If you want to increase your intake of vitamin B12, put down that bottle of vitamins! Unless you have a diagnosed vitamin or mineral deficiency, nutritional needs are best met with food, not supplements.
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Registered dietitian Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDCES, shares some of the best ways to add more vitamin B12 foods into your diet.
Why you need vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that aids in many essential bodily functions. It is absorbed in the stomach and then makes its way to your blood and cells. Any extra vitamin B12 is stored in your liver, for your body to save for the future.
Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin for:
- Forming healthy red blood cells.
- Functioning of your central nervous system.
- Normal brain function.
- Producing DNA.
What are the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency?
If you don’t produce enough of a protein called intrinsic factor that helps your body absorb vitamin B12 or if you don’t eat enough vitamin B12 foods, you may develop a deficiency.
You may also have a higher risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency if:
- You are 65+.
- You are a strict vegan.
- You are pregnant.
- You’ve had bowel-removal surgery.
- You take medication for diabetes.
- You take medication for heartburn.
If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Consult with your doctor if:
- You’re more pale than usual or have jaundiced skin.
- You feel constantly fatigued/weak.
- You have ‘pins and needles’ sensations in your hands and feet.
- You feel out of breath or dizzy.
- Your vision becomes blurry.
- You experience mood swings or personality changes.
“If left untreated, vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anemia, nerve damage and more,” warns Taylor.
What foods are high in vitamin B12?
You may not realize it, but vitamin B12 can be found in some of our favorite foods. “There’s no reason to completely change your diet in order to get a healthy dose of vitamin B12,” says Taylor.
Vitamin B12 is found in:
Milk. Dairy and (some) non-dairy brands are fortified with vitamin B12. If you’re allergic to dairy and drink natural milk like almond, soy, oat or cashew, just be sure to check the nutrition label for vitamin B12.
Fortified cereals. If you identify as a vegan or vegetarian, some cereals are a great source of vitamin B12. “Just be sure to choose a cereal that is low in added sugar and high in fiber and grains,” says Taylor.
Eggs. “Egg yolks contain more vitamin B12 than egg whites,” says Taylor. “It’s important to eat the whole egg if you are trying to increase your vitamin B12 intake. But if you have high cholesterol, consult with your doctor or dietitian first.”
Yogurt. Fun fact: Eating full-fat plain yogurt has been shown to improve vitamin B12 deficiency because the vitamin is more easily-absorbed in dairy products. If you’re looking for fewer calories, fat-free Greek yogurt is a healthier option that also provides a solid amount of vitamin B12 (it even has more vitamin B12 than whole yogurt).
Salmon. Many people who try to eat healthier include salmon in their diets. It has a ton of omega-3 fatty acids and protein, as well as B vitamins. Just half of a cooked salmon fillet (6 ounces) contains more than 200% of the daily value for vitamin B12.
Tuna. Whether you’re a fan of canned or cooked tuna, both provide many essential nutrients, including vitamin B12. If canned is your preference, opt for light tuna in water. If you prefer cooking your own tuna fillet, make note that the muscles right below the skin (the dark muscles) contain a high concentration of vitamin B12, too.
Beef. Eating 3 ounces of red meat one to two times per week is recommended. “As a rule of thumb, choose leaner meats, which contain higher vitamin levels,” says Taylor.
“And always try to grill meat instead of frying it.”
Liver and kidneys. Organ meats are incredibly rich in B12, but also contain a large amount of cholesterol. For this reason, Taylor advises people who include organ meat in their diet to do so in moderation.
Clams. Also, a lean source of protein, iron and antioxidants, a 3.5-ounce serving of baby clams provides over 4,000% of vitamin B12’s daily value.
How much vitamin B12 do you need?
The recommended vitamin B12 intake for males and females in different age groups is as follows:
Do I need to take vitamin B12 supplements?
“Unless you have a B12 deficiency or have identified a risk factor for deficiency (like following a vegan diet or having a malabsorption issue), there’s no need to take a vitamin B12 supplement. Instead, include food sources of vitamin B12 into your diet,” says Taylor.
If you’re taking vitamin B12 supplements in addition to the vitamin-rich foods you’re consuming, you could experience diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and headache. “Symptoms of excessive intake are rare since your body will excrete an extra through your urine,” adds Taylor.
The best thing to do? Consult with your doctor about a possible vitamin B12 deficiency. A simple blood panel will confirm your vitamin B12 levels and a plan of action can be developed from there.