It’s the question on everyone’s lips at your average vegan meet-and-greet:
“What supplements do you take?”
In today’s world, with its pre-packaged meals, force-grown, nutrient-deficient produce and processed food dependence, almost everyone needs to supplement. Unless we carefully balance our diets, our food simply doesn’t carry the nutrients we need to sustain optimal health. For vegans and plant-basers, this is exacerbated, as we are removing an entire food group.
Fortunately, many products are now fortified with additional vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium and B12, allowing us to achieve a highly balanced diet regardless of our dietary persuasions.
In this, the first of our Nutrition Notes, we look at B12 - one of the most vital nutrients for anyone, and one that can be challenging to obtain on a plant-based diet.
Why Do We Need B12?
B12 is the building block of our blood. It is a vital ingredient for creating healthy red blood cells that transport oxygen around the body. Without an adequate level of B12, we will begin to feel lethargic, our recovery time from exercise will increase, our endurance will diminish and our muscles will tire easily.
Real men should be particularly aware of B12 intake as a way to improve endurance and assist in training and exercising.
It also strengthens our nervous system and is a key component of DNA. Low B12 can also cause:
Weakness, tiredness, or lightheadedness
Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
A smooth tongue
Constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or gas
Nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking
Mental problems like depression, memory loss, or behavioral changes 
While some of these symptoms can seem a little vague and easily attributable to other causes, they are also progressive and, especially in later life, can have a significant effect on your wellbeing. The importance of B12 should not be underestimated and I’d advise a general blood screening twice a year to check your levels of all nutrients and vitamins, especially B12.
Where Does B12 Come From?
For the most part, when eliminating meat, we can replace our nutritional needs through a well-planned diet. It doesn’t take much to work out what we should be including in our meals to get all the goodness we need.
B12, however, is the one exception. To a large extent, we can only receive B12 naturally from animal products. B12 is actually gained from bacteria that live in manure and unfiltered water. As animals often consume both of these, they also ingest high quantities of B12, which we can then benefit from through meat and dairy products. 
Healthy, organic soil also contains B12, and in bygone days we would consume some of this soil (on root vegetables and so on) in our daily meals.
Nowadays, we would neither eat manure and soil nor drink polluted water, so a plant-based diet will inevitably be low in B12.
Animal products are not an efficient source of B12
Curiously and ironically though, animal products are not an efficient source of B12 either, as it is conjoined with other proteins, making it hard to absorb. In fact, regardless of diet, up to 30 percent of people over the age of 50 may well be unable to absorb naturally occurring B12 . For this reason, almost everyone should consider taking a supplement or at least have their B12 levels checked regularly.
How Can I Get B12?
Supplements and fortified foods are by far the most beneficial sources of B12, especially to plant-based real men. Crystalline B12, such as is used in supplements, is easily-assimilable and absorbed into our systems, so keeping your body boosted with a supplement is a highly efficient way of keeping your levels up.
Try to select foods - most commonly, plant-based milks and cereals - that are fortified with B12. Most products are clearly labeled and easy to find, so be sure to opt for one product over another if it has added B12. Nutritional yeast is also a primary vegan source of B12.
However, this still might not be enough, so a supplement from your pharmacy is also recommended.
The Good News
You can never have too much B12. Well, technically you can, but the dosage levels required to reach this point are several thousands of times more than we could gain from our diets and simple supplements alone .
B12 is a very easy and convenient vitamin to find and consume, both through fortified products and in medicinal form. It is relatively inexpensive and any supermarket or pharmacy will carry it. What’s even better is that, while you should always maintain your intake, you only need a small amount, just 2.4µg (or 2.4 micrograms), to reach your recommended daily intake .
If you are displaying any of the symptoms mentioned above, I highly recommend that you check in with your doctor for a check-up, but incorporating more B12 into your diet, both through fortified products and in supplement form, may well help rectify these issues. If your doctor finds that you are particularly low, they may also recommend a B12 injection to rapidly top up your levels.
One study found that, in older B12-deficient patients, it took just eight weeks of a high B12 intake to completely normalize their levels . So recovery from a lack of B12 is both quick and simple, though this should not distract from the importance of maintaining a healthy and consistent intake level.
B12 is pretty much the most important thing for Real Men to be aware of on a plant-based diet.
B12 is pretty much the most important thing for Real Men to be aware of on a plant-based diet. While symptoms may be mild, they can also be progressive and lead to other far more serious issues in later life.
I am not a medical professional and stress that you should always seek medical advice for any of these symptoms, other health concerns, or dietary changes. It is, however, almost the universal consensus that most of us, especially vegans, should be aware of our B12 intake and supplement when necessary.
Be healthy, Be Twelve!
Bryan is a 'self-taught' plant-based activist, discovering the benefits of eliminating animal products from his diet over 10 years ago. Since that time, he has advocated not only for a social shift in dietary and environmental awareness but also to reverse the construct that meat consumption is somehow tied to manliness and machismo.
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