It’s estimated that somewhere between 1.5 percent to 15 percent of the general American population is vitamin B12-deficient, and your chances of being deficient only increase as you age. Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms can include depression, confusion, poor memory, balance problems, tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, and more. If you suffer from any of these issues, you may need more vitamin B12 foods in your diet.
What is vitamin B12? Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin that’s essential to red blood cell production, healthy brain and nerve function, as well DNA synthesis.
Even a mild vitamin B12 deficiency can result in impaired mental function and low energy. Vitamin B12 also plays a role in the formation of red blood cells, so a deficiency can lead to the production of large, immature cells that are unable to properly carry oxygen.
Benefits of vitamin B12 are vast and include boosting energy, reducing depression, decreasing sugar cravings and lowering neurological degeneration. This is definitely a vitamin B (one of eight) that you don’t want to fall short on for so many reasons.
How can you get B12 in your diet? Consume naturally high-vitamin B12 foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products.
Are you ready for some of my top healthy picks when it comes to foods high in B12?
Top Vitamin B12 Foods List
Here are just some of the vitamin B12 foods you can consume on a regular basis to make sure you get enough of this essential vitamin in your diet:
- Beef liver: 1 ounce: 20 micrograms (over 300 percent DV)
- Sardines: 3 ounces: 6.6 micrograms (over 100 percent DV)
- Atlantic mackerel: 3 ounces: 7.4 micrograms (over 100 percent DV)
- Lamb: 3 ounces: 2.7 micrograms (45 percent DV)
- Wild-caught salmon: 3 ounces: 2.6 micrograms (42 percent DV)
- Nutritional yeast: 1 tablespoon: 2.4 micrograms (40 percent DV)
- Feta cheese: 0.5 cup: 1.25 micrograms (21 percent DV)
- Grass-fed beef: 3 ounces: 1.2 micrograms (20 percent DV)
- Cottage Cheese: 1 cup: 0.97 micrograms (16 percent DV)
- Eggs: 1 large: 0.6 micrograms (11 percent DV)
1. Beef Liver
The top benefit of eating liver is it’s very high B12 content. All it takes is one ounce of beef liver to get well over most people’s daily requirements for B12.
Just always make sure to purchase beef liver of the highest quality. That means liver that’s organic from grass-fed and pasture-raised cows.
Consuming beef liver can help prevent pernicious anemia because not only is it high in vitamin B12, but it’s also high in iron and and folate. These are three nutrients that can aid in a natural recovery from anemia.
Sardines are very high in vitamin B12, and they’re also impressively high in something else vital to human health: omega-3 fatty acids. Research has shown that the omega-3s contained in sardines nutrition can have all kinds of major health benefits, including boosting heart health, decreasing inflammation and helping asthma.
3. Atlantic Mackerel
Atlantic mackerel (not king mackerel) makes the list of healthiest fish because not only is it super high in B12, but it’s also loaded with omega-3s, low in mercury and is rated a top fish pick for health as well as sustainability.
Lamb is not eaten as much in the U.S. as it is in many other countries, but it definitely has impressive nutrition content. It’s one of the top vitamin B12 foods, and it’s also very rich in protein, iron, selenium and zinc.
Selenium and zinc are two major immune-boosting nutrients.
5. Wild-Caught Salmon
Wild-caught salmon is one of the healthiest and most nutritious protein sources. Of course, you need to choose wild and not farmed to make the most of this fish when it comes to your health.
Wild-caught salmon is packed with vitamin B12 as well as vitamin D, which is another common vitamin deficiency these days.
Research has demonstrated that 800 to 5,000 international units of vitamin D per day can improve musculoskeletal health, naturally slow aging of the skeletal structure, and reduce the rate of fractures and falls in older adults who are over 65.
6. Nutritional Yeast
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan looking for a way to get more B12 in your diet, nutritional yeast is a great option. It’s typically fortified with B12 and other B vitamins.
Nutritional yeast is also considered a complete protein since it contains at least nine of the 18 amino acids that the human body is unable to produce.
7. Feta Cheese
Feta cheese is a great source of vitamin B12 and many other nutrients, such as riboflavin (vitamin B2) and calcium. Traditionally, feta cheese is made from sheep’s milk or a mix of sheep’s and goat’s milk.
