“You’re going to die! You can’t get vitamin B12 on a vegan diet!”
It’s needed to make red blood cells, and supports your brain and nerve function (among other roles).
And it’s true that on typical western vegan diets, you won’t get much (if any) vitamin B12 from foods themselves (although some foods are fortified with B12).
However, if you’re a brand new vegan and ate a typical diet (with meat) before, you don’t need to panic. Take a deep breath and relax. Your body’s vitamin B stores can last for multiple years, because you don’t need much per day.
That being said, you will want to get a supplement at some point because B12 is an essential nutrient, and it never hurts to get it early. It’s also a good idea for vegetarians to get one.
You may be able to get enough B12 through eating fortified foods (non-dairy milks, cereals, nutritional yeast, etc), but unless you eat a lot of them, a supplement is more of a guarantee. Some B12 is lost through cooking as well.
So which supplement should you get?
There are a few things that make finding a vitamin B12 supplement confusing:
- There are both vegan and non-vegan B12 supplements.
- There are 4 main different forms of B12.
- Some supplements have doses of 1000%+ of your daily value – Why?
I’m going to clear up any confusion around these questions, and then give you a few recommendation of the best brands.
What to Look for in a Vitamin B12 Supplement for a Vegan
These things may seem overwhelming, and let’s be real, you probably don’t care.
You just want a supplement that is vegan and works.
So I’ll answer these questions, but as briefly and simply as possible so we can get to the actual products.
Why Are There Non-Vegan Vitamin B12 Supplements? (And how do you spot them?)
Animals eat these organisms, mainly in the dirt of plants (we just clean our plants well). Then, they absorb any B12 that the bacteria produces and it’s stored in their bodies. This is why meat eaters don’t need to worry about B12 levels.
The problem is that by the time those bacteria pass through a human’s small intestine, we can’t absorb any B12 they produce. That’s why vegans need to take supplements of already formed B12.
Some supplement manufacturers use bacteria as sources of vitamin B12 in labs (suitable for vegetarians or a vegan diet), while others extract it from animals (non-vegan).
Another issue, is that some companies package B12 as softgels (which have gelatin). For example, Nature’s Made B12 isn’t vegan.
Most vegan B12 supplements will clearly state that they are vegetarian or vegan, which means they are made from bacteria (vegetarian is equivalent in this situation).
Which Type of Vitamin B12 Supplement is Best for Vegans?
B12 can actually take multiple forms (in terms of chemical structure), some are easier to absorb than others.
Here are the main 4:
- Cyanocobalamin – A synthetic form, made in a lab. But is harder for the body to absorb and takes more energy to convert it to a more usable form.
- Methylcobalamin – A synthetic form, made in a lab by modifying cyanocobalamin. It’s the most easily usable form of B12. It’s what most vegan supplements are made from.
- Hydroxocobalamin – The most “natural” form of B12, found in animal products. The body later converts this to methylcobalamin. It’s used to treat cyanide poisoning and B12 deficiency in medical settings.
- Adenosylcobalamin – The least stable form of B12, rarely used in supplements.
The type is usually clearly labeled in multiple places on the product label:
Does it matter which type a supplement uses? It doesn’t make a huge difference either way, but we’re looking for the first 2 types (cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin).
What Dosage is Ideal for Vegan Vitamin B12 Supplements?
Some supplements have a few micrograms (mcg) of B12, while others have thousands of micrograms. They often cost a similar amount.
What’s the deal?
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg. That’s a very small intake.
It’s easy to put a lot more than the RDA in a supplement without much extra cost (in fact it can be cheaper).
Since it’s a water soluble vitamin, your body just doesn’t absorb much excess from a supplement. In fact, your body only absorbs about 13 mcg from a 1,000 mcg B12 supplement.
Currently, there’s no upper daily intake level set for B12, and studies have shown that intake of daily oral supplements of up to 2 mg (2,000 mcg) are safe and effective in treating B12 deficiency (4).
There is weak evidence that having to much could increase risk of heart attack and stroke (5). So maybe avoid mega high doses, but for the most part you don’t have to worry about overdoing it.
One final thing to consider is that high doses of vitamin B12 trigger acne in some people. If you’re worried about that, stick to a supplement on the lower end of the range.
Vitamin B12 has a very low absorption rate. Any excess vitamin B12 won’t be absorbed, so don’t worry about getting too much if there are a few thousand micrograms per serving.
Why Do B12 Supplements Have Other Minerals or Vitamins Added to Them?
There’s no specific reason as far as I can tell to add other ingredients. Other than folic acid (not typically added), none of them improve absorption in any way.
