Is a boost of energy, a better mood, or increased focus on your wishlist? If so, vitamin B12 may just be the illustrious fountain of youth you’ve been searching for.
While there are many vitamins and minerals crucial for your daily wellbeing, vitamin B12 is a standout. In addition to the above benefits, vitamin B12 (1) is responsible for:
- Developing and maintaining your nervous system
- Boosting focus and cognitive function (thinking)
- Assisting in the development of healthy red blood cells
- Making DNA
- Facilitating energy production
- Metabolizing fat and protein
That’s quite the agenda for any one vitamin to manage. Which is why it’s so important to maintain your B12 levels daily. How? Eat vitamin B12 foods.
“Food is an ideal source for a healthy person seeking to maintain their B12 levels,” says Imashi Fernando, MS, RD. Your body can’t produce B12 on its own, which means following a healthy diet filled with B12-rich foods is critical to ensure you’re getting enough of this essential nutrient.
What foods are the best sources of vitamin B12? Glad you asked. Here are some of the foods richest in B12:
- Fatty Fish
- Nutritional Yeast
- Fortified Cereals
- Fortified Plant-Based Milks
- Nori Seaweed
- Plant-Based Meats
Let’s dive into each of these B12 abundant foods, and chat about what makes each of them so exceptional. We’ll also discuss when and how to supplement with vitamin B12 when foods aren’t enough.
Best B12 Foods For Omnivores
Since the best sources of B12 are animal-based, omnivores have plenty of options for this mood-boosting nutrient in their diet. Below, the top four sources.
Liver’s unique flavor can be polarizing. Love it or hate it, loading up your plate with liver is a smart move for boosting your vitamin B12. Organ meats are some of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet; beef, lamb, and chicken liver are particularly packed in vitamin B12. A three-ounce serving of beef liver supplies 1,200 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of B12 (2). In addition to exceeding your daily B12 needs, you’ll also get your fill of high-quality protein, vitamin A, folate, iron, and copper—a crucial mineral for energy and metabolism (3).
Liver’s nutrient density is impressive, but its high cholesterol and vitamin A content may pose a risk for those who indulge in this organ too often. Liver contains six times the Recommended Daily Intake of vitamin A. Too much vitamin A can result in toxicity which is widely recognized to increase risk of seizures, headaches, and blurred vision (4). Eating it once a week is plenty to see the amazing nutritional benefits from this powerhouse food while avoiding risk of toxicity.
These tiny shellfish are loaded with vitamins B12 and C, selenium, zinc, iron, and lean protein in each chewy bite. Selenium has been linked to a lower risk for prostate cancer (5), and zinc promotes the synthesis of testosterone (6), and enhances male fertility (7).
When it comes to vitamin B12, no other food beats clams pound for pound—in just 10 small clams, you can get more than 3,500 percent of your daily B12 needs (8). Clam juice is also high in B12 (9), so whip yourself up a Bloody Caesar while you’re at it.
Clams aren’t the only shellfish that can boost your B12 levels. Mussels, oysters, scallops, and crabs provide B12 and other nutrients, too.
3. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish is jam-packed with B12, and fresh-water varieties such as mackerel, herring, tuna, salmon, sardines, and trout are among the heaviest hitters. Besides a plethora of other nutrients, they’re also packed with omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The mega-healthy fats in this B12 food can help reduce the impact of chronic inflammation in the body, which has been linked to heart disease and cancer. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that having higher levels of certain omega-3 fatty acids in the blood—as a result of regularly including fatty fish in the diet—can boost life expectancy by almost five years (10). Plus, fatty fish can also boost testosterone levels.
The American Heart Association recommends having two servings of fish or seafood each week, so load up on this nutrient-rich catch of the day.
Medical experts share valid concerns that the overconsumption of red meat can elevate the potential risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer (11). But they also defend that, when consumed in moderation, beef is a valuable source of protein, iron, and B12.
A four-ounce serving of ground beef contains over 100 percent of your vitamin B12 DV (12), as well as high amounts of B2, B3, B6, leucine, selenium, and zinc—which plays an important role in keeping your testosterone levels balanced (6).
Searching for higher concentrations of B12? Choose lean cuts of beef, graded “Choice” or “Select” over “Prime,” cuts with the least amount of marbling. With ground beef options, opt for the lowest percentage of fat available.
