Foods With Vitamin B12

The supply of vitamin B12 is not always easy. We present foods that contain vitamin B12 and explain why plant-based foods can only serve as a limited source of vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 in food

Vitamin B12 is a vitamin that is found in relevant amounts almost exclusively in animal foods. In plant-based foods, vitamins are found almost exclusively in the form of analogs (pseudo-vitamin B12) or only in traces, which, according to the current state of knowledge, are not sufficient to cover the daily requirement.

However, since it is not a problem to cover the vitamin requirement with appropriate preparations in a plant-based diet, there is no risk of a deficiency even with a purely vegan diet. Since medications such as acid blockers and metformin can also cause vitamin B12 deficiency, non-vegans are also often affected by vitamin B12 deficiency. You can read more about this in the previous link and in our article on vitamin B12 deficiency. There we also explain how to identify such a defect and how to fix it.

This is your daily requirement for vitamin B12

In order to be able to better assess the vitamin B12 values ​​of the foods from the table below, you must first know your (approximate) daily requirement. The daily requirement of vitamin B12 is official:

  • Infant (up to 12 months): 0.5 – 1.4 µg
  • Infant (1-4 years): 1.5 mcg
  • Child (5 – 10 years): 2 – 2.5 µg
  • Teenagers (11-15 years): 3.5-4 mcg
  • Pregnant woman: 4.5 mcg
  • Breastfeeding woman: 5.5 mcg

Since only a fraction of the vitamin B12 from food is actually absorbed (which depends, among other things, on the health of the gastrointestinal tract), one should – in order to cover the daily requirement – consume a multiple of it, which is often also possible with a “normal “, i.e. a diet containing meat, fish, and egg is not that easy. If you have unexplained symptoms, you should always have your vitamin B12 level checked.

Animal foods with vitamin B12

Since we recommend plant-based nutrition on our portal – for ethical, ecological, and health reasons – we only list the following animal foods and their B12 content for the sake of completeness, so we do not recommend consuming them. Foods that are particularly high in vitamin B12 include the following (always in micrograms (mcg) per 100g):

  • Offals (lamb and beef liver and kidneys): 50 to 80 µg of vitamin 12 per 100 g
  • Chicken liver: 25 mcg
  • Caviar: 18 mcg
  • Oysters: 15 mcg
  • Wild rabbit/beef heart: 10 µg
  • Mackerel/Herring: 8 µg
  • Muscle meat: 1 – 5 µg (chicken meat often 0 µg)
  • Eggs 1 to 2 µg (especially in the yolk)
  • Fish 1 to 9 µg, depending on the fish species
  • Cheese: 1 – 3 µg, depending on the variety
  • Milk: 0.4 mcg
  • Buttermilk: 0.2 mcg
  • Yogurt: 0 – 0.5 µg

So much vitamin B12 is lost during cooking and frying

The specified vitamin B12 values ​​of food often refer to raw food. When cooking and frying, however, there are losses, since vitamin B12 is one of the heat-sensitive vitamins. For example, when cooking and roasting meat, vitamin B12 losses of 27 to 33 percent are expected.

If a pork cutlet (weighing 125 g) contains 1.25 µg of vitamin B12, it only contains just under 0.9 µg after preparation.

A study from 2011 also shows that cooking, grilling, roasting, and steaming fish and preparing it in the microwave can lead to vitamin B12 losses of up to 62 percent. Only in the case of vacuum cooking (sous-vide) were there no losses in this study.

Only a small amount of vitamin B12 is absorbed from food

In addition, one must always assume that only a small part of the vitamin B12 contained in food can actually be absorbed and utilized.

So if you eat 100 g of a food that contains 5 µg of vitamin B12 per 100 g, this does not mean that you are well supplied, because the 5 µg maybe only be 2 µg or just 0, 5 µg or even less can be absorbed.

