B12 Foods Vegetarian in India: A Complete Guide

Last modified on October 2020
With inputs from Parvathy Menon - Dietitian and Nutritionist

foods

Out of the 13 vitamins required by the human body, the B-vitamins constitute a group of eight
vitamins essential for your body’s metabolic processes. These are namely:

  • Vitamin B1 – Thiamin
  • Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin
  • Vitamin B3 – Niacin
  • Vitamin B5 – Pantothenic acid
  • Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine
  • Vitamin B7 – Biotin
  • Vitamin B9 – Folate or Folic acid
  • Vitamin B12 – Cobalamin

Eating adequate amounts of these vitamins as part of your daily diet is a vital part of maintaining good health. Most natural sources of vitamin b12 are
found in animal-based sources of food. Since a significant proportion of the population in India are vegetarians and vegans, it is extremely important to understand how to gain your b12 intake from plant-based sources. In this article, you will learn about vitamin B12 foods vegetarian in India and how they benefit your health.

Chapter 1: Importance of Vitamin B12 for Your Body

Like all other B vitamins, vitamin B12 or Cobalamin is a water-soluble vitamin. Due to its complicated structure, it is also known as B-complex.

Why Is Vitamin B12 Significant & What Does It Do to Your Body?

Vitamin B12 primarily helps in the formation of red blood cells, DNA (the genetic material of cells) synthesis, and supports nerve and brain function. It also enables protein and fat breakdown for energy.

The cell metabolism largely depends on vitamin B12 as it enables energy release by helping your body absorb folic acid.

Your body doesn’t naturally make vitamin B12. Instead, you have to obtain it through vitamin B12 rich foods. Since the primary sources of best B12 foods include animal sources, most vegetarians are either vulnerable or already deficient in it. The deficiency is also common in older people above 50 years due to their body’s reduced capacity to absorb vitamins.

Though India does not as yet have nation-wide data on vitamin B12 deficiency, according to a government report published in 2019, around 47 per cent of the North Indian population is deficient in vitamin B12.

Your body can store vitamin B12 for up to four years. The deficiency is rare if you have only recently gone vegetarian or vegan. The NIH recommended guidelines for B12 intake is around 2.4mcg for individuals above the age of 14 years.

Summary:
– Vitamin B12 is also called cobalamin and is one of the eight B-vitamins essential to stay healthy.
– Vitamin B12 primarily helps in the formation of red blood cells, DNA synthesis, and supports nerve function.
– Your body doesn’t naturally make vitamin B12. Instead, you have to obtain it through vitamin B12 rich foods.
– The recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12 for healthy people above 14 years of age is 2.4 mcg.

Chapter 2: Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

As mentioned earlier, most vegetarians and older people are prone to a deficiency of vitamin B12. However, the low levels can also be a consequence of your body not being able to use or absorb this vitamin from the intestinal tract due to some underlying disease like pernicious anaemia., or an absence of intrinsic factor, which is a protein secreted by the cells of the stomach lining that attaches itself to Vitamin B12 and carries it to the intestine to be absorbed.

Why Are Vegetarians Prone to a B12 Deficiency?

Given that Indians are fast turning towards veganism and vegetarianism, it is vital they understand the importance of supplementing with B12 foods vegetarian in India. This is because they’re at a higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency than their non-vegetarian counterparts.

The reason is, vitamin B12 rich food is majorly found among animal-based products like meat and dairy products. Therefore, maintaining proper levels of vitamin B12 in the body is a challenge for people following a strict vegetarian diet.

Since the early signs and symptoms associated with a lack of B12 are subtle, the deficiency often goes undiagnosed for years.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Common Signs and Symptoms

When your body doesn’t receive enough of vitamin B12, it results in a deficiency of this vitamin. A severe lack of vitamin B12 foods vegetarians in India can result in potentially irreversible neurological disorders in the body.

Your body may give some or all of the following signs to signal a lack of this vitamin:

b12

Yellow/Pale Skin:

As vitamin B12 plays a critical role in the formation of red blood cells, a lack of B12 can cause you to have pale skin with a yellowish tinge. Moreover, this condition can also cause megaloblastic anaemia in which the red blood cells become too large to pass through the bone marrow into the bloodstream.

Hence, with fewer RBCs travelling around your body, you can appear pale or jaundiced.

