This is one of the most frequently asked questions that I hear, both in raw food preparation classes that I teach, and in my health coaching practice. Vitamin B-12 is first and foremost required for the formation and development of red blood cells moving through our entire body. Those very important red blood cells attach themselves to oxygen, which they then carry along to tissues. When they get to an area where the oxygen is needed, they deposit their oxygen load and pick up carbon dioxide which they carry back to the lungs. These red blood are hard workers and have a life span of just three months, so are in constant need of supply replacement. Vitamin B12 also helps to build the immune system, and is very important to have in the system before and during pregnancy. It also helps to guard against a number of nervous, mental, and nervous disorders.
“Where does Vitamin B12 come from?”
Many people believe that B-12 comes from animal products. This is not entirely true. When a cow chomps on grass, she eats the Vitamin B12-enriched soil, which allows the bacteria in the cow’s gut to make use of the B12, thereby imparting the animal with B12. People who eat animal products get their Vitamin B-12 from that same soil, via the transport system of the bovine digestive system. Those Vegan ancestors of ours were able to thrive on a plant-based diet without adding any Vitamin B12 supplements. They were getting their food directly out of the ground still covered in soil — soil which they never quite completely removed. So, we can get more Vitamin B-12 if we simply eat more dirt! Rather than taking a spoon out to the garden, we can be just a little less fastidious about cleaning absolutely every particle of soil from our food, and get plenty of Vitamin B-12. For example, it’s tough to get celery, beets, and other root vegetables squeaky clean. Nor is it necessary or beneficial, especially if the soil in question is good, “clean” organic soil which is free from pesticides. An amount less than a grain of sugar is plenty in a day. True, though, if you eat a plant-strong diet, you must be somewhat intentional about getting the amount of B-12 you need.
“How much Vitamin B12 do I need?”
One of the issues around Vitamin B-12 is that no one knows for sure how much we actually need. Recommended amounts for absorption have varied between 2.4 and 4-7 mcg per day either in foods you eat or supplements, or a combination of the two. Again, it doesn’t take much. People far more versed in nutrient supplementation than I can better advise you about products and doses, and I encourage you to seek them out and discuss this issue with them. Here, I want to mention a good food source of Vitamin B-12, which makes an excellent addition to your diet, especially if it doesn’t contain meat, or you just don’t like getting a little soil mixed up with your food.
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast and is dairy & gluten free. Because it is deactivated, it will not cause things to rise, so will not work well for baking. However, it is high in protein, and is a good source of many vitamins, including Vitamin B-12. It can be easily found in health food stores and, usually near the spices. Two brands recommended by many plant based nutritionists are Braggs and Red Star.
Nutritional yeast is commonly used in vegan recipes to replace a cheese taste. In my mostly raw vegan life I use it in smoothies about once a week, sprinkle it atop soups I blend and salads I toss. A very nice treat is cut up avocado and tomato with a little sea salt and some nutritional yeast. Some people sprinkle it on popcorn – probably a much better nutritional deal than salt and butter.
There’s no use overdoing the nutritional yeast. One teaspoonful is considerably more Vitamin B-12 than you can absorb in one day. Remember, too, that Vitamin B-12 is stored in the liver for years at a time. What we’re talking about here is replenishing the supply occasionally, a little at a time, and guarding against having a deficiency. Those hard working red blood cells are depending on a faithful supply of it when they need it.