Best B12 Foods For Vegetarians
Since the best B12 foods come from animal sources like meat, Fernando warns vegetarians may need to be more intentional about incorporating vitamin B12. But that doesn’t mean those who are eating plant-only diets are out of luck. “For those on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, milk and eggs are a good source of B12,” says Fernando. Get insight on these vegetarian-friendly B12 sources below.
Not only is yogurt delicious, it’s a nutritional overachiever with good amounts of protein, bone-strengthening calcium and phosphorus, and gut-healthy probiotics. Plain low-fat yogurt may also be a decent source of vitamin B12, with over half your daily need in a single cup (13). One study from the Institute of Food Science, Technology and Nutrition revealed yogurt is a practical way to improve vitamin B12 status in people who are deficient (14).
Opt for a low-fat Greek variety for an especially protein-dense option with less saturated fat. For vegans or those avoiding dairy, many plant-based yogurts such as those made from almonds or oats are fortified, just be sure to check the label to see if vitamin B12 is added (15).
Ah, an excuse to eat cheese. Slices of swiss, mozzarella, cheddar, and other varieties contain 28 percent of B12 on average per one-ounce slice (16). Interestingly, studies have found that your body absorbs vitamin B12 from dairy products better than red meat (17).
Before fromaging up your next charcuterie board, keep in mind cheese is high in saturated fat. A single slice contains 27 percent of the 20-gram saturated fat daily value, the daily max amount recommended by the FDA for a standard 2,000 calorie diet. Research shows men should minimize saturated fat in their diet to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (18).
Eggs have gotten a bad rap for their high cholesterol content, but this debate has been debunked. According to one study, much of the cholesterol in eggs actually synthesizes into vitamin D and hormones, including testosterone (19).
The majority of nutrients are found in the egg yolk, so think twice before whipping up an egg white omelette. Egg yolks contain high amounts of choline, which plays a role in memory and learning processes. Plus they’re stacked with vitamins A, B, E, and D. One large egg contains 19% of your B12 DV (20). Get your fill of B12 and a host of other nutrients by enjoying an egg or two each day, being sure to eat the yolk for all the added benefits.
Best B12 Foods For Vegans
Most vegan sources of B12 are fortified, a process of adding nutrients not originally in food. An extra boost of nutrients is always welcome, but fortification varies by brand, making label reading essential to know exactly what you’re getting. “Pay attention to the added sugars, sodium, saturated and trans fat content,” Fernando says of those labels. Fernando’s top-approved vegan foods are below.
1. Nutritional Yeast
“Nutritional yeast is the single best source of B12 for people on a vegan diet,” says Fernando. Just one tablespoon of nutritional yeast, can exceed your daily B12 need (21). In one study, scientists found that plant-only eaters who were B12 deficient and supplemented their daily diet with one tablespoon of nutritional yeast were able to restore their B12 levels (22).
Nutritional yeast is also high in protein, containing four grams in a single tablespoon. The cheesy tasting cousin to brewer’s and baker’s yeast is highly popular in plant-based diets for its delightful umami flavor. It comes ready to eat, and can be used to create creamy dishes like mac and cheese, or sprinkled on top of vegetables and bowls.
2. Fortified Cereals
Cereal isn’t just for kids, and it’s especially not just for breakfast. Did you know your cereal of choice just might be loaded up with B12? Many cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals to help meet your daily needs.
Although not commonly recommended as a part of a healthy diet, fortified cereals can be a good source of B vitamins. One cup of fortified cereal can pack a whopping 24 micrograms of B12. One study uncovered that those who ate fortified foods, like fortified cereal, regularly saw enhanced vitamin B12 status (23).
It’s important to read the label as not all cereals are fortified equally. Scan for a cereal low in added sugar and high in fiber. Popular B12-rich cereals include:
- Kellogg’s All-Bran Complete Wheat Flakes – 100 percent DV
- General Mills Multi-Grain Cheerios – 100 percent DV
- Kellog’s Special K – 20 percent DV
3. Fortified Plant-Based Milk
Guzzle down a glass of fortified plant-based milk, and you can check off your daily B12 needs. While soy, almond, and rice milks are not naturally high in B12, they are usually fortified, which makes them an excellent source of this vitamin. One example is soy milk, which provides up to 86 percent of the DV in one cup (24).
Peruse the aisles for unsweetened options to side-step added sweeteners often found in flavored varieties of non-dairy milks. Before pouring, give the carton a good shake to redistribute added B12 and other nutrients in the liquid. Serve it up with fortified cereal for a double dose of goodness.
