Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is a water-soluble B vitamin that our body requires at all stages of life. We rely on it for many critical functions, and a B12 deficiency can result in extreme fatigue or even anemia.
The finger is often pointed at vegans when it comes to inadequate vitamin B12 intake, but non-vegans are also at risk. In fact, about 6% of Canadians are deficient in B12. Vitamin B-12 deficiency also affects 5% of adults over the age of 60.
Many vegan-friendly foods are fortified with vitamin B12 nowadays, but the occasional B12 supplement can help ensure that you’re getting enough. Since vitamin B12 is water-soluble, you don’t have to worry about taking too much of it. In fact, you’d be better off taking a bit too much than not enough.
Is B12 vegan?
Vitamin B12 is made by certain bacteria in soil and water. On its own, B12 is vegan. However, the majority of food products that contain B12 are not vegan. That’s because the best way to access this nutrient on the modern food chain is through the consumption of certain animal products.
In the wild, herbivorous animals get their B12 by eating plants and drinking lake water with traces of dirt. With animal agriculture, farmed animals don’t have access to nutrient-rich dirt. Instead, they obtain their B12 through supplementation.
Why do we need B12?
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that our body needs in order to function properly. Most people are familiar with anemia and tend to associate it with iron deficiency. However, B12 is another common vitamin deficiency that can lead to anemia. Here are some of the main reasons why we need B12:
- Helps your body produce energy & reduces fatigue
- Supports brain and nerve functions (helps reduce stress)
- Helps make red blood cells & DNA
- Helps improve gut health & digestion
The 4 Best Vegan B12 Supplements in Canada in 2023
Here is an overview of the best vegan B12 supplements you can find in Canada.
Total servings: 140 / Cost per serving: $0.16
Garden of Life’s Vegan B12 spray is the most affordable B12 supplement on this list. Not ony does each serving contain 500 mcg of B12 from methylcobalamin, but it also contains 2 mg of a blend of organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The spray is raspberry flavoured and effortless to take. With 140 servings per bottle, this spray will last you almost 5 months.
Total servings: 90 / Cost per serving: $0.25
As a Canadian, Herbaland’s Vitamin B12 & D3 gummies are my go-to supplement during the fall and winter months. Not only do you get your daily B12 intake, but you also get a dose of mental health-boosting vitamin D. All in just one tasty raspberry-flavoured gummy per day.
Each gummy contains 850 mcg of B12 sourced from cyanocobalamin and 25 mcg of D3 sourced from lichen. The bottle contains 3 months’ worth of gummies (90 in total).
Total servings: 60-120 / Cost per serving: $0.20 – 0.40 per serving
Why Not Natural’s organic Vitamin B12 Drops are an easy way to attain your daily B12 requirements. It’s a methylcobalamin-based B12 supplement, making it readily absorbable. A full drop contains 5000 mcg of B12, but the dropper has measurement lines that make it easy to calculate a smaller dose. That said, each bottle contains between 60 and 120 servings, depending on the amount you’re taking.
The drops are cherry-flavoured, but contain no added sugar. Since this B12 supplement contains a high concentration of B12, we don’t recommend taking it daily unless you have a diagnosed B12 deficiency.
Total servings: 90 / Cost per serving: $0.28
NATURELO’s Vegan B12 Supplement combines B12 and organic Spirulina to create an energy-boosting concoction. Each serving contains 1000 mcg of methylcobalamin-sourced B12 and 200 mg of spirulina. Rich in vitamins and minerals, spirulina offers many health benefits. It’s commonly taken for its immune system-boosting ability and is even said to contain some B12.
Each bottle contains 90 mini capsules that are easy to swallow. The supplement can last you 3 months if taken daily.
How much B12 do vegans need?
Vegans do not require more or less B12 than non-vegans. Your recommended B12 intake simply depends on what age bracket you fall into and whether you are pregnant or lactating.
In terms of how much B12 vegans need, both teenagers and adults require 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 per day. Pregnant or lactating women require more B12 per day, as you can see in the chart below. Children between the ages of 4 and 8, however, require just 1.2 mcg per day.