If you can find feta cheese made from raw sheep/goat milk, the nutrition and health benefits are even better. Its high riboflavin content is excellent for headache sufferers, since studies have shown that riboflavin can significantly reduce the frequency of headaches, including migraines.
8. Grass-Fed Beef
Grass-fed beef is not just a top choice when it comes to vitamin B12 food sources — it’s also one of the best animal sources of protein. Compared to grain-fed beef, it’s a much healthier choice.
Research has shown that grass-fed beef is higher in precursors for vitamin A, vitamin E and cancer-fighting antioxidants compared to grain-fed beef.
9. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is high in vitamin B12 as well as protein and calcium. It’s also the star ingredient of an alternative approach to cancer known as the Budwig Protocol or the Budwig Diet.
Eggs are a great non-meat source of vitamin B12. They also contain choline, which our livers depend on to function properly.
Research has found a correlation between low choline levels and liver dysfunction and possibly a higher risk of cancer formation.
If you still want to up your dietary B12 levels, you can take vitamin B12 supplements, in addition to getting these forms of B12 from vitamin B12 foods. Some types of vitamin B12 supplements available include:
- intramuscular vitamin B12
- cyanocobalamin (a manmade form of B12)
- multivitamin containing B12
Vegetarian and Vegan Sources
It’s important to make sure you get enough B vitamins in your diet, especially if you are a vegan or vegetarian. Fortified foods help increase vitamin B levels in people who don’t eat animal products, and some plant-based foods are naturally high in the nutrient.
Some of the best choices for people on a vegan or plant-based diet include:
Although eating fortified foods like cereal products isn’t considered part of a whole food, healthy diet because they contain refined and processed grains, for people following a vegan or vegetarian diet, it’s a good way to maintain healthy B12 levels.
There are healthier breakfast cereals on the market, like those made with whole grains, no added sugars and no harmful ingredients. Adding a serving to your plant-based yogurt, açaí bowl or morning smoothie is a great way to get these fortified foods into your diet.
Nutritional yeast is considered one of the best sources of vitamin B12, and it happens to be vegan and vegetarian. Nutritional yeast is also an excellent source of vitamin B6, thiamine, riboflavin, folate and zinc.
It can be added to rice, pastas, soups and salads for a nutritional punch without the need for animal products.
Fortified, plant-based milks help increase vitamin B12 intake, even if you choose not to consume dairy products. Many non-dairy milks, like almond, oat and coconut milks, are fortified foods with vitamin B12.
Adding these milk products to smoothies, coffee and baked goods is a great for people on a vegan or plant-based diet to increase their vitamin B12 levels.
Foods High in Vitamin B12 to Avoid
Although the vitamin B12 levels in these foods are high, they are not considered healthy and should actually be avoided. Fortified foods that contain refined carbohydrates, added sugars and artificial ingredients are not healthy sources of vitamin B12 and should be consumed sparingly.
These foods include:
- Fruit juices
- Processed meats (like ham cold cuts)
- Margarine or spreads high in trans fats
- Unhealthy fish (tilapia, Atlantic cod, Atlantic flat fish and farmed salmon)
1. Possible Cancer Preventer
A deficiency in vitamin B12 prevents folate from being converted into its active form. Therefore, DNA is not able to be properly replicated and can become damaged.
One review published in Supportive Care in Cancer found that vitamin B12 deficiency is common in people with advanced malignancy.
Experts believe that damaged DNA can directly contribute to cancer formation. Vitamin B12 supplementation, along with folate supplementation, is being researched as a way to help ward off and even treat certain kinds of cancers.
2. Boosts Brain Health
Low levels of vitamin B12 have been shown to double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in elderly men and women. Vitamin B12 helps maintain low homocysteine levels, which may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Research indicates that it’s also crucial for the ability to focus and can help reduce symptoms of ADHD and poor memory.
3. May Prevent Depression
Multiple studies have demonstrated a correlation between depression and vitamin B12 deficiency. This makes sense because vitamin B12 is required for the synthesis of a neurotransmitter related to regulating mood.
One study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry evaluated 700 community-living, physically disabled women over the age of 65. The researchers found that the women who were deficient in vitamin B12 were twice as likely to be severely depressed as the non-deficient women.
