps to boost metabolism in men and women over 50 who have conditions that may prevent the nutrient from absorbing.
What We Love
The tablets have a great-tasting berry flavor (which is always good in a chewable!) and are 100% gluten-free, so they’re safe for people with celiac disease.
Some users noted that the berry flavor is a little strong, so you may want to be wary if your sense of taste is very sensitive. Additionally, these contain sorbitol, a sweetener which may cause gastric distress.Check Price on Amazon
This 2 oz. Bottle of spray is a different and convenient way to take B12. Garden of Life B12 Organic Spray has garnered hundreds of positive reviews and is available on Amazon with a convenient subscribe & save option. The raspberry flavor comes from organic fruits.
What We Love
This B12 supplement is a certified USDA organic, non-GMO product and is made from real foods like organic fruit. Plus, the spray makes it easy for kids, who might have trouble swallowing pills and are picky about the taste and texture of a chewable tablet.
Some Amazon users complained of less-than-perfect quality control on some products. Reviews are positive, but some people had problems with packaging or mold in the product.Check Price on Amazon
What Does B12 Do?
Vitamin B12 is essential due to the key roles it plays in maintaining healthy nerve cells, producing DNA and RNA (the body’s genetic material), and creating red blood cells. Vitamin B12 also works with other B-vitamins to control the amount of homocysteine in the blood, high levels of which can be associated with heart disease.
More on what B12 does here.
Is Supplementation Necessary?
In short, people who choose to eat a vegan diet must supplement with B12 in order to maintain healthy levels of the vitamin, as it is only found naturally in animal products like fish, eggs, and organ meats.
While some vegan foods, like non-dairy milk and breakfast cereals, may be fortified with Vitamin B12, it is rarely in high enough amounts to ensure someone is ingesting the amount they need for a healthy body.
Critics of a vegan diet are quick to argue that “a diet that inherently involves supplementation can’t be natural.” And if it’s not “natural”, in that we can’t get 100% of our nutrients from food alone, does that mean a vegan diet is inferior?
Vitamin B12 is made from bacteria that live in soil. Since the daily requirements for humans are relatively low, it’s likely that in the past, humans could satisfy their B12 needs from the bacteria-rich soil on their hands and plant foods.
However, because live in an age where everything is sterilized and we work at desks instead of in fields, it’s unlikely that we’d get our B12 needs through this method. People on a plant-based diet require B12 supplementation not because the diet is/was lacking, but from a combination of lifestyle change and modifications to the sterility of our environment.
And for what it’s worth, vegans aren’t the only group of people in the world who need to supplement their diets from time to time. Older adults, people with pernicious anemia, people with reduced levels of stomach acidity, and people with autoimmune diseases have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 from food, vegan or otherwise.
Deficiency of this vitamin is relatively common, affecting anywhere from 1.5-15% of the general population. If adults over 50, who may have trouble absorbing Vitamin B12 from food, are advised to take a supplement, would people argue that it’s not natural to live over the age of 50?
The “unnatural” tag is a simplistic argument used by people who are looking to be simply critical of the plant-based diet. There have been countless nutritional studies that demonstrate the superior health benefits of eating a diet rich in whole plant foods, even if that person does not include meat or animal products.
On the flip side, some vegans, in an effort to protect the “naturalness” of a plant-based diet, will try to make the claim that supplementation is unnecessary, and that vegans can get adequate levels of B12 through foods like fortified foods, nutritional yeast, and algae like spirulina. While these foods contain trace amounts of B12, asserting that vegans don’t need to supplement B12 is an untrue and dangerous assertion to make.
By putting misinformation out there, vegans who make these claims can be contributing to new vegans leading an unhealthy lifestyle that results in people going back to meat and animal products due to B12 deficiency.
This sacrifices that person’s ability to thrive on a plant-based diet to promote the “purity” of a vegan lifestyle, and if they go back to eating meat and animal products, more animals will suffer as a result.
It is better to be upfront and honest about the need for supplementation in a vegan diet. This will ensure that new vegans will get the nutrients they need, and can stick to an entirely plant-based diet long-term. The more people that shift their lifestyle to one that avoids animal products, the better for the population, the animals, and our planet.
