Insight: The Active Vegan Lifestyle and Vitamin B12 and D3
Vitamin B12 Deficiency Facts
There is a real concern among vegans who have an active vegan lifestyle regarding Vitamin B12 deficiency. In an article from NoMeatAthlete.com, an athlete who recently became a vegan asked a doctor:
"What are your thoughts concerning the inability to get Vitamin B12 naturally on a vegan diet? It's necessary for the body but a vegan diet only seems to get B12 through fortified foods and supplements."
It is a serious concern for vegans, especially those who are active. Various research articles suggest that vitamin B12 is made by anaerobic microorganisms (ie. bacteria that do not require oxygen to live). Anaerobic bacteria are common in the gastrointestinal tract of animals. Since a vegan diet does not include any animal derived ingredient, this is a key concern for most vegans.
Having Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause anemia and damage to the nervous system. The common sources of this vitamin are plant milk, soy products, breakfast cereal. Vegans and non-vegans alike should be able to consume enough vitamin B12. But where can we get the right amount of Vitamin B12 aside from fortified food supplements?
What are the Symptoms?
Some of the symptoms of B12 deficiency include:
- Weakness, tiredness, or lightheadedness;
- heart palpitations and shortness of breath;
- pale skin;
- a smooth tongue;
- constipation, diarrhea, a loss of appetite, or gas;
- nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking;
- vision loss.
Regardless of your diet, it is always a good idea to get annual blood tests to remain proactive in combating any deficiencies before symptoms are allowed to develop.
What Vegans Should Do to Get the Right Amount of B12
Health recommendations for B12 intakes vary. The US recommends a 2.4 mcgs intake for adults. For nursing moms, 2.8 mcgs are recommended. Germany recommends 3mcgs. Recommended intakes are based on the absorption a typical individual can take. Most of the time, to meet these recommendations you need to take supplements. This can be a problem for vegans.
To maximize your vegan diet, you should: Eat fortified foods up to 3 times daily. Check the labels of your food supplements to know if you are getting the minimum amount of vitamin B12 recommendations according to your body type.
If you have been missing out on your intake of vitamin B12, the more you need to take it. It is best absorbed by the body in small amounts. Note: There is no harm in exceeding the recommended mcgs for your B12 supplements.
How to take vitamin B12
For both the vegan and non-vegans alike, you can take vitamin B12 supplements three times a day, once a day or even once a week. Adequate intake can be 10mcgs (or more) taken once a day. You can also consume 1mcg at breakfast, another one at lunch and the last one at dinner. Or 2000 mcgs of B12 taken weekly will give you a more than adequate amount of B12.
According to experts, the maximum mcgs of B12 taken per week is up to 2000. Intakes above this number per week should be avoided. Although there is a lack of evidence of toxicity in high amounts of B12, it is best not to overdo it.
Very important note: Consult a doctor first to see if you have a B12 deficiency. Have your blood checked at least once a year. DO NOT SELF MEDICATE ON YOUR B12 INTAKE. Although there is no harm in B12 "overdose", consulting an expert will be more economical and beneficial in the long run. It is advised that you have your B12 status checked annually.
Is There a Vegan Alternative to B12-Fortified Foods and Supplements?
Doctor Joel Furhman, a pro-vegan physician writes in his book Super Immunity:
Fortunately, for those of us with ethical reasons for wanting to avoid animal products, we can now do so healthily, by supplementing with B12. I haven't seen any good evidence that a plant-based diet of mostly whole foods, along with a B12 supplement, is less healthy than any other diet — some studies show that a vegan diet might be healthier...
Doctor Furhman is a board-certified family physician, a six-time best-selling author on nutrition, and the president of the Nutritional Research Foundation.
VITAMIN D Deficiency Facts
The active vegan lifestyle needs all the necessary vitamins and minerals. For both vegans and non-vegans alike, Vitamin D is extremely important. It is also known as the “sunshine vitamin.” It functions like a hormone that helps our body absorb calcium and phosphorous from the food we eat. The immune system works well if you have an adequate amount of vitamin D in the body.
A person might not realize that he or she is vitamin D deficient. 42% of Americans are vitamin D deficient. Although many people with the deficiency will not show symptoms, there are signs you have to look out for:
- Getting infected or getting sick often
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Back Pain
- Slow Healing of Wounds
- Bone Loss
- Hair Loss
- Muscle Pain
Each individual has a different vitamin D requirement. Recommended daily intake can be as low as 400 IU for 0-12-month-old babies and can be as high as 800 IU for adults over 70. The upper daily intake limit is 4000 IU and can cause complications if taken over the limit. The National Institute for Health and Care Management recommends the following food sources: cooked liver oil, cooked rainbow trout, cooked sockeye salmon, white mushrooms, and fortified milk. There are also fortified food supplements that contain vitamin D2 and D3.
Sources of Vitamin D for Vegans
For vegans, looking for vitamin D can be challenging. The food groups with the highest vitamin D resource are animals. But there are certain vegan options which are sources of vitamin D. According to Peta, there are ways to increase vitamin D intake:
- Fortified Soy Milk, almond milk and rice milk
- Fortified Cereals
- Fortified Orange juice
- Plant-derived Vitamin D3 supplements
- And of course, Good old Sunshine!
The bottom line, you can manage vitamin D deficiency even if you are a vegan with the foods mentioned above.
Bonus: Top Tofu Recipes
You can make your vitamin D intake fun with these 20+ recipes from different websites as recommended by Delish.com
Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D3 deficiency can be a problem for the active vegan lifestyle (and for non-vegans alike). Go to a physician and have yourself checked at least once a year. Know how healthy or unhealthy your lifestyle is. Only then will you be able to respond to vitamin deficiencies, if there are any.
Again, do not self-medicate. If you think you have the symptoms of vitamin deficiency, consult a doctor immediately. There are enough sources of vitamin D and vitamin B12 for vegans.