Giving up animal-based food doesn't mean you have to settle for less-than-optimal nutrition. However, it can make it more difficult to get the essential nutrients needed for a healthy diet. According to this study published by "Nutrients" in 2016, vitamin B12 deficiency is common among vegetarians. While it's true that meat is a great source of vitamin B12, there are alternative ways for vegetarians to incorporate this essential nutrient in their diets with dairy products, eggs, fortified foods and supplements.
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Vitamin B12 Basics
Vitamin B12 is utilized by the human body to maintain normal brain function and to generate both red blood cells and DNA. Health professionals with the Office of Dietary Supplements, or ODS, recommend that adults consume at least 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 each day. The most common sources of dietary vitamin B12 are meat and seafood products, which can make it hard for vegetarians to get enough vitamin B12 in their diet. Maintaining healthy vitamin B12 levels requires vegetarians to regularly consume appropriate foods and/or supplements that are rich in this essential nutrient.
Dairy: A Natural Source of B12
Traditional vegetarians avoid foods that contain seafood or meat. Other vegetarians may allow certain types of foods. For example, lacto-ovo and lacto-vegetarians include dairy foods in their predominately plant-derived diet. Certain dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, can provide vegetarians with appropriate amounts vitamin B12. In fact, just one cup of yogurt provides approximately 18 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin B12, ODS reports. Vegetarians who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy products should speak with a doctor about alternate ways to boost vitamin B12 levels.
Eggs to Up B12 Intake
Lacto-ovo vegetarians consume both eggs and dairy products in conjunction with plants or vegetables. One hard-boiled egg contains approximately 0.6 mcg of vitamin B12, the ODS explains, which is nearly 10 percent of the recommended daily intake. Lacto-ovo vegetarians may consider eating a cheese omelet for breakfast to provide the body with a healthy dose of vitamin B12.
Lacto-ovo and lacto-vegetarians can help elevate their B12 vitamin intake by consuming vegetarian foods that have been fortified with vitamin B12. A number of vegetarian and vegan foods, such as breakfast cereals, soy milk and yeast extracts, are available that contain vitamin B12, according to the Vegetarian Society. Combining fortified food products with natural vitamin B12 food sources, such as consuming fortified cereal with dairy milk or fortified soy milk, can help vegetarians get the right amount of vitamin B12. Vegetarians should monitor their dietary intake on a regular basis to ensure they consume appropriate amounts of the nutrients necessary to keep the body functioning normally. If vegetarians do not receive enough vitamin B12 from their diet, they may be at risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to anemia or dementia. In such cases, a doctor may recommend daily treatment with a vitamin B12 supplement.