B Vitamins, for Real

So, recently, Whole Foods tweeted it’s reminder about B Vitamins.

And, I was reminded that without animal products, B vitamin intake drastically reduces.  The long-standing vegans out there already know this, but it was a good reminder for me.   Why do we need all those Bs, anyway?

Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D., from the Mayo Clinic connect B vitamin deficiencies with depression:

Vitamin B-12 and other B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Low levels of B-12 and other B vitamins such as vitamin B-6 and folate may be linked to depression.

Image courtesy of Deva Nutrition

Image courtesy of Deva Nutrition

Lord knows I don’t need any help with depression.  As a result, I went in search of some comprehensive information about how to supplement my diet with my Bs.  I will admit that I’m more prone to getting my nutrition from my food than taking supplements.  I am so completely inconsistent with pill popping, that incorporating foods into my diet seem like a much better alternative, every time.  I mean, who wants to swallow something they don’t want to chew?  Can I get a ^5 on that one?

Ok, and seriously… the bad news is that there are only a few vegan choices for Bs in food.  According to the McKinley Heath Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,

Vegans can get B12 from fortified foods, nutritional yeast, and dietary supplements. Fortified foods are made with the B12-producing bacteria, not animal products.

It was once thought that tempeh, miso, and sea vegetables could provide B12. However, these foods do not contain the active forms of the vitamin. Instead, they contain inactive forms, which may actually interfere with B12 absorption and metabolism.

Yikes.  But the good news, also from the Mayo Clinic is that

The human body stores several years’ worth of vitamin B12 in the liver, so nutritional deficiency of this vitamin is extremely rare. However, deficiency can result from being unable to use vitamin B12. Inability to absorb vitamin B12 from the intestinal tract can be caused by pernicious anemia.

More, the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements provides a great list of B6 food sources that include chickpeas, potatoes, rice, nuts, and bulgar.  So, a vegan diet doesn’t threaten B6 nearly as it does 12.

So, bottom line?  Get your blood work regularly checked.  Just do it.  And if you need a supplement, McKinely gives us this great guide:

Nutritional yeasts and B12 pills are considered dietary supplements and are not regulated as strictly as food and drug products. Companies that make these supplements can change their formula at any time, and the product may or may not be a good source of B12. Use caution when selecting a supplement. Read labels carefully and only purchase reputable brands. Look for these seals on labels:

Image of U.S. Pharmacopeia and ConsumerLab.com Web sitesThese seals indicate that the product has passed voluntary testing for identity, strength, purity, and bioavailability. In other words, the product has been found to meet recognized quality standards (identity), contain the amount of ingredients it claims on the label (strength), is not contaminated (purity), and can be properly utilized by the body (bioavailability).

If you take large quantities of vitamin B12 at one time, you will absorb less of it. Therefore it is recommended to take either small quantities (5-10 mg) daily or 2000 mg once per week. Also, vitamin B12 is sensitive to light, so be sure to store supplements and nutritional yeast in cool, dark areas.

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