Annabel busts the misconceptions around vitamin B12 and provides all the information you need to make sure you get your quota on a vegan diet. Oh, and she’s also thrown in a quick and delicious pasta recipe to help you add nutritional yeast to your diet!
Maybe you’ve heard of B12 before. You’ve likely heard it used as a buzzword in sentences like “veganism just isn’t healthy” or “I could never go vegan”. As B12 is naturally only found in animal products, there’s a common misconception that veganism isn’t healthy because you can’t get enough of the stuff through plant-based products. However, there are around 540,000 people following a vegan diet in the UK, most of which won’t have had any issues getting their fix of B12. Read on to find out why B12 is so important for your health, and how you can get it into your diet in a more sustainable way.
So, what is vitamin B12 and why do I need it?
Vitamin B12 is a complex B vitamin needed for normal brain and nervous system function, so it’s pretty darn important. This essential vitamin helps to make red blood cells and DNA, as well as forming genetic material in cells and producing energy. The recommended dietary allowance of B12 is 2.4 micrograms daily. There’s no specific upper limit for how much you should have.
If you don’t get enough B12, then you can become anaemic. With B12 and folate (vitamin B9, another complex B vitamin) deficiency anaemia, the body creates unusually large red blood cells that don’t work properly. Symptoms of B12 deficiency include extreme tiredness, a sore tongue, ulcers, muscle weakness and disturbed vision. You should see a GP if you think that you’re suffering from B12 deficiency.
Where does vitamin B12 come from?
Vitamin B12 is actually produced by bacteria that live in soils and waterways which then get consumed by livestock when they eat dirt whilst feeding. B12 is then stored in the liver and muscles of these animals and some is passed into their milk or eggs. However, today’s heavy pesticide and antibiotic use in agriculture means a lot of these B12 producing bacteria do not survive in the soil or animals’ guts. Therefore, B12 is often added to animal feed; it is estimated that actually 90% of B12 supplements produced globally are fed to livestock! Which kind of begs the question: why not leave out the middle man?
How can I get vitamin B12 into my diet?
B12 is naturally only found in animal products, like meat, fish, dairy and eggs. So, if you follow a vegan diet, you may be more susceptible to deficiency. However, there are plenty of fortified foods out there, so you can get your full fix every day. For example, many cereals and plant-based milks are fortified with B12, as well as other vitamins. Yeast products like Marmite and nutritional yeast are also great sources of B12. With more and more people showing interest in vegan food, the great news is that the industry seems to be latching onto this. So, there are way more options for meat substitutes than there were a few years ago. As ‘fake meats’ are, of course, artificially made, many are fortified with high levels of nutrients, B12 included. One of my personal favourites is THIS Isn’t Bacon, which contains 28% of your RDA per 100g. It’s the best vegan bacon I’ve ever had, and you can pick it up from Holland and Barrett (their chicken pieces are also insanely realistic).
However, if you’re not keen on any of these foods, or if you don’t eat much of them, then you’d be better off taking a supplement. The B12 in supplements is made synthetically, so it’s vegan friendly.
What even is nutritional yeast?
If you’ve never cooked with nutritional yeast – AKA ‘nooch’, then it can be hard to know where to start. It has a slight cheesy taste so is great in vegan mac and cheese or on top of jacket potatoes and beans. The beauty of nutritional yeast is that it dissolves so you can basically add it to any soup or sauce to give it a B12 hit!
This recipe for comforting fettucine alfredo couldn’t be easier, as it only uses one pan. You’ll be getting plenty of B12 not just from the yeast, but from your fortified soy milk too. What’s even better is that it’s ready in twenty minutes. Enjoy!
One-Pot Vegan Tagliatelle Alfredo (serves 4)
- 8 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
- 4 tbsp. olive oil or vegan butter (or a mix of both)
- 500ml vegetable stock
- 500ml soy milk (cashew milk would also work well)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 tbsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tbsp. onion powder
- 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
- ½ tsp. oregano
- 225g tagliatelle or fettuccine pasta (nests are easier to cook in the mixture, but any other pasta shape will work fine too)
- 125g mushrooms
- Half of a courgette
- Prepare to cook by chopping your mushrooms into slices, and your courgette into small pieces.
- In a pan big enough to fit all your tagliatelle, simmer your mushrooms and garlic with butter/oil, oregano and a pinch of salt on a low heat for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, prepare your veggie stock.
- Add your stock and your soy milk, plus all of your seasonings. Bring the mixture to a boil, before bringing it down to a low to medium heat.
- Using tongs, place your tagliatelle into the mixture, until it’s completely covered. Add your chopped courgette.
- stir and simmer until your pasta is cooked through and your sauce has reduced to a creamy consistency – this should take around 8-10 minutes.
- Serve topped with cracked black pepper and enjoy!
About the Author: Annabel Mulliner is part of WILD’s social media and events team. As an avid cook, she loves trying out new sustainable recipes in her free time.