The vitamin B12 from eggs should not be able to be absorbed so well by the body, namely only a maximum of about 10 percent, from fish about 40 percent, from meat, on the other hand, up to 60, sometimes up to 90 percent of the after cooking, roasting or Crickets still available vitamin B12 are absorbed.

With the schnitzel mentioned above, you do not take 0.9 µg of vitamin B12, but 0.54 to at best 0.81 µg.

Vegetable finished products with vitamin B12

Since vitamin B12 is formed by microorganisms, plant foods can of course also contain vitamin B12 if they are contaminated with microorganisms. However, the amount of vitamin B12 is small. Since food is now mostly cleaned before consumption, the B12 traces caused by contamination are no longer relevant for the B12 supply in humans.

Some finished plant products are fortified with vitamin B12 by the manufacturers, e.g. B. some soy drinks, cornflakes, meat substitutes, juices, etc. However, you must pay attention to the vitamin B12 content of these foods and then eat enough of these foods if you want to ensure your B12 supply with them alone.

Alpro’s soy drink, for example, contains only 0.38 µg of vitamin B12 per 100 ml, so one liter would be needed to absorb 3.8 µg of vitamin B12, i.e. the daily requirement.

Plant-based foods that do not contain vitamin B12

On some websites or in some books you can find the following plant foods that are said to be able to provide vitamin B12. However, they contain – if at all – only little usable vitamin B12:

  • Mushrooms
  • Algae (spirulina, chlorella, and AFA algae as well as seaweed such as nori)
  • Unpeeled and unwashed root vegetables (carrots, beets)
  • wild plants
  • wheat grass and barley grass
  • Fermented soy products such as miso, shoyu, and tempeh
  • Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut
  • black tea
  • Criteria for useful vitamin B12 sources

Before we look at the individual foods, we should first clarify which criteria a food should meet to be considered a vitamin B12 source.

The food should contain relevant amounts of vitamin B12 in the normal consumption amounts. Because of course, it’s no use if you could cover your B12 requirement with five kilograms of comfrey or a pound of brewer’s yeast. Of course, a vitamin B12-rich food does not have to provide the complete daily requirement of vitamin B12. However, a good source of vitamin B12 should contain at least enough vitamin B12 to cover 5 to 10 percent of the daily requirement. Because then a combination of several of these foods can completely cover the need.

The food should contain proven active vitamin B12, i.e. no analogs (inactive forms). Because it makes little sense to consume foods that are said to be rich in vitamin B12 without knowing for sure whether they can actually supply you.

Let’s start with the mushrooms. Are these suitable as foods that could provide vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 in mushrooms

To answer this question, a Japanese study from 2012 examined various edible mushrooms for their vitamin B12 content, including the porcini, the giant parachutist, the oyster mushroom, the morel, the dead trumpet (from the chanterelle family), and the chanterelle.

The first four mentioned showed only minimal traces, which cannot contribute to covering the B12 requirement.

However, trumpet horns (which, despite its hopeless name, is an excellent edible mushroom) and chanterelle mushrooms contained 1-2.5 µg of vitamin B12 per 100 g of dry matter — definitely not analogs, but active vitamin B12.

However, 100 g of dried mushrooms corresponds to a fresh weight of 1 kg. So you could cover your daily requirement of vitamin B12 with a kilogram of dead trumpet or chanterelles, which unfortunately is not very realistic.

Although there is also chanterelle powder to buy, it costs around 9 euros per 100 grams, so it is questionable whether one would want to incur these costs given the fact that the natural vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) is in the form of capsules or tablets for a fraction of that price (a daily cost of just pennies).

However, if you live near the forest and find plenty of death trumpets and chanterelles there, you can of course include them in your diet and thus cover at least part of your B12 requirement with food.

Vitamin B12 in algae

This topic is not easy, especially since there are many different types of algae. On the one hand, there are freshwater algae (also called microalgae) called Spirulina, Chlorella, and Afa, although only Chlorella is actually a real alga, while the other two belong to the cyanobacteria. On the other hand, there are seaweeds such as B. Nori.