It’s just for convenience in case you also wanted to take other dietary supplements like iron or vitamin D, which people on a plant based diet often do (even if they aren’t mandatory like B12 is).
The supplements below are “just” B12 with no other added vitamins and minerals.
The 4 Best Vitamin B12 Supplements for Vegans
So from everything above, we’re looking for a B12 supplement that is:
- Clearly labeled vegan (or vegetarian).
- At least 2,000 mcg (micrograms), equivalent to 2 mg, per serving (more if you want to take less often).
- Methylcobalamin is ideal, it’s the easiest form to absorb (but others are okay).
- It’s not critical in most cases, but taking vitamin B12 supplements without food can increase absorption.
Recall that the RDA is 2 mcg, I’ll use mcg exclusively from here on to make it easier.
All of these supplements are good, and they’re not in any particular order. The best vegan vitamin B12 supplement will depend on your budget and how you’d like to take them.
I made a simple summary table here, but I’ve gone into a bit more detail for each one below.
|Supplement||B12 per serving||Cost per serving||Type of B12||Type|
|Garden of Life||1,000 mcg||$$$$||Methylcobalamin||Standard capsules|
|EZ Melts B12||2,500 mcg||$$||Methylcobalamin||Dissolving flavored tablets|
|Zhou Methyl B12 Supplement||5,000 mcg||$$||Methylcobalamin||Flavored micro lozenges|
|Deva Vegan Vitamin B-12||1,000 mcg||$||Methylcobalamin||Flavored lozenges|
Note about cost: Prices change on a regular basis, so these dollar signs just represent that typical cost per serving of each supplement. More dollar signs mean that a product is more expensive than another.
B12 in serving: 1,000 mcg
Cost per serving: $$$$
Garden of Life is a very reputable brand who makes a wide variety of vegan supplements.
However, it’s the most expensive of any of these options by far.
The reason it’s more expensive is that this supplement also contains probiotics and digestive enzymes. These are definitely optional, but if you typically take these supplements anyways, it can be convenient.
These are standard sizes pills, which are fine for most people. If you have a hard time swallowing pills, choose a different option.
There’s 1,000 mcg per pill, and having once a day is more than enough to ensure that you have healthy B12 levels.
B12 in serving: 2,500 mcg
Cost per serving: $$
This B12 supplement has 2,500 mcg per serving, so you only need to have it every day or two.
Instead of a pill, these are dissolvable, cherry flavored tablets that “melts” quickly in your mouth.
It’s sweetened with a sugar alcohol – mannitol.
Note that the cost is relatively cheap per serving, and if you’re not having it every day, it’s even cheaper than the other “daily” options on this list.
B12 in serving: 5,000 mcg
Cost per serving: $$
This is the most convenient and cheapest vegan vitamin B12 supplement on this list.
Note that it has 5,000 mcg per serving, so having this once or twice a week will keep your levels topped up.
Another advantage is that these capsules are micro-lozenges, which are about half the size of a normal lozenge. It will dissolve quickly in your mouth.
It’s sweetened with a sugar alcohol as well, xylitol in this case.
B12 in serving: 1000 mcg
Cost per serving: $
Deva is another well-known brand that makes a wide range of vegan supplements. It’s also the cheapest one on this list per serving.
This is a daily B12 supplement, you should have 1 per day according to the label, which seems about right.
These are also lozenges that dissolve in your mouth (normal sized), and sweetened with xylitol.
One More Option for Costco Members
It’s not clearly stated on the bottle whether or not Kirkland’s B12 is vegan.
I contacted customer support and found out that Kirkland’s vitamin B12 supplements are indeed vegan. It’s probably the cheapest option for vegans that shop at Costco.
Which B12 Supplement is Best For You?
The whole B12 issue is made out to be more complicated than it really is.
Yes, if you lived in the wild, you would need to get B12 from meat in most cases because it’s an essential nutrient, but we don’t live in the wild any more.
Any of the supplements on this page will be great for a vegan. You can also find vegan B12 supplements in many local drugstores (and now you should know what to look for).
Pick one based on how often you’re willing to take a supplement, and what type of capsule (pill or lozenge) you prefer.
And while vitamin B12 supplements are important for vegans, it’s hard to go wrong.
If you’re really against taking a supplement, you should regularly eat vegan foods that are fortified with B12 (e.g. breakfast cereals). It’s extra important to regularly get blood tests to check vitamin B levels if you take this approach.
If you have any questions, leave them below and I’ll try to answer.
Standard disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, and this isn’t medical advice. If you suspect you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, go see a doctor and get professional advice. It’s possible you have an issue like an intrinsic factor deficiency, and can’t properly absorb B12. Or, you could folate deficiency anemia, which causes your body to produce abnormally large blood cells.