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Is vitamin B12 really a problem in a vegetarian diet?

Yes, intake of vitamin B12 can often be a problem in a vegetarian diet. For example, in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003-2010, only 55% of vegetarians were determined to meet their daily B12 requirements, in comparison to 82% of