Weakness and Fatigue:

With a low level of RBCs that take oxygen to the cells, your body may lose the efficiency to transport oxygen throughout the body resulting in
weakness and fatigue. It is one of the most common and early symptoms of B12 deficiency.

A Sensation of Pins and Needles:

When your body is short of vitamin B12, it can start to experience nervous system damage. A fatty substance called Myelin surrounds your nerves and protects them from harm. A lack of vitamin B12 affects the production of this substance, and your nervous system may fail to work well.
This can cause a tingling sensation in hands and feet. However, it is vital to note that this feeling may be due to other underlying causes as well.

Balance and Coordination Problems in the Body:

A nervous system dysfunction due to severely insufficient vitamin B12 foods in your diet can also negatively affect your body’s sense of balance and coordination. It may change the way you walk or move.

Frequent Mouth Ulcers and Inflamed Tongue:

An inflamed tongue, also known as glossitis, is a painful condition characterized by tiny bumps and tongue discolouration. It can be an early indication of vitamin B12 deficiency. Additionally, some people can also experience other oral issues like mouth ulcers and prickling sensation on the tongue.

Shortness of Breath and Dizziness

With a vitamin B12 deficiency in your body, you may experience breathlessness and dizziness often, especially when you exert yourself. It happens as your body’s cells do not receive optimum oxygen due to lack of RBCs.

Vision Problems:

A blurred vision could be a result of damage to the optic nerve due to a lack of vitamin B12. The deficiency can impact the optic nerve signal between the brain and the eyes, affecting your vision.

Moodiness and Behavioural Changes:

An insufficient vitamin B12 doesn’t just affect you physically but mentally as well. Low levels of vitamin B12 interferes with signals to and from your brain and can cause problems like depression and anxiety in individuals. Moreover, a lack of this vitamin has often been linked to dementia and mood changes.

A Decline in Cognitive Abilities:

A person with a severely low vitamin B12 can also slowly start experiencing problems with memory, understanding and judgement ability.

Other signs and symptoms of B12 deficiency include muscle weakness, heart palpitations and digestive issues. Fix an appointment with your doctor if your body signals some of the above signs. A timely diagnosis and treatment plan can reverse most of the ill-effects of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Diagnosis and Vitamin B12 Reference Range

A proper diagnosis of a B12 deficiency is crucial as it is often mistaken for folate deficiency due to similarities in symptoms.
Your doctor will suggest a vitamin B12 blood test, also known as cobalamin test, if he suspects an insufficiency of the vitamin.

As part of the test, your doctor will take a blood sample and perform the test.

“The normal reference range for a vitamin B12
blood test is 200 – 900 picograms per millilitre (pg/mL).

Any value less than 200 pg/ml indicates a vitamin B12 deficiency in the person. However, a level higher than 900 pg/ml is rare as the body gets rid of the excess vitamin B12 through the urine.

Summary:
– Since vitamin B12 rich food is mainly found in animal-based products, vegetarians and vegans are more prone to a lack of vitamin B12.
– Some common signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are yellow skin, weakness and fatigue, balance and coordination problems in the body, prickling sensation in hands and feet, breathlessness and moodiness.
– Doctors perform a blood test, known as cobalamin test to diagnose a vitamin B12 deficiency.
– The normal reference range for a vitamin B12 blood test is 200 – 900 picograms per millilitre (pg/mL).

To discuss your B12 requirements, consult with a dietitian on MFine to know more

Chapter 3: Vegetarian Foods Rich in Vitamin B12

Important:

“With Vit B12 primarily obtained from animal sources like poultry, fish, meat, and eggs, deficiency of Vit B12 is common amongst vegetarians and vegans . However, you can correct the deficiency by adding vitamin B12 rich foods like milk, cheese, yoghurt, paneer, fortified nutritional yeast, whey powder and certain types of mushrooms along with supplementation.”
– Parvathy Menon, Dietitian and Nutritionist

Many people in India and world-over follow a plant-based diet, making it difficult for them to maintain optimum levels of vitamin B12, which is largely found in animal-based foods.

Though there are vitamin B12 supplements available in the market, you can also obtain it from fortified foods containing vitamin B12 and other natural sources.

