Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that has many critical functions in the body.
It plays an important role in how the body metabolizes energy from food, the promotion of optimal brain function, new DNA synthesis, and the formation of red blood cells. Not getting enough B12 from food or supplement sources may therefore result in fatigue, stress, depression, memory loss, and other issues.
This article reviews vitamin B12 deficiency, populations at risk, and 15 food sources that are high in vitamin B12.
Nearly 40 percent of the population may be deficient in vitamin B12, making the issue much more prevalent than previously thought.
Inadequate vitamin B12 levels in the body, resulting from poor intake or malabsorption, can inhibit red blood cell formation and lead to megaloblastic anemia.
One of the main symptoms of megaloblastic anemia is fatigue, since the body lacks red blood cells to transport oxygen to organs. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, constipation or diarrhea, and loss of appetite.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can also lead to depression, stress, loss of balance, and numbness or tingling in the extremities, with or without the presence of anemia.
Additionally, low blood levels of vitamin B12 can prevent the metabolism of homocysteine, an amino acid that is normally found in the blood. This can result in high blood levels of homocysteine, which has been identified as a risk factor for heart disease and may increase the risk of stroke.
Individuals at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency include older adults with decreased stomach acid or intrinsic factor (a protein substance needed for B12 absorption); those who have celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or other digestive issues; pregnant and lactating women; and those who follow a strict vegetarian and vegan diet.
Vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods, since it is synthesized by gut bacteria in animals.
However, there are countless plant-based products that are fortified with this vitamin to help vegetarians and vegans meet their needs.
The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4 micrograms (mcg) per day, and slightly more for pregnant and lactating women. To help you meet your needs, here are some excellent food sources of vitamin B12.
Beef is incredibly rich in vitamin B12, with 4 ounces of top sirloin packing 3.7 micrograms. All kinds of beef, not just sirloin cuts, are good sources of this important vitamin.
You can enjoy lean steaks and filets with a side of veggies for a nutritious meal, or incorporate ground beef or beef tips into soups and chilis to up your B12 intake.
Sardines (those small but mighty fish!) are loaded with B12. In fact, just ¼ cup of sardines provides 3.3 micrograms. You can add sardines to salads, or toss them in lemon juice and olive oil to add to pasta dishes.
While eating animal liver may not be as common as enjoying a steak or chicken breast, adding it to your diet on occasion can help you meet your vitamin B12 needs. One ounce of chicken liver contains a whopping 4.8 micrograms of B12.
A fresh salmon fillet isn’t just delicious, it’s also a great source of B12. A 3-ounce cooked piece of salmon provides 3.9 micrograms. Season it with fresh dill, salt, and pepper, and pair with steamed broccoli for a tasty meal.
Fortified nutritional yeast, a plant-based, deactivated yeast with a “cheesy” taste, is one of the best sources of vitamin B12 for those on vegan or vegetarian diets.
Just one tablespoon of Bragg’s Nutritional Yeast provides over 500% of your daily B12 needs. You can add this tasty ingredient to popcorn, salad dressings, and pasta.
A single, large clam comes close to providing 100% of the RDA for B12, with 2.3 micrograms. Enjoy steamed clams with broth or butter, or toss them with pasta and parmesan cheese.
Another nutritious seafood option, tuna fish has 1.8 micrograms of vitamin B12 per 3 ounces. Flaked tuna mixed with dijon mustard, Greek yogurt, red onion, and lemon juice can be served on whole grain bread, lettuce wraps, and even seed crackers.
Since dairy products are derived from cow’s milk, most of them are high in B12. Mozzarella cheese, in particular, contains more vitamin B12 than most other cheeses. One cup of shredded mozzarella cheese provides just over one microgram of B12.
Chicken is not just one of the most versatile proteins. It’s also a good source of vitamin B12, providing 0.43 micrograms per cup. If you’re looking to increase your B12 intake, throw some chicken slices on a salad or serve chicken breasts for dinner.
Plant-based “milks” are typically fortified with vitamin B12, making them a good source of this nutrient for those on a plant-based diet. One cup of Oatly brand Oat Milk contains approximately 0.9 micrograms of vitamin B12.
Oat milk can be added to cereals, coffee drinks, smoothies, and more.
Eggs are a versatile food that can be added to several dishes to increase the vitamin B12 content. One large egg has close to 0.4 micrograms of B12, meaning a 3 egg omelet would provide over half of the RDA!
Several cereals are fortified with vitamin B12, but some contain higher amounts of this nutrient than others. One serving of Kashi Heart to Heart Instant Oatmeal, for example, provides 100% of the Daily Value (DV) of B12.
Regular and Greek yogurts are rich in vitamin B12, and can be enjoyed for breakfast, dessert, or as a snack. Or mix them into smoothies, soups, and dips for an additional way to meet your B12 needs, especially if you don’t eat many animal products.
Soft, buttery brie cheese has more vitamin B12 than most other cheeses. In fact, one cup provides 100% of the RDA for B12. You can enjoy brie cheese with fruit, nuts, or spread onto brown rice cakes.
Some varieties of fortified soy milks are good sources of vitamin B12, including Silk Original Soymilk. One cup of this product provides 3 micrograms, or 130% of the DV for B12. You can enjoy soy milk with cereal and oatmeal or add it to smoothies.
Most people can get adequate amounts of vitamin B12 from food sources, but some may need additional supplements.
Individuals who have difficulty absorbing B12, especially older adults or those with digestive disorders, should speak to their doctor about supplements.
Both pills and injections, which are better suited for those who have trouble with B12 absorption, are available.
Getting enough B12 is incredibly important for maintaining energy levels, optimal brain function, and neurological health.
You can easily meet your B12 needs by incorporating some of the foods on this list into your diet. However, if you are concerned about getting enough vitamin B12, speak with a dietitian or physician to get your blood levels tested.