While I try to eat a balanced diet, I don’t track the vitamins and other nutrients I’m getting from the food I’m eating. I just assume if I’m eating right, I’ll be fine. People are always talking about vitamin C (eat more citrus!) and vitamin D (take a walk outside!), but ways to get more vitamin B12 are rarely talked about, so I set out to find some answers. How to eat more vitamin B12 naturally is also top of mind, so I can make sure to be eating more mindfully.
The symptoms of B12 deficiency include weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite, constipation, and tingling in the hands and feet. Vitamin B12 is essential for our bodies to function properly, but you don’t need to add a B12 supplement to your routine to get the benefits. DoctorOz.com spoke with Catherine M. Zymaris, MS, RDN, CDN, CNSC, who is a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of the Simply A (RD) Foodie Blog, to get the scoop on all things B12. Here are the foods you should be adding to your shopping list to make sure you're eating your recommended B12 intake.
What is B12 and Why Does My Body Need It?
If you’ve heard of B12, it’s probably been in relation to energy. This vitamin is commonly known as energy-boosting, but Zymaris says that is a myth: “There is no concrete research that supports [vitamin B12 improving energy levels]. Researchers think that the ‘energy boost’ [often associated with taking B12] comes from the correction of any B12 deficiency which has common symptoms of weakness and fatigue.”
As a vital nutrient, Zymaris says that vitamin B12’s primary function is neurological. It helps keep your nerves working properly, which is essential for many of the body’s functions. Additionally, it keeps cells in your body healthy by aiding in DNA synthesis and can also help red blood cells form — all processes that keep you healthy and alive.
In most people, the liver stores vitamin B12, so “you have a little reserve constantly,” says Zymaris. In the instance of someone with a gastrointestinal disease or anemia, this may not be the case. But if your body isn’t getting enough B12 in your diet, the reserve will run low and you will experience the symptoms mentioned above.
Eat Animal Protein (or B12-Fortified Foods, For Our Vegan and Vegetarian Friends)
Zymaris says that the great thing about vitamin B12 is that it is naturally found in animal products, offering tons of great B12 options for your next meal. Great sources of animal protein include trout, salmon, beef sirloin, and chicken breast.
Don’t eat animal protein? Don’t worry; Zymaris recommends eating B12-fortified foods to give your body what it needs. These foods are a great option if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet or have a specific allergy to certain vitamin B12-rich proteins. Zymaris suggests shopping for nutritional yeast and fortified breakfast cereals, but warns that these foods can vary in fortification and recommends you check the nutrition label to make sure the B12 content is high.
Check the label of fortified foods to determine the appropriate serving size. For animal protein, to get enough B12 you’d have to eat one serving of salmon, two servings of beef, and eight servings of chicken. But Zymaris says as long as you are eating a variety of portioned animal proteins you should get the necessary amount of B12 – without needing to eat eight chicken breasts in one sitting.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you will be supplying B12 for two. Make sure to talk to your doctor and listen to their dietary recommendations before making any adjustments to your diet.
Incorporate More Dairy and Eggs Into Your Diet
B12 is present in a lot of animal products, which, in addition to meat, fish, and poultry, includes the items found in the dairy aisle like eggs and milk. The good thing about dairy products, according to Harvard Health, is that they are a highly “bioavailable” source of vitamin B12. This means that they are naturally-rich in B12 prior to cooking, whereas foods that are not bioavailable may lose the essential nutrient once cooked.
Zymaris says that dairy and eggs are the two best options for vegetarians to naturally incorporate vitamin B12 in their diet. But cautions against consuming full-fat dairy to protect your heart from excess cholesterol.
Limit Organ Meats
Organ meats are considered a delicacy in certain countries, such as Argentina, Germany, and Russia. Some of these organ meats include liver, kidney, tripe (stomach), brain, and pig’s feet.
Liver contains one of the highest concentrations of B12, second only to clams. However, despite the large amount of B12 and cultural traditions, Zymaris suggests staying away from these meats: “I usually don’t recommend patients to eat organ meats, as they are very high in saturated fat.” She says they are also high in purine, which is not good if you have gout, a painful form of arthritis.
Swap those fatty meats for clams instead. According to Zymaris, just three ounces of cooked clams contains 40 times the amount of vitamin B12 you need daily. Try this grated vegetable pasta with fennel and clams for an extra boost of the vitamin.
If you are vegan and most of these suggestions do not apply to you, but you have symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency, you should talk to your doctor. “I recommend to my patients to try to meet their vitamin and mineral needs through food first,” Zymaris says. “But there are certain populations [such as vegans] who can’t always meet their needs through food alone.”
Zymaris confirms that regardless of which vitamin B12-rich foods you choose to put on your plate, a balanced diet is key for making sure you are properly nourishing your body: “A balanced diet will allow someone to get their vitamin B12 directly from food.” According to Zymaris, this should include lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.
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