If you are wondering what foods have B12, here is a list of Vitamin B12 foods vegetarian in India:

health

milk1. Milk and Cheese

Apart from being rich in many other vitamins and minerals, milk and cheese are one of the best and most widely found vitamin B12 foods vegetarian in India. Not only is milk readily available (India is the highest producer of milk in the world), but is a relatively inexpensive option as well. A single serving of 250 ml of cow’s milk provides a little less than half of the daily recommended intake of vitamin B12.
Interestingly, vitamin B12 present in milk is better absorbed by the body compared to vitamin supplements

Though all kinds of cheese contain some amount of vitamin B12, whole milk Swiss cheese provides the most amount of vitamin B12 with 1.5 mcg contained in 50 grams of cheese.

butter2. Fortified Foods:

Fortified foods like fortified cereals can be a good vitamin B12 foods vegetarian in India. Fortification is a process in which specific nutrients are added to the product that is naturally not present in the food.

However, it is essential to ensure that the fortified product you choose to eat is free from other harmful additives and is high in whole grains and fibre

yoghurt3. Yoghurt

Apart from other milk products, including yoghurt regularly in your vegetarian diet is a great way to obtain vitamin B12. Yoghurt is among the list of high vitamin B12 foods for vegetarians. You can also mix it with a fortified cereal to boost your vitamin intake.

Around 170 grams low-fat plain yoghurt provides 16 per cent of the daily recommended value of vitamin B12. This makes it a rich source of vitamin B12 for vegetarians. Moreover, yoghurt is also rich in other B vitamins essential for your health.

paneer4. Paneer

Like other milk products, cottage cheese or paneer as Indians call it, is among the list of high vitamin B12 foods for vegetarians. 100 grams of low-fat cottage cheese fulfils around 20 per cent of the vegetarian population’s daily value of vitamin B12. This makes it a rich source of vitamin B12 for vegetarians.

If you don’t eat eggs for breakfast, make sure to include paneer along with other vegetarian sources to prevent or treat vitamin B12 deficiency.

soke5. Whey Powder

Whey powder provides a moderate amount of vitamin B12. 32 grams (1/4 cup) of whey powder contains 8 per cent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin B12. However, whey protein isolate is a purified form of whey protein which holds a higher amount of the vitamin.

You can combine your whey powder with vitamin B12 vegetarian foods like milk or yoghurt to easily reach your daily recommended value of the vitamin.

6. Shiitake Mushrooms

Recent studies have shown shiitake mushrooms to contain a moderate amount of vitamin B12. However, you would require 50 grams of dried mushrooms daily to meet the vitamin requirement. Since it may not be achievable for many, you need not depend on it alone and consider adding B12 vegetarian foods to your diet along with shiitake mushrooms.

Summary:
– Though there are supplements available in the market, it is always better to consume vitamin B12 foods in the form of fortified foods and natural sources.
– Dairy is the best B12 rich food for vegetarians: A single serving of 250 ml of cow’s milk provides a little less than half of the daily recommended intake of vitamin B12.
– Around 170 grams low-fat plain yoghurt provides 16 per cent of the daily recommended value of vitamin B12.
– Other sources like fortified foods, paneer, whey powder and shiitake mushrooms are also excellent options under the vitamin B12 foods list for vegetarians. In addition, you can combine your whey powder with vitamin B12 vegetarian foods like milk or yoghurt.

To know more about vegetarian and vegan foods rich in B12, Consult top dietitians on MFine!

Chapter 4: Vitamin B12 Rich Foods for Vegans in India

While vegetarians do consume animal-based dairy products and usually avoid only meat, vegans, on the other hand, avoid all animal-sourced products, including dairy. Thus, it’s harder for a vegan to maintain adequate levels of vitamin B12. However, vegans in India can meet their dietary requirements with the help of vegan foods,  plant-based foods and B12 foods vegetarian in India.

chap4

If you are wondering what foods have B12, here are Indian vegan foods for vitamin B12:

fortified

1. Vitamin B12 Fortified Foods

Vitamin B12 food sources for vegans can include soy products and breakfast cereals. Depending on the amount of vitamin B12 contained in the product (mentioned on the label), you can eat these fortified foods twice or thrice daily to fulfill your daily requirement of the vitamin.

fortified-milk

2. Fortified Milk

Since animal milk is not an option for vegans, almond milk, soy milk or coconut milk fortified with B12 can be great vitamin B12 food sources to your diet to obtain your
daily requirement. Again, depending on the brand or the product you are buying, the vegan B12 vitamin content will vary. So it is best to check the labels to make sure you are meeting the recommended intake.

yeast

3. Nutritional Yeast

Apart from providing nutrition, this go-to vitamin B12 vegan food source is a great nutty, flavouring substance that mirrors the taste of cheese. You can add this tasty ingredient to almost any food item, from soups to salads.

