Vitamin B12 deficiency occurs when a lack of vitamin B12 or folate causes the body to produce abnormally large red blood cells that can’t function properly. Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body using a substance called haemoglobin. The nutrient plays a vital role in keeping the nervous system healthy. Maintaining healthy levels of vitamin B12 can help to ward off a range of health problems such as heart conditions and a impaired nervous system.
According to registered dietician and founder of Simply A (RD) Foodie Blog Catherine M. Zymaris, the following foods are a rich source of vitamin B12.
Eat Animal Protein (or B12-Fortified Foods, For Our Vegan and Vegetarian Friends)
Vitamin B12 naturally exists in animal products, says Zymarus, offering plenty go great B12 options for your next meal. Great sources of animal protein include trout, salmon, beef sirloin, and chicken breast.
If animal protein is a no go, Zymaris recommends eating B12-fortified foods to give your body what it needs. These foods are great alternatives if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet or have a specific allergy to certain vitamin B12-rich proteins. Zymaris suggests shopping for nutritional yeast and fortified breakfast cereals, but warns that these foods can vary in fortification and recommends you check the nutrition label to make sure the B12 content is high.
Check the label of fortified foods to determine the appropriate serving size. For animal protein, to get enough B12 you’d have to eat one serving of salmon, two servings of beef, and eight servings of chicken, says Zymaris. But as long as you are eating a variety of portioned animal proteins you should get the necessary amount of B12 – without needing to eat eight chicken breasts in one sitting, she added.
“If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you will be supplying B12 for two. Make sure to talk to your doctor and listen to their dietary recommendations before making any adjustments to your diet,” explained Zymaris.
Incorporate More Dairy and Eggs Into Your Diet
B12 is present in a lot of animal products, which, in addition to meat, fish, and poultry, includes the items found in the dairy aisle like eggs and milk. The good thing about dairy products, according to Harvard Health, is that they are a highly “bioavailable” source of vitamin B12. This means that they are naturally-rich in B12 prior to cooking, whereas foods that are not bioavailable may lose the essential nutrient once cooked.
A balanced diet will allow someone to get their vitamin B12 directly from food
Catherine M. Zymaris
According to Zymaris, dairy and eggs are the two best options for vegetarians to naturally incorporate vitamin B12 in their diet. But she warns against consuming full-fat dairy to protect your heart from excess cholesterol.
Go easy on organ meats
Liver contains one of the highest concentrations of B12, second only to clams. However, despite the large amount of B12 and cultural traditions, Zymaris suggests staying away from these meats: “I usually don’t recommend patients to eat organ meats, as they are very high in saturated fat.” She said they are also high in purine, which is not good if you have gout, a painful form of arthritis.
Clams are much more healthier alternative. According to Zymaris, just three ounces of cooked clams contains forty times the amount of vitamin B12 the body needs daily.
Zymaris appreciated that a lot of these options will not work for vegans. She recommends consulting a doctor as the best course of action. “I recommend to my patients to try to meet their vitamin and mineral needs through food first,” Zymaris says. “But there are certain populations [such as vegans] who can’t always meet their needs through food alone.”
Zymaris confirmed that regardless of which vitamin B12-rich foods you choose to put on your plate, a balanced diet is key for making sure you are properly nourishing your body: “A balanced diet will allow someone to get their vitamin B12 directly from food.” According to Zymaris, this should include lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.
Vitamin B12 can also be topped up with injections or tablets to replenish the nutrient, said the NHS.
According to the health body, the telltale signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Extreme tiredness
- A lack of energy
Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
- A sore and red tongue
- Mouth ulcers
- Muscle weakness
- Disturbed vision
- Psychological problems, which may include depression and confusion
- Problems with memory, understanding and judgement
If you experience any the common symptoms associated with a vitamin B12 deficiency, the NHS recomends consulting a GP. “Although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated,” it said.
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