After eating algae: Vitamin B12 blood levels increase, but there is no effect

The most common reference here is an ancient study that took place in 1991 and was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Children with clear symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency were given spirulina, nori, and fermented plant foods.

It was shown here that the B12 level in the blood rose, but at the same time, the symptoms of the deficiency worsened. The vitamin B12 could therefore be absorbed, but it apparently had no effect on the body, at least not a positive one.

After consumption of nori and chlorella: blood level rises, but not high enough

An equally antiquated Finnish study by the Department of Clinical Nutrition at the University of Kuopio found in 1995 that vegans who regularly consumed nori and chlorella seaweed had twice as high a vitamin B-12 level as vegans who did not eat any seaweed ate

However, this study is also not very meaningful, since it was initially about raw food vegans, but the majority of today’s vegans also eat cooked food. On the other hand, the vitamin B12 level in the serum was measured, which is not very meaningful, since a deficiency only becomes visible there very late. In addition, the levels of the algae vegans, although higher, were still very low, at the lower end of the scale.

Nevertheless, the Finnish researchers wrote that large amounts of the algae mentioned could provide significant amounts of bioavailable vitamin B12 – and this despite the fact that in the following two years a significant drop in vitamin B12 levels was observed in most of the vegans involved. The study is therefore not very helpful and in no way convinces of algae as a vegan source of vitamin B12.

Danger from algae: high iodine content

Last but not least, it must be considered that seaweed has a very high iodine content. Although nori contains lower levels of iodine than other seaweed, it still contains levels that can have a significant impact when consumed in large quantities.

The daily iodine requirement for adults is around 200 µg, but 10 grams of nori algae can already provide 500 µg of iodine, so you should not eat more than 2.5 grams of nori per day, which then again does not provide enough B12. So you would have to consume more chlorella (which is very low in iodine). However, since the B12 content of chlorella algae fluctuates enormously (see the section after next), no fixed dosage can be given. You dose this according to the B12 content specified by the manufacturer.

Nori and chlorella yes – spirulina no

In two slightly later studies from 2001 and 2002, it was found that nori and chlorella actually preferentially contain active vitamin B12 and hardly any analogs, while in spirulina mainly analogs dominated. “Our results suggest that algae (but not spirulina) represent a bioavailable source of vitamin B12 for mammals,” the scientists wrote.

They discovered around 55 µg of vitamin B12 per 100 g in dried nori algae. 60 percent of it was in the bioactive forms methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin. Then the nori seaweed was fed to rats with vitamin B12 deficiency. The methylmalonic acid level in the rat urine was initially very high, indicating a massive deficiency. Methylmalonic acid could no longer be detected after 20 days, and the deficiency was thus remedied.

Chlorella: Extreme fluctuations in vitamin B12 content

An Indian study from March 2015 is somewhat more recent, in which active vitamin B12 was detected in chlorella  – up to just under 30 µg per 100 g of the dried algae. A year earlier, however, the Japanese researchers led by Dr. Watanabe explains that B12 levels in chlorella supplements have varied widely — ranging from 0 to 100 micrograms per 100 grams.

It is not known where the fluctuations come from. It could be due to the cobalt content of the water (cobalt is necessary for the formation of B12) or whether the algae comes from purely farmed waters or from wild waters. Whitewater chlorella may contain more B12, but then again more heavy metals, since the corresponding levels cannot be controlled in whitewater.

Therefore, when buying chlorella tabs or powder (if you want to take them for B12 supply), you should definitely pay attention to the nutritional value analysis and check the vitamin B12 content there – or even better, ask the manufacturer specifically for the values ​​of the active vitamin ask B12.

However, the analyzes would have to be carried out again for each individual batch, which can be expensive, especially since microalgae are not necessarily taken because of a possible vitamin B12 content, but because of many other positive properties for health.