Nutritional yeast is one of the best vegan foods containing B12. One tablespoon of 100 per cent fortified nutritional yeast provides 100 per cent daily value of vitamin B12, i.e. 2.4 mcg. It’s an easy way for vegans to fulfil their vitamin requirements.

Do Vegetarians and Vegans Require Vitamin B12 Supplements?

Although vegetarians and vegans tend to be at a higher risk of a B12 deficiency, your healthcare provider is the best person to judge whether you require vitamin b12 food supplements or not.

If you suspect that you have low levels of vitamin B12 or follow a plant-based diet, it is always better to get yourself blood tested to check the vitamin levels in your body. Your doctor may recommend a B12 injection if you have problems with nutrient absorption.

However, do not self-diagnose. A doctor or nutritionist is the right person to diagnose your condition and offer a treatment plan accordingly.

Summary:
– Since vegans avoid all animal-sourced products, including dairy, it’s harder for them to maintain adequate levels of vitamin B12.
– Vitamin B12 fortified foods and plant milk make for great foods for your diet requirements if you are a vegan.
– One tablespoon of 100 per cent fortified nutritional yeast provides 100 per cent daily value of vitamin B12, i.e. 2.4 mcg.
– You stand to be at a higher risk of a B12 deficiency if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. However, avoid self-diagnosing: your
healthcare provider is the best person to judge whether you require a vitamin B12 supplementation or not.

Chapter 5: Health Benefits of Vitamin B12

The vitamins you get from B12 foods vegetarian in India helps you to stay healthy in many different ways. From red blood cell formation to DNA synthesis to nerve function, it plays a role in many significant bodily functions.

Let’s learn about the health benefits offered by vitamin B12 foods that are backed by science.

preventsPrevents Anaemia

Producing red blood cells is one of the primary functions of vitamin B12 in your body. When there are inadequate levels of B12, it causes a reduction and inappropriate
development of RBCs. The RBC’s can become large and irregular in shape, causing megaloblastic anaemia.
Thus, a proper level of vitamin B12 helps prevent anaemia and gives a healthy complexion to your skin.

bone-healthSupports Bone Health

People with decreased bone mineral density are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis later due to weak and fragile bones.

According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to low bone mineral density in individuals.

heart-imporveImproves Heart and Brain Health

Homocysteine is a common amino acid which causes an increased risk of heart disease. Normal levels of vitamin B12 in the body decreases your homocysteine levels, thereby reducing your chances of heart diseases.

Consuming vitamin B12 foods also promote brain health by preventing loss of neurons and subsequent memory loss due to low levels of B12.

boostBoosts Energy

Though vitamin B12 doesn’t produce energy by itself, it does play a vital role in helping your body produce energy. The production of adequate red blood cells enables the transport of oxygen to all the cells in the body holding-up your energy levels.

moodnessReduces Moodiness

Serotonin is commonly known as a happy hormone and is responsible for regulating mood. Since vitamin B12 plays a role in synthesizing and metabolizing this mood chemical, it can help in improving your mood and also signs of depression.

skinandnailsImproves Texture of Skin and Nails

As vitamin B12 facilitates healthy cell production, it has been proven to improve various dermatologic symptoms in people with its deficiency.

Symptoms like hyperpigmentation, pale skin, nail and hair changes are common in people with a lack of vitamin B12.

health-pregnancyA Healthy Pregnancy

Though their importance has often been ignored, vitamin B12 foods are vital for a healthy pregnancy. Sufficient B12 levels facilitate the healthy development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. A severe deficiency of B12 can also lead to
miscarriage or birth abnormalities in the developing baby. If you’re pregnant or in the process of conceiving, you must not miss this essential element in your daily diet.

Summary:
– By producing healthy red blood cells, vitamin B12 helps prevent anaemia in individuals.
– People with a B12 deficiency also often suffer from low bone mineral density which can lead to osteoporosis later.
– Vitamin B12 foods help in maintaining your heart and brain health, reduce moodiness and boost energy levels.
– Sufficient B12 levels facilitate the healthy development of the baby’s brain and nervous system during pregnancy.

