The most common question people seem to ask vegans on a day-to-day basis, besides the obvious “Where do you get your protein, anyway?” question of course, is whether or not they get enough Vitamin B12 in their diets.
When I personally switched to a more plant-based diet (I was vegan except on Sundays for the most part, when I went back to my parents’ house for some home cooking), I also noticed a few months later that my own B12 levels had dropped, and began supplementing with a regular and then a sublingual (under the tongue) B12 supplement for better absorption.
A July 2013 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that 92 percent of all vegans studied, out of a pool of 174 healthy people, had B12 deficiencies, and even vegetarians showed low levels of the key vitamin.
Vitamin B12 is found in all animal foods according to the website VeganHealth.org, but the thing most people don’t realize about it is that it is made by soil bacteria and does not necessarily have to be obtained by animal products.
Most vegan health professionals do recommend that people who are vegan take a B12 supplement, however, and the reason why is simple: our soil simply ain’t what it used to be, folks. The best soil, soil that is organically managed and replenished properly each year, and not drenched with toxic pesticides, contains a high amount of B12, but the current soils in America and other developed nations are woefully deficient in both this vitamin and many others, along with key minerals like magnesium and calcium to name a couple.
To make matters worse, our produce is often shipped from far across the country, especially if you live in a northern state like Michigan (me), Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, New York or other similar places.
According to Dr. Douglas Graham, author of the popular fruitarian diet book ‘The 80/10/10 Diet,’ Vitamin B12 is not as big of a concern for vegans if they happen to be getting their food from the very best organic farms with the best soil management techniques.
He also notes how the practice of washing our food is relatively novel, and that eating food direct from nature, fresh and ripe with soil particles still on it, has always been the norm, especially as part of a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables. Followers of this diet and lifestyle do not worry quite as much about B12.
I personally eat my mostly organic produce without washing it, even though it’s shipped across the country, and even that didn’t save me from being diagnosed with a B12 deficiency (it also might not be the best idea for sanitation purposes, although I will say I’ve only been sick for half a day in almost five years).
That being said, if you’re vegan, or even if you’ve been eating less animal products and washing your produce often, you should definitely get your levels checked, as there are few if any unrefined sources of Vitamin B12 for vegans.
Nerve damage, sluggishness, brain-related issues, tingling in the hands and feet and more are the potential side effects of not getting enough Vitamin B12 or B12 supplements, so be sure to address the issue if you suspect you’re not getting enough.