Vegan Deli

Vegan Deli  by Jo Stepaniak

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Raising Vegetarian Children
by Jo Stepaniak, M.S.Ed., & Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D.

Raising Vegetarian Children

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Do you have questions about being vegan? Send them to Jo using this easy form. She would be happy to address your individual concerns as well as general inquiries about vegan ethics, philosophy, practical applications, and living compassionately. Jo cannot respond to questions about nutrition or answer questions that have already been addressed in the Archives

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The B12 Dilemma:
Does it Invalidate Veganism?

question.gif - 1.4 K I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian who has been thinking about "going vegan." The thought of consuming the products of animal suffering is becoming more and more unacceptable to me, and I've already limited much of my dairy and egg intake (I'm buying soymilk instead of cow's milk, that sort of thing). The ethical question I have revolves around Vitamin B12, which primarily comes from animal sources, as there really aren't any reliable plant sources of B12. If this is true, then are we actually "meant by Nature" to consume at least animal products, if not animals? I'm probably nit-picking over something really stupid, but this really has me stumped; it seems that, on the one hand, our bodies may be meant to obtain B12 through animal sources, and on the other hand, the ethical part of me feels that it is wrong to consume animal by products, especially if suffering is involved. Any insights?

answer.gif - 1.3 K All the nutrients a human being needs for optimum health can be obtained from plant foods, with the exception of vitamin B12. The fact that vitamin B12 must be supplemented in a vegan diet does not mean that the diet itself is inadequate.

All vitamin B12 comes from bacteria and is found in the soil as well as in the intestines of animals. At one time vitamin B12 was readily available in our soil and water supplies, and the minute amount that humans require was easy to get. Today our land and waterways are polluted, making it is essential that our produce is thoroughly cleaned before we eat it and our water is purified before we drink it, thus eliminating any available B12.

The B12 that is produced in the intestines of animals gets incorporated into their tissue; hence it is found in meat and other animal products such as cow's milk and eggs. Humans also produce vitamin B12 from bacteria found in the large intestine (colon). However, vitamin B12 is absorbed in the small intestine much higher up, rendering the B12 from the colon unusable.

It was once believed that sea vegetables and certain cultured or fermented foods, such as tempeh and miso, were good sources of vitamin B12. However, these foods contain what are called B12 analogs. These are B12-like compounds that have no vitamin activity and could actually compete with real vitamin B12 for absorption. Therefore, relying on these foods for B12 might actually increase a vegan's risk for deficiency.

Humans store large amounts of vitamin B12, and new vegans who have eaten B12-rich diets in the past may have enough in storage to last them several years. Most B12 deficiency is due to absorption problems that are not related to diet. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to expect that B12 levels in many vegans will decrease over time as stores are used up. Also, B12 is absorbed less efficiently as we age, raising the risk for deficiency, particularly when diets are already low in B12.

Although overt vitamin B12 deficiency is not very common among the vegan population, vegans do tend to have lower B12 levels. Indications of B12 deficiency may be subtle to severe, ranging from neurological problems to memory impairment, and these symptoms may be irreversible. Low B12 levels can also raise the risk for other health problems, and blood tests may not always be able to detect B12 anemia since certain conditions may mask early signs. Among health professionals, there is very little disagreement that vegans need to supplement their diets with vitamin B12.

The easiest way to add B12 to the diet is with vitamin supplements. Vegans can also use fortified foods. Many breakfast cereals, meat analogs, and milk alternatives that have been enriched with vitamin B12 are excellent sources (check the labels), as are certain brands of nutritional yeast, such as Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula. The vitamin B12 that is used to fortify these foods is obtained from bacterial cultures, not animal products, and is vegan.

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