One of the first things you learn when transitioning to a vegan diet is that you have to take a vegan B12 supplement. In truth, even meat eaters can have vitamin B12 deficiency if they have absorption problems, but it seems to be more prevalent in vegetarians and vegans because the food sources for B12 are all from animal “products.” Sadly, you can’t rely on plant-based foods to get your B12 vitamin, and even though you can find many fortified alternatives such as nut milks, cereals, and nutritional yeast, sometimes these fortified foods might not be enough to get you covered. From our research we have gathered that when it comes to B12 you can’t just “wing it,” because this vitamin is essential for a multitude of functions, including neurological and other fancy sounding cellular stuff.
When we became vegans we took no chances and just started taking the B12 supplements without lab results, but later testing confirmed our B12 levels were good. The B12 supplement we take comes with a suggested daily dose, so it is easy to just start. But since we are in charge only of our own health, we must suggest you talk to a doctor first. There is a blood test and a urine test that can be ordered to check your levels of vitamin B12. Your doctor can make recommendations based on the results, and also considering your medical history because for example, one of the forms of B12 (cyanocobalamin) is not recommended for smokers.
So, the next question is, if vitamin B12 comes from animals, is there a vegan vitamin B12? Most of the products we found don’t really disclose the actual source of their vegan B12, but what we did find is that in general, this vitamin comes from bacteria that are in the soil, so the key is literally in the dirt that the animals eat, and not in their meat per se. Some people even don’t wash their veggies to get this benefit, but since we are not organic farmers we can’t be sure of what else is lurking in the produce we get from the supermarket.
According to this article, there are four different kinds of vitamin B12. From what we’ve gathered so far, the two most commercially available types of vitamin B12 are cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin. The cyanocobalamin is a synthetic, lab made vitamin B12 that is super cheap to produce. The catch is that your body has to process cyanocobalamin to extract the actual B12 from it, and that process generates cyanide (yes, the poison), though it is in such a low amount that it supposedly doesn’t pose a health risk. However, given the fact that we are bombarded with chemicals on a day to day basis -fluoride in the water, BPA in our cans, pesticides in our food, and god knows what else-, we are inclined to steer away from cyanocobalamin if only to give our bodies a break from this permanent toxic assault (same reason why we say no to GMOs).
The other kind of vitamin B12, methylcobalamin, is a bioavailable form of supplemental B12, which means it is all ready to be used by our bodies. Methylcobalamin is considered by many to be a better source of supplemental B12 because it is the pure form that our body needs to use literally right away without having to be converted; it naturally circulates in our blood plasma as methylcobalamin. We also found out that it is best to ingest it sublingually, because in this form the methylcobalamin is absorbed into the bloodstream directly via the oral mucosa, so it completely bypasses the digestive system. You just pop the lozenge under your tongue and let it dissolve.
There are a lot of brands in the market, in different kinds of presentations. The one we take daily and recommend is Jarrow Formulas Methyl B-12 (link to product in Amazon).
We find that 1000 mcg a day is enough for us, though we have tried the 5000 mcg presentation, and they also have them in 500 mcg and 2500 mcg. The lozenges are a good size (smaller than a dime, but around 5 millimeters thick). The 1000 mcg presentation is lemon flavor, but we find them not to be lemony at all, but mostly mildly sweet and generally pleasant. You can find all the links to Amazon when you click the different presentations.
If you take 1 per day this bottle will last you 100 days. We like them because they are also vegan, gluten free and nut free, among other things.
TL;DR If you just recently switched to a plant-based diet, don’t put off checking your vitamin B12 levels to find out how much to supplement. Our preferred kind of vegan B12 is in the form of methylcobalamin lozenges, especially this brand. Supplement what you need and keep going plant strong!
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