Vitamin B12 keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells working properly and is important in the production of genetic material—making it especially essential during early life, adolescence, and pregnancy. Along with folic acid, B12 helps in iron absorption, so you also need B12 to avoid certain types of anemia.
Excess B12 is stored in your liver for use when you need it. If you don’t overdo it (bloating and diarrhea are the unpleasant but largely harmless symptoms of excess B12 consumption), you can build up quite a backup supply.
B12 can be found naturally in some foods, or you can get B12 from fortified foods and supplements. The absorption of B12 from food is a two-step process requiring hydrochloric stomach acid and a protein, also produced in the stomach, called intrinsic factor. Older adults and others whose stomachs don’t produce enough hydrochloric acid must get their B12 from fortified foods and supplements. Those without enough intrinsic factor will likely need special supplements prescribed by a doctor.
Here are 12 easy ways to get the B12 you need:
- Animal Liver and Kidneys. They may not be to everyone’s taste, but organ meats like liver and kidneys are rich in B12. A 3.5 oz portion of cooked beef liver has more than 13 times your recommended daily intake (RDI) of B12.
- Just 3 oz. of cooked clams contains 1,400% of your daily B12.
- These little fish (you’ll usually find them canned) are a fine source of B12 with more than 200% RDI of B12 per cup.
- Just a 3 oz. steak contains 88% of your RDI of B12.
- Fortified cereal. They’re not your overall healthiest breakfast option, but fortified cereal can be an excellent source of B12. And since the B12 in cereal comes from synthetic sources (not animal ones), it’s a great option for vegetarians. A ¾ cup serving of high-fiber bran cereal has 137% of your daily B12.
- A cup of canned tuna in water contains 77% of your recommended daily B12.
- Fortified nutritional yeast. Delicious on popcorn—or just about anything—just two tablespoons of this fortified yeast has 133% of your daily B12. Another great option for vegetarians.
- In addition to its other nutritional benefits—and delicious taste—3 oz. of trout has 106% of your RDI of B12.
- A 3 oz. portion of salmon has 40% of your daily B12.
- Fortified non-dairy milk. Another ideal source for vegetarians, non-dairy milk can be a great B12 source. One cup of soy milk, for example, has 44% of your RDI of B12.
- Milk and dairy products. A cup of nonfat milk has 22% of your daily B12, which might not sound very high. But while dairy’s numbers aren’t as impressive, some studies have shown that the B12 in dairy is absorbed more easily than that from beef or
- Eggs are a fantastic source of protein and a great source of B12 to boot. Just two eggs contain 52% of your RDI of B12.
Candidates for Extra B12
How do you know if you need extra B12? A simple nutritional screen can test your blood for B12 and folate. And if you’re 50 or older, have Crohn’s or celiac disease, take medication for ulcers or acid reflux, or are vegan, you may want to make sure you’re getting enough. Look out for these symptoms:
- Weakness, tiredness, or lightheadedness
- Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- A smooth tongue
- Constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or gas
- Nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking
- Vision loss
- Mental problems like depression, memory loss, or behavioral changes
If you have one or more of these symptoms and reason to believe you might have a B12 deficiency, check with your doctor.