The dish on...Vitamin B12 - Cobalamin


Vitamin B12, aka cobalamin, is one of eight B-vitamins and while it is pretty prevalent in our food supply, its deficiency can be sneaky and somewhat harmful. Before you start worrying!, let’s identify who is most at-risk for one of the two most common reasons: low-intake or suboptimal absorption in the following groups -

  • vegetarians/vegans/flexitarians: b12 is most commonly found in meat/animal products

  • elderly population: older individuals may be consuming less of these products for a number of reasons (harder to prepare and chew) and their stomachs/intestines have a more difficult time processing

  • individuals with low stomach acidity

  • individuals with pernicious anemia or gastrointestinal disorders (celiac and Crohn’s) ++ those who have had GI surgery where part of their terminal ileum was removed

  • pregnant or breastfeeding women (needs are actually somewhat higher in this population due to demand for RBC production and DNA synthesis for the developing baby!

So back to some of the basics. B12 is a water-soluble vitamin - if you consume in excess it is excreted in urine BUT some B12 is actually stored for 3-5 years in the liver. It is naturally found in some foods (enriched in others), and available as a dietary supplement and prescription med. Why do we need it? It is essential for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis (hence the importance in pregnancy and breastfeeding).

  • some commonly consumed sources: tuna, salmon, beef, chicken, ham, eggs, milk/dairy

  • and some lesser consumed sources: liver, clams, trout, haddock

  • also fortified in: breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast (my fave!)

B12 that is naturally present in meat/animal products requires the action of acid in our stomach to be released from the protein it is bound for optimal absorption. On the contrary, the fortified source in most grains and the yeast is another active form which doesn’t require this same detachment in order to be absorbed (this is good!).

At this point you might be thinking…so if it’s not found in all sources of food and some aren’t as readily absorbed… shouldn’t I just take a supplement? Not exactly. The body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 from dietary supplements is limited by the capacity of intrinsic factor in the same intestine. For example, only about 10 mcg of a 500 mcg oral supplement is actually absorbed in healthy people (source: NIH). There are also some supplements available sublingually or as lozenges, but studies have not found these to be more bioavailable.

Take home message: B12 is a super important vitamin that our body cannot produce on its own, you must ingest in some for or another! The majority of healthy children and adults consume and absorb enough eliminating the potential for deficiency. If you’re one of (or soon to become one of) the populations who might not receive enough, talk with a doctor or dietitian (ahem!) on the best way to ensure you’re getting enough — I would love to put out a blanket statement on here for these groups, but that’s hardly safe or even close to possible :)

…psst, finally, if you’re looking for a way to add some nutritional yeast to your diet (found at trader joe’s or Bragg’s brand at most other stores), keep reading:

  • sprinkled on air-popped popcorn!

  • used as “parmesan” cheese-like topper: salads, bowls, wraps, sandwiches, pizza/tacos, pasta

  • made into a cream sauce, dressing or spread for any of the above items ^

  • baked into savory dishes or casseroles!

EZ nutritional sauce recipe: 1 cup cashews, 3 tbsp nutritional yeast, 1-2 tbsp sunflower seeds, 1/2 tsp stone ground mustard, 3/4 cup non-dairy milk, 1/2 tbsp hot sauce. BLEND! Add more milk to desired thickness. Toss with squash, pasta, anything you’d like!

turkey OR tempeh meatballs:
-1/4 cup finely chopped onion, 1 clove minced garlic
-2 tbsp nutritional yeast
-1 egg
-1/3 cup rolled oats, oat flour (or a mix of these)
-1 lb ground turkey OR 2 blocks tempeh, crumbled
-1 tbsp olive oil, salt & pepper (dash), franks hot sauce (dash), EBTB!
Combine the above ingredients (use more flour, as needed); roll the mix into balls, place on lined baking sheet, sprinkle with more EBTB. In a 400 oven, bake approx 15-20 minutes, temping to finish. Top your saucy squash mixture, sprinkle more nut yeast, then enjoy!

Kayla Hansmann