As for Spirulina and Afa algae, Dr. Watanabe differed from these two algae in terms of B12 supply. They cannot provide vitamin B12 to vegans since they contained mostly analogs.

Vitamin B12 in root vegetables and wild plants

It is not uncommon to read that unwashed and unpeeled root vegetables should contain vitamin B12. If root vegetables (carrots, beetroot, parsley roots, etc.) are not washed or peeled, then you will inevitably eat some soil – and microorganisms that contain or produce vitamin B12 live in the soil.

So you could just eat a few spoonfuls of garden soil every day – if that suits you. But of course, you don’t know what else you’re consuming – in addition to vitamin B12 and various microorganisms – and whether there’s actually enough vitamin B12 in it.

The same is true of wild plants. These should also be eaten unwashed – it is said – and then also contain the microorganisms on them, including vitamin B12.

Problem: No one can say how many unwashed root vegetables and how many wild plants (or how much soil) should be eaten per day to get enough vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 in barley grass

If you look at the nutritional value analyzes of some grass powders, vitamin B12 often appears there as well, e.g. For example, barley grass is said to contain 0.5 µg of vitamin B12 per heaped teaspoon (3.5 grams), which would be really sensational!

Six teaspoons in the smoothie – and you would be completely supplied with vitamin B12, provided the best bioavailability. Other sources even write 270 µg per 10 g barley grass powder.

A vitamin B12 occurrence on grasses and in particular the fluctuations mentioned can only be explained by impurities or different fertilization methods. This in turn means that grasses are not a reliable source of vitamin B12, also because in most cases it is not stated whether they are analogs or active vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 in tempeh

Soybeans do not contain vitamin B12. But if you ferment them to tempeh, then the vitamin can be detected. Problem: Very different values ​​were also measured in tempeh (0.7 to 8 µg per 100 g), so it is assumed that here, too, external contamination is increasing the vitamin B12 content and not the fermentation process itself responsible.

Because other fermented soy products (miso, soy sauce) do not contain vitamin B12. As far as tempeh is concerned, the following applies the more hygienic the production, the less vitamin B12 it seems to contain.

Vitamin B12 in sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables

The measurement results for sauerkraut and other lactic acid vegetables are very inconsistent. If it actually contains usable vitamin B12, then the amount would be far too small anyway to cover the need or even to help to cover it. So even fermented vegetables do not provide any significant amounts of vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 in black tea

Since vitamin B12 has already been found in various types of tea leaves (0.1 to 1.2 µg per 100 g dry matter), black tea is also occasionally cited as a source of vitamin B12.

When rats suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency were fed Japanese fermented black tea (Batabata-cha), after 6 weeks their urine methylmalonic acid levels were lower than those of the rats not fed black tea, indicating that their deficiency had improved and the vitamin B12 in black tea appears to be bioavailable – at least for rats.

However, people would have to drink many liters of black tea every day to cover their daily requirement of vitamin B12, since 1 liter contains just 20 ng of vitamin B12, i.e. 0.02 µg. Black tea is therefore no longer available and cannot provide sufficient vitamin B12.

Plant foods: Active B12 is absent

The following plant foods are also sometimes said to contain vitamin B12:

  • lupine products
  • Beer
  • Brewer’s yeast and nutritional yeast flakes
  • Comfrey
  • sea ​​buckthorn
  • couch potato
  • palm sugar

There is no credible evidence of actual B12 content or type of these foods s supposedly contained vitamin B12 (analogs or active B12).

It is also often assumed that the B12 contained – as already explained with tempeh – does not come from the corresponding food, but from impurities that got into the product during the manufacturing or processing process, which of course also leads to very unreliable B12 from the food -Sources.

No vitamin B12 in lupine products

This was the case with lupines, for example, because the manufacturers of lupine products now state that they do not contain any vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 in beer is questionable

Some beer manufacturers also write a vitamin B12 content on their labels (around 0.5 µg of vitamin B12 per 500 ml). However, if you ask there, they don’t really seem to want to determine whether it’s about usable vitamin B12 or analogs.