4. Nori Seaweed
That crunchy pack of seaweed sheets is more than just a satisfying salty snack. According to researchers, 13 sheets of nori seaweed contains your DV of B12 (25). “It should be noted that only two specific kinds of seaweed, dried green and purple nori, contain B12”, says Fernando.
Nori also contains high levels of iron, a nutrient many plant-based eaters struggle to get enough of. Whether you’re crunching down a snack pack, loading up on sushi rolls, or sprinkling nori shavings on your bowl, there are many creative ways to use this nutritious plant.
5. Plant-Based Meats
Many favorite fake meats are fortified with vitamin B12. For example, a four ounce serving of Beyond Meat contains exactly 100 percent of your daily B12 needs.
Before you pile up your cart, many plant-based meats are heavily processed—containing added preservatives and chemicals to make them taste better and increase shelf life. This isn’t warrant to avoid plant-based meats entirely, but “it is good reason to enjoy them in moderation alongside other nutritious foods”, says Fernando.
- Your body can’t produce vitamin B12 on its own so it’s important to eat a diet rich in B12 foods.
- The best sources of B12 are animal-based like meat, eggs, and dairy.
- Most vegan B12 sources are fortified, so read the label to know what you’re getting.
What About Other Plant-Based Sources?
While tempeh and shitake mushrooms provide a promising source of B12 (27), “a person would need to eat a very large amount of these foods to meet the daily requirements,” says Fernando, adding that may not always be feasible. If you do plan to add these foods to your diet, know that while you may get a small boost of B12, you’ll still need to eat other foods to achieve your daily needs.
How Much B12 Do You Need?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin B12 for men is 2.4 micrograms a day (1). Your daily requirements can be consumed through food, supplements, or a combination of the two.
When Should You Supplement Vitamin B12?
Healthy individuals who regularly include B12 foods in their diet should easily be able to hit their B12 needs with no need to supplement. But there are some cases where B12 supplementation may be necessary. Fernando provides a couple of instances where she might consider supplementing a patient with B12.
You’re on a Restrictive Diet
“I commonly see B12 deficiencies in those who follow a vegan diet that is not well planned to include nutrients that may be typically lacking in a vegan diet like B12, iron, and vitamin D,” says Fernando. A good reason to stay mindful of how you’re including B12 in your diet if you’re a plant-based eater.
You’re Taking Certain Medications
“I also tend to see B12 deficiency in people with long-term use of proton pump inhibitors (like Priolosec) and Metformin,” says Fernando, since these medications can reduce your body’s ability to absorb B12.
You Have GI Conditions
Certain gasto-intestinal conditions like Celiac or Crohn’s disease may increase the risk of B12 deficiency. “GI conditions or damaged intestinal cells can affect B12 absorption in the small intestine,” says Fernando.
You’re Over 50
How to Supplement Vitamin B12
While food may be an ideal source of vitamin B12 for a healthy person with no limitations on absorption, Fernando warns, “If a person has been diagnosed with a B12 deficiency, the amount of B12 provided from food on its own may not be enough.”
To treat a deficiency, generally, up to 1,000 micrograms a day is considered safe. Since vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, any unused amount will then exit the body through urine.
Vitamin B12 supplementation is available in several delivery methods, pick your favorite: swallow, chew, drink, or inject. The best form of treatment for deficiency depends largely on the cause, which is why Fernando recommends people talk to their provider about which supplementation route and dosage will work best for them.
If taking an oral supplement, vitamin B12 is absorbed in your stomach with the help of a protein called intrinsic factor. This substance binds to vitamin B12 to help your small intestine absorb it.
If you are taking certain medications, have a GI condition, or are over 50 you may struggle to absorb B12 through the intestinal tract. In this case, injection is the most effective method to get your body what it needs. B12 injections must be prescribed by your doctor, and can be administered either at your doctor’s office or self-administered at home.
You can work with Hone to see if B12 injections are right for you. Simply create an account, then describe your symptoms using Hone’s online form. A board-certified physician will review your answers, and prescribe B12 shots if they feel they can help give you energy or help in other ways. If your prescription is approved, B12 injections will be sent straight to your door.
The Bottom Line
Vitamin B12 is a key nutrient your body needs for many essential functions. It’s found in animal products, fortified foods, and dietary supplements. Whether you want a much-welcome lift in energy levels or extra vigor, eating these foods may considerably improve your overall health.