Vitamin B12 is the only essential vitamin or mineral that vegans can’t really get naturally.
The best food sources overall are animal products.
But while most people think that vitamin B12 is produced by animals, they’re wrong.
It’s in fact produced by certain bacteria and archaea, which are both single-celled microorganisms.
Animals ingest the B12 made from these and absorb them, just as humans can. The problem is that most of these organisms are found in dirt around plants. Since modern plants are well-washed, we don’t get a significant amount of B12 from them.
But animals obviously eat differently.
Animals also ingest the bacteria itself, and some can absorb the vitamin B12 that it makes in their gut. Humans cannot, because it happens too late in the digestion process.
Where Does Vegan Vitamin B12 Come From?
Vegans have 2 main options to get vitamin B12: through fortified foods, and through a vegan vitamin B12 supplement.
The B12 in either source is almost always produced synthetically, using no animal products.
It’s very easy to make it in large amounts by simply culturing bacteria on an industrial environment.
It’s then added to supplements and certain foods popular with vegans like:
- Non-dairy milks
- Non-dairy yogurt
- Nutritional yeast
Vitamin B12 can also be found in certain plant foods, most notably – seaweed.
Additionally, certain fermented foods (which doesn’t strip away the B12/bacteria) like tempeh also have some B12.
Note that very little vitamin B12 is destroyed by heat (or light), so there are no concerns there.