Types of B12: Methylcobalamin vs. Cyanocobalamin
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, generally comes in two forms – methyl and cyano. While Cyanocobalamin is more commonly used in supplementation, Methylcobalamin is the better of the two.
Put your high school chemistry hat back on! The difference between these two forms is, well, microscopic. In fact, it comes down to a single molecule – the one that gives each variety its name.
While Methylcobalamin contains a methyl group (just carbon and hydrogen), cyanocobalamin contains a cyanide group – yes, that kind of cyanide! It’s not something you’d probably expect – or want – hiding in your supplement. In addition to containing this scary component, Cyanocobalamin is a synthetic material. On the flip side, methylcobalamin is safe and natural.
Going with methylcobalamin also gets you more bang for your buck. It is the most absorbable form of vitamin B12, so you’re making the most of each and every pill or drop you take. The superior absorbability is because it’s a naturally occurring compound. It passes effortlessly through all steps in the metabolic pathway, saving metabolic energy and cellular resources. Vegans especially want to absorb and use every last bit of B12 from their supplement.
Lastly, methylcobalamin also has more benefits when compared with its cyano- cousin. According to Nutrition Journal, methylcobalamin has been shown to slow the growth of cancerous tumors and extend survival rate. These studies are still in their infancy stage but show a lot of promise – enough to make me opt for methylcobalamin over cyanocobalamin.
While it might take a little more effort or cash to choose a methylcobalamin supplement, you’ll be doing your body a favor in the long run. Methylcobalamin is safer, more natural, and more beneficial than cyanocobalamin options, so don’t hesitate to put your health first.
How Much B12 Do I Need?
Like most recommended amounts for vitamins, the amount of Vitamin B12 you should be ingesting daily depends on your gender and age.
For most adults, a daily intake of 2.4mcg is sufficient.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women should get 2.6-2.8mcg per day, while vegan children between ages 1-13 should get anywhere from .9-1.8mcg every day to help build and maintain healthy bodies.
For more info on daily B12 intake by age – click here.
Because B12 is water-soluble, it isn’t stored by the body, so you need to ensure you’re getting the recommended amount each day. Some people choose to take a lower dose supplement every day with their breakfast and coffee, while others choose a higher dose a few times per week. You should plan to use whichever schedule you find most convenient for you and your family.
If you have pernicious anemia, have any digestive disorders, or are over the age of 50, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about Vitamin B12 to make sure you’re getting enough and are able to absorb the nutrient through food and supplements. People who are unable to absorb the vitamin can receive B12 shots, but otherwise, very high dose oral supplements can be effective.
Dangers of B12 Deficiency
If someone is deficient in Vitamin B12 for a long enough time, it can cause damage to the nervous system – not something you want in a thriving plant-based diet!
Be on the lookout for symptoms like tiredness, weakness, constipation, numbness/tingling in hands and feet, balance problems, depression, poor memory, and soreness of the mouth and tongue. These can all be signs that you’re not getting enough of this nutrient in your diet.
Plant-Based Sources of B12
The only plant-based foods with reliable levels of Vitamin B12 are fortified foods, which include some non-dairy milk, soy products, and breakfast cereals.
Most vegans consume enough of these foods to avoid anemia and damage to the nervous system, but still, do not eat enough to meet the recommended daily levels. Unless someone is eating huge quantities of these fortified foods, they should rely mostly on a vegan-friendly Vitamin B12 supplement.
Vitamin B12 and Veganism
The need for B12 supplementation in veganism can’t be stressed enough – to lead happy, healthy plant-based lives, we must use capsules, chewable, liquid drops, or sprays to reach our daily allotment of this essential nutrient.
The need for supplementation doesn’t cheapen the vegan lifestyle or imply that we’re somehow not “designed” to eat a diet that is free from meat and animal products. All sorts of people, vegans, and omnivores alike, need to supplement their diet with nutrients for reasons that may or may not be related to the food they eat. In many cases, like B12, deficiency can simply be a result of a change in our environment, and modifications to our lifestyle in this day and age.
When it comes down to it, the vitamins and minerals we get from a diet rich in plant foods, with or without the addition of meat and animal products, are factors in a healthy, happy life. The positive benefits of these plant foods, combined with adequate B12 from a supplement, is a perfect recipe for healthy people and a better, happier, gentler world.