There are two common criticisms that vegetarians and vegans are accustomed to hearing on a regular basis from those who either disagree or refuse to accept their dietary choice.
The first is the famous protein myth, which centres around the idea that without meat in their regular diet vegans and vegetarians are bound to be protein deficient. Although many meats are widely recognized as a great source of protein, there are way more non-meat related protein packed options, many of which outperform popular meats in a per serving protein content comparison (find out more HERE, HERE or HERE).
The second is the argument centred around the all important nutrient B12, and for good reason as numerous studies have been done showing that it can be substantially harder -if not impossible -to come by in a vegetarian or vegan diet. It’s this subject that I would like to centre this article around, to help us all better understand B12, why we all need it and why so many of us are lacking it, regardless of whether or not we eat meat regularly.
What Exactly Is B12?
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps to keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy, all while helping to make DNA -the genetic material in all of our cells. B12 is essential in preventing megaloblastic anemia which can make people feel both tired and weak.(2) The daily suggested intake of B12 varies based on age, but ranges from 0.4 – 2.8 mcg.
Traditionally B12 can be found in a variety of fish, -such as mackerel, clams and crabs -eggs, certain dairy byproducts and fortified soy products amongst several other things found in a conventional diet.(3) Since B12 is not found in any non-fortified plant based foods the commonly held belief is that animal-derived foods are the only true source of this essential nutrient.
However, the truth is that no foods -neither animal or plant -naturally contain vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is a microbe (bacteria) produced by microorganisms and is the only vitamin that contains a trace element: cobalt.(7) How certain animal meats manage to become a source of B12 is that the animal tissue stores the bacteria-synthesized B12 in that which they also consume.
B12 Deficiency Is Impacting Us All
A recent Tufts University study found that 40% of people aged 26-83 have B12 levels in the low-normal range, a value that becomes even more significant considering that the measurement scale varies from country to country.(1) The other astonishing factor is that the deficiency has been found to be just as common in younger generations as it is in the elderly, making it an oddball from most degenerative issues.
Despite this seemingly widespread deficiency, B12 related symptoms continue to be blindly suffered by many since it is not tested for routinely. Common side effects of a B12 deficiency include:
•Loss of Appetite/ Weight Loss
It is also worth noting that there are four stages to B12 deficiency: 1) a decline in blood levels of the vitamin, 2) low cellular concentrations of the vitamin, 3) an increased blood level of homocysteine, decreased DNA synthesis rate, 4) macrocytic anemia. (1)
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