Chapter 6: Vitamin B12 Deficiency Signs

Anyone can suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency, no matter what their diet is. Still, certain factors may elevate your risk of developing it. These include:

  • A family history of the disease
  • Undergoing a surgical procedure that removes a part or all of your stomach or intestine which helps in the absorption of vitamin B12
  • Poor diet and nutrition
  • Advanced age- your body’s ability to absorb this vitamin decreases with age
  • Autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes
  • Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, stomach ulcers as they reduce the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12
  • HIV
  • High alcohol intake
  • Medication for diabetes, acidity and indigestion
  • Strict vegetarian/vegan diets
  • Following a crash diet for quick weight loss

Some Vitamin B12 Facts

  • Vitamin B12 is sensitive to light. The nutrition content may degrade if bought in clear plastic bags.
  • Those trying to obtain their dose of vitamin B12 from milk should know that if it is over-boiled or too diluted, the amount of B12 in it will reduce significantly. You can lose the vitamin during the cooking process.
  • Long-term use of antacids can reduce the secretion of hydrochloric acid in your stomach and decrease its ability to absorb vitamin B12.
  • People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency due to metformin use.
  • Pregnant and breast-feeding women require more vitamin B12 than others.

Summary:
– Though anyone can suffer from a B12 deficiency, certain factors like older age, family history, intestinal surgery, certain medications, eating plant-based food only and high alcohol intake can elevate your risk of having a deficiency.
– Over-cooking vitamin B12 rich foods can destroy the nutrients.
– Taking antacids and diabetes medication can make you more prone to low levels of vitamin B12.

Chapter 7: FAQs

Q1. How common is vitamin B12 deficiency in India?

Though India yet doesn’t have a nation-wide data on vitamin B12 deficiency, according to a government report published in 2019, around 47 per cent of the North Indian population is deficient in vitamin B12.

Q2. How can you prevent a deficiency of vitamin B12?

You can easily avoid a lack of vitamin B12 in the body by consuming foods to eat for vitamin B12 deficiency, primarily obtained from animal sources like poultry, fish, meat, eggs, etc or even vitamin B12 foods vegetarian in India.

Q3. What vegetarian foods containing vitamin B12?

Vegetarians can fulfill their daily B12 requirements with B12 foods vegetarian in India like milk, cheese, yoghurt, paneer, whey powder and certain types of mushrooms.

Q4. What vegan foods contain B12?

Since vegans avoid all animal-sourced products, including dairy, it’s harder for them to maintain adequate levels of vitamin B12. Fortified foods, plant milk and nutritional yeast are some vitamin B12 vegan food sources that vegans can consider adding to their diet.

Q5. Can you take vitamin B12 supplements?

Although vitamin B12 food supplements are readily available in the market, your healthcare provider is the best person to judge whether you require it or not. While it’s generally recommended to consume vitamin B12 foods, your doctor may advise supplementation if you follow a wholly plant-based diet or have problems with B12 absorption in the body.

Q6. Are there any side-effects of high vitamin B12 in the body?

Vitamin B12 is usually not considered toxic if taken in high quantities as your body naturally gets rid of the excess B12 through urine.

Q7. How is a deficiency of vitamin B12 diagnosed?

Your doctor will suggest a vitamin B12 blood test, also known as cobalamin test if he suspects an insufficiency of the vitamin. The normal reference range for a vitamin B12 blood test is 200 – 900 picograms per millilitre (pg/mL).

Q8. What are the most common signs of vitamin B12 deficiency?

The most common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include extreme tiredness and fatigue, body balance problems, tingling in hands and feet, yellow/pale skin, cognitive difficulties, mouth ulcers, etc.

Bottom Line

Although required in small quantities, vitamin B12 benefits your health in many big ways. Vitamin B12 food supplements are a simple way to increase your daily intake if you struggle to obtain them from natural food sources.

However, fulfilling the B12 requirement through your diet is still the best way to go. The vegetarian and vegan vitamin B12 foods discussed in this article can easily prevent and treat deficiency of the nutrient, provided you are consistent and regular in taking them.

If you still have any concerns about vegan or vegetarian food for vitamin B12 deficiency, visit your doctor right away and get your B12 levels checked. Always follow the medical advice of a nutritionist before going ahead with any sort of supplement or diet plan.

Top dietitians and nutritionists at MFine will provide you with the right guidance and help you achieve your dietary goals

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