Are you looking to increase your intake of vitamin B12? This essential nutrient plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy nervous system and producing red blood cells.
B12 is primarily found in animal-based foods, making it important for individuals following a vegetarian or vegan diet to ensure they are getting enough of this important nutrient through fortified foods or supplements. If you’re wondering which foods are the best sources of B12, look no further. Here are the five most popular B12 foods that you should consider adding to your diet to help you meet your daily requirements:
- Shellfish: Shellfish, such as clams, mussels, and oysters, are excellent sources of vitamin B12. Just 3 ounces of cooked clams can provide more than 1,000% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of B12. Other shellfish varieties, like mussels and oysters, also contain significant amounts of this essential nutrient.
- Fish: Fatty fish like salmon, trout, and tuna are not only rich in omega-3 fatty acids but also provide a good amount of vitamin B12. A 3-ounce serving of cooked salmon can provide around 80% of the RDI for B12. Including fish in your diet can be a delicious way to meet your B12 needs.
- Meat and Poultry: Animal meats, such as beef, lamb, chicken, and pork, are excellent sources of vitamin B12. Organ meats, like liver and kidney, are particularly high in B12 content. A 3-ounce serving of beef liver can provide more than 1,000% of the RDI for B12, making it a powerhouse of this essential nutrient.
- Dairy Products: Dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt, are good sources of vitamin B12. For example, a cup of plain yogurt can provide around 23% of the RDI for B12. Vegetarians who consume dairy can easily incorporate these foods into their diet to meet their B12 requirements.
- Eggs: Eggs are not only a versatile and nutritious food but also a good source of vitamin B12. One large egg can provide approximately 6% of the RDI for B12. Including eggs in your diet can be an easy way to add this essential nutrient to your meals.
What About B12 Supplements?
Yes, you can take a B12 supplement. Why? Because taking a B12 supplement can help ensure an adequate intake of this vitamin and prevent deficiency-related health issues. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement to determine the appropriate dosage and ensure it is safe for your specific needs.
The amount of B12 needed in a supplement can vary depending on various factors such as age, gender, and individual health conditions. However, the recommended daily intake for adults is typically around 2.4 micrograms.
It is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage for your specific needs, as they can take into account any underlying health conditions or dietary restrictions that may affect your B12 requirements. Additionally, it is important to consider your overall intake from all sources — foods and supplements — when determining the appropriate dosage.
Health Issues that Might Interfere with Your B12 Uptake
Several health conditions can interfere with B12 absorption in the body. One such condition is pernicious anemia, which is an autoimmune disease where the body is unable to produce intrinsic factor, a protein needed for B12 absorption in the small intestine.
Another condition that can affect B12 absorption is atrophic gastritis, which is the inflammation and thinning of the stomach lining. This can lead to a decrease in the production of stomach acid and intrinsic factor, impairing B12 absorption.
Additionally, conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and pancreatic disorders can also interfere with B12 absorption due to damage or inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
And last but not least, individuals who have undergone certain surgeries, such as weight loss surgeries or those involving the removal of parts of the stomach or small intestine, may also experience difficulties in absorbing B12.
3 Ways to Know if You’re Getting Enough B12
Knowing if you’re getting enough B12 can be determined through a few indicators. One way is to assess your diet and determine if you are consuming enough foods that are rich in vitamin B12, such as meat, fish, dairy, and fortified cereals.
Another way is to pay attention to any symptoms or signs of B12 deficiency, which can include fatigue, weakness, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, difficulty in maintaining balance, and pale or yellowish skin. If you suspect a deficiency or are experiencing these symptoms, you should consult with a healthcare professional who can order the appropriate B12 test and provide guidance on treatment options if necessary.
Vitamin B12 Testing
Pinpointing a B12 deficiency can be difficult because the symptoms are often similar to those of other health issues. However, the easiest way to rule out a deficiency is to establish your B12 status.
There are three common diagnostic biomarkers for B12 status and they include serum or plasma vitamin B12, homocysteine, and methylmalonic acid (MMA). Below are concise descriptions of these tests we wrote about in a previous blog.
Serum (or plasma) B12: When using serum (or plasma) vitamin B12 concentrations to determine nutrient status, serum B12 >300 pg/mL is considered normal, B12 between 200-300 pg/mL is considered borderline, and those with B12 <200 pg/mL are considered deficient. However, serum B12 levels may be unreliable, as one study found that measuring serum B12 only identified true deficiency in 22% of cases. The discrepancy between serum vitamin B12 levels and status is likely twofold. First, most circulating B12 is bound to other proteins and not bioavailable. Additionally, B12 can be stored in the liver, masking B12 deficiency for several years. Therefore, B12 levels in the blood don’t always reflect true B12 status.
Plasma total homocysteine levels: Plasma homocysteine levels can accumulate during B12 deficiency because of the diminished activity of methionine synthase. The normal range of total homocysteine in human plasma is 5-15 micromol/L, and values >13 micromol/L may be considered elevated and indicate insufficient B12 status. While using total homocysteine levels is a sensitive indicator of vitamin B12 deficiency, it is not specific. Total homocysteine levels can also be elevated with other conditions, such as deficiencies in folate, riboflavin, and vitamin B6, as well as with conditions like hypothyroidism or kidney disease.
Methylmalonic acid (MMA): MMA accumulates with vitamin B12 deficiency due to the diminished activity of methylmalonyl-CoA mutase. Although MMA levels can also be elevated with kidney dysfunction, elevated serum or urinary MMA is the most specific indicator of vitamin B12 deficiency, and many regard it as the most accurate marker. Although historically, MMA was considered expensive to measure, that has changed more recently with the use of urinary MMA (uMMA) testing. Studies have found that fasting uMMA concentrations corrected for creatinine (to rule out kidney dysfunction) are highly linearly correlated with serum MMA samples and have high sensitivity and specificity for subnormal B12 concentrations. When using uMMA to measure B12 status, levels below 2.0 mmol/mol creatinine are considered optimal. If higher than 3.8 mmol/mol creatinine, B12 status is likely very low and should be discussed with a trusted healthcare provider.
What to Keep in Mind
For individuals following a plant-based diet, it can be challenging to obtain sufficient amounts of vitamin B12 from food sources alone. In such cases, fortified foods like breakfast cereals, plant-based milk, and nutritional yeast can be excellent options. Additionally, B12 supplements are widely available and can help ensure you meet your daily requirements.
Increasing your intake of vitamin B12 doesn’t have to be complicated. By incorporating these popular B12 foods into your diet, you can ensure that you’re getting enough of this essential nutrient. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian if you have any specific dietary concerns or restrictions or are experiencing any issues that might signal a B12 deficiency. As always, the path of least resistance is to establish your B12 level through testing and then make a plan from there.