But why do B12 supplements contain a lot more than our daily requirement? You’ll probably notice that vitamin B12 supplements tend to contain significantly more B12 than our daily requirement (often between 500 mcg and 1000 mcg). That’s because our body is not very efficient at absorbing B12. In general, we absorb about 56% of every 1 mcg of B12 consumed. Our B12 absorption rate decreases even more when we consume more than 2 mcg at a time. Vitamin B12 supplements contain high amounts of B12 in order to ensure that we at least absorb our daily recommended dose.
Here is a diagram of the recommended dietary allowances for B12, as per the National Institutes of Health:
What are the best vegan B12 sources?
If you’re wondering how do vegans get their B12, here are some of the best vegan B12 sources:
- Nutritional Yeast: Nutritional yeast is probably the best vitamin B12 food source for vegans. It adds an addicting cheesy flavour to your meals and is almost always fortified with a range of B vitamins. Depending on the brand, just 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast can contain up to 500% of your daily B12 requirements.
- Dried Purple Laver (aka nori): Nori, the most commonly consumed seaweed, contains as much as 63.6 ug per 100 grams of dry weight.
- Tempeh: Since tempeh is fermented, it naturally contains vitamin B12. According to NIH, tempeh contains between 0.7 and 8 ug of B12 per 100 g.
- Certain Dried Mushrooms: It’s been found that certain dried mushrooms, such as dried shiitake mushrooms, contain traces of B12, however, you’d have to eat a significant amount to get your daily intake.
- Vegan Mock Meats: Vegan mock meats are designed to replicate the taste, texture, and nutritional profile of their meat alternatives. For that reason, vegan sausages, burgers, and the like are commonly fortified with B12, iron, and other nutrients found in meat. For example, 1 Beyond Meat burger pattie contains 131% of your daily B12 needs.
- Plant-Based Milk: Similar to cows’ milk, most plant-based milk available in Canada is fortified with B12. For example, 1 cup of Silk Original Soy Milk (refrigerated version) provides you with 3 mcg of B12 (120% of your daily recommended amount!). Take note that Silk’s shelf-table version of this same milk contains just 42% of your daily B12 intake.
- Marmite: Marmite is an umami-flavor packed yeast extract that is usually fortified with B vitamins, including B12. To give you an idea, one serving of Marmite contains 1.9 µg of vitamin B12.
What is the best type of vegan B12?
When deciding which vegan B12 supplement to buy, you might be presented with different types of vegan B12. The two most common are methylcobalamin and cyanocobalamin.
Methylcobalamin-based B12 is the winner as it’s a natural form of B12 that is best absorbed and retained by our body. In other words, methylcobalamin is the most bio-available form of B12 you can buy in supplement form.
Cyanocobalamin, on the other hand, is a synthetic form of B12 that apparently has a less optimal efficiency and retention rate in our body. It should be noted that research comparing these two types of B12 is limited.
What is the best way to take vegan B12?
B12 supplements come in many forms, including tablets, gummies, sprays, and drops. In general, sprays and drops are the best forms of vegan B12. Sprays and drops allow the B12 to enter into the systemic circulation directly, without the need to enter the intestines. For that reason, B12 in liquid form has a better absorption rate. You also won’t find the additives commonly found in tablets, capsules, or gummies.
Vitamin B12 is best absorbed in small doses, spread out throughout the day. The best time to take vitamin B12 is in the morning with breakfast.
Does tofu contain B12?
Tofu is made from soy, which does not naturally contain any B12. The only way tofu can contain B12 is if it’s been fortified. Unfortunately, most tofu brands in Canada are not fortified with vitamin B12.
- Vitamin B-12 and homocysteine status in a folate-replete population: results from the Canadian Health Measures Survey. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Accessed October 19, 2022.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency. Canadian Medical Association Journal. Accessed October 19, 2022.
- Vitamin B12: How much vitamin B12 do I need? National Institutes of Health. Accessed October 19, 2022.
- How Much B-12 Do You Absorb Out of 1,000 Micrograms? Melodie Anne at SFGate. Accessed October 21, 2022.
- Vitamin B12-Containing Plant Food Sources for Vegetarians. NIH National Library of Medicine. Accessed November 16, 2022.