It is only explained that it is the vitamin B12 that comes from the microorganisms that are naturally present in the wheat or barley grain so that one can now consider for oneself whether the beer vitamin B12 could be useful or not.

Too little vitamin B12 in brewer’s and nutritional yeast

Brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast might contain at best around 0.1 µg of vitamin B12 per 100 g, but this is of no use given the small amounts of yeast consumed. So no vitamin B12 here either.

Vitamin B12 in comfrey doesn’t do much good

In the case of comfrey, it is said to be the rough surface of the leaf that provides good hiding places for the microorganisms that produce vitamin B12. However, since comfrey should not be eaten frequently anyway due to its content of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (a certain amount of a liver-toxic plant substance), there is no need to consider whether comfrey should be used as a (dubious) source of vitamin B12.

No vitamin B12 in sea buckthorn for years

Sea buckthorn was for a time considered the exception to the rule. Apparently, a high vitamin B12 content was discovered in the skin of the sea buckthorn berries, which is explained by the fact that the corresponding vitamin B12-producing microorganisms should live symbiotically with the sea buckthorn plant in the skin.

According to the Swiss Association for Vegetarianism, very high vitamin B12 values ​​(up to 60 µg per 100 g) were detected in the sea buckthorn using an ELISA test.

Then, however, a corresponding product (natural vitamin B12 from sea buckthorn) was withdrawn from the market and the manufacturer explained that they had not been able to find any B12 in their suppliers’ sea buckthorn for four years, which was probably due to soil degradation and over-fertilization.

Vitamin B12 in couch grass

Then it was discovered that couch grass, i.e. its root system, lives in symbiosis with bacteria, which in turn produce vitamin B12. If you then eat the root, you also get vitamin B12. Unfortunately, this solution does not seem to be very practical either.

After all, who eats couch potato – and that every day? The discoverers of the vitamin B12-rich couch potato also report that not every couch potato provides vitamin B12, but only if it comes from a certain region. From which region, however, is unfortunately not revealed.

Palm sugar is said to contain vitamin B12

A few years ago, a palm sugar manufacturer advertised that its product contained usable vitamin B12 in such high doses that just 1 tablespoon of palm sugar could cover 133 percent of the daily vitamin B12 requirement. This matter could not be checked at first, as the manufacturer wanted to be paid £100 for the relevant evidence (the analysis).

Finally, we had the alleged proof of the B12 content of palm sugar. But our initial enthusiasm to have finally found a plant-based food with plenty of usable vitamin B12 gave way to increasing disillusionment.

There was no concrete analysis that detected bioavailable B12 in palm sugar. Instead, the palm sugar trader/manufacturer had personally carried out a “study” with no fewer than 8 people.

They had not received 1 tablespoon of palm sugar a day, which, according to the statement, could easily have covered the B12 requirement at 133 percent. Instead, participants should eat 450 g of palm sugar every day!

It was pleasing that the blood sugar level in the 6 (!) study days did not change much despite these monster amounts. At the same time, according to the palm sugar trader, the B12 serum level increased – in 5 of the 8 participants. Unfortunately, nowhere was it known by how much. But given the amount of 450 g per day, palm sugar is not suitable as a food that could provide vitamin B12.

Plant-based foods do not contain enough vitamin B12

There are certainly many other plant-based foods that are said to be vegan (or other people) to be able to supply them with vitamin B12. However, unless there is concrete evidence of the amount and activity of the B12 they claim to contain, it is best not to rely on it.

It’s just not worth it – especially since it doesn’t mean a lot of effort or big costs to simply take a small capsule of vitamin B12 every day. So why risk a deficiency with dubious vitamin B12 sources?

Of course, you can also have your vitamin B12 level measured regularly to make sure you are well taken care of. Your doctor will carry out the relevant measurements. But you can also easily have your vitamin B12 level checked yourself in a home test using a urine sample.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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