4. Anemia Prevention
Research proves that vitamin B12 is necessary for the production of a healthy level and size of red blood cells. B12 helps prevent anemia, specially megaloblastic anemia. This form of anemia means that these blood cells are not just fewer in number, but also bigger than normal in size as well as being immature.
All of those undesirable conditions equate to lower levels of oxygen making it through the blood to the body’s tissues, which can result in common symptoms of weakness and exhaustion.
Sometimes, not consuming enough vitamin B12 can cause these issues, but it may also be caused by not making enough intrinsic factor, a protein that binds to the vitamin and allows it to travel to the intestines so it can absorb properly. Without enough intrinsic factor, you may not absorb the nutrient and are at greater risk of anemia.
5. Encourages Optimal Energy Levels
As a B vitamin, vitamin B12 helps convert the carbohydrates, proteins and fats we consume into useable fuel in the body. Without these conversions taking place in an ideal fashion, people with vitamin B12 deficiencies often have fatigue on a regular basis.
Vitamin B12 is also required for neurotransmitter signaling that helps your muscles contract and gives you energy to go about your day without feeling tired and run down. Research indicates that a deficiency can cause diminished energy and exercise tolerance, including fatigue and shortness of breath.
6. Fights Heart Disease
A report published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that vitamin B12 deficiency may negate the heart disease prevention benefits of vegetarian diets. Researchers concluded that in order to further reduce the risk of heart disease, vegetarians should be advised to use vitamin B12 supplements.
People on a vegan or vegetarian diet can also add healthy fortified foods into their diets to support cardiovascular health.
Dangers of Low Vitamin B12
The current daily recommended value for vitamin B12 (based on a 2,000 daily calorie intake for adults and children 4 years of age or older) is six micrograms per day.
Sometimes a B12 deficiency can be masked by taking folic acid in high doses. Vegans and vegetarians are at greater risk for B12 deficiency since vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal foods.
Also, those with leaky gut and digestive malabsorption may be at risk of a deficiency. Another serious risk factor that can lead to a lack of vitamin B12 is taking certain prescription medications.
Possible dangers or side effects of having low levels of vitamin B12 include:
- A type of anemia in which there are fewer yet larger red blood cells
- Balance and walking disturbances
- Nerve damage
- Loss of vibration sensation
- Dementia (in advanced stages of deficiency)
- Atrophic muscles
Low levels of vitamin B12 in pregnant women shortly before or after conception have been associated with a significantly higher risk of neural tube defects in their babies, so consuming vitamin B12 foods is especially important for pregnant women.
If you want to ensure that you get enough B12 in your diet on a regular basis, you definitely want to check out these recipes. They all contain one or more vitamin B12 foods. Plus, they’re all loaded with delicious flavor!
Some of my favorite recipes containing vitamin B12 foods include:
- Almond Crusted Salmon Recipe
- Easy, Gluten-Free Beef Stroganoff Recipe
- Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Lamb Recipe
- Turmeric Eggs with Raw Cheese Recipe
Risks and Side Effects
If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency and decide to take a B12 supplement, it’s important to know that it can interact with certain medications. Talk to your doctor if you currently take medication or have any chronic health concerns.
Medications that are known to decrease the levels of vitamin B 12 in the body include:
- Anti-seizure medications
- Bile acid sequestrants
- Chemotherapy medications (especially methotrexate)
- H2 blockers
- Metformin (Glucophage)
- Proton pump inhibitors, including esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec) and rabeprazole (Aciphex).
- Antibiotics, especially tetracycline
B12 injections are also an option if you have a vitamin B12 deficiency.
- The best way to get enough vitamin B12 is through a healthy diet whenever possible. This isn’t such a hard task once you know what foods contain this essential vitamin.
- The top foods high in vitamin B12 include beef liver, sardines, Atlantic mackerel, lamb, wild-caught salmon, nutritional yeast, feta cheese, grass-fed beef, cottage cheese and eggs.
- As you can see, there are a lot of tasty options when it comes to foods high in B12. I hope you’ll give some of my favorite B12-rich recipes a try. I think you’ll definitely enjoy their flavors as well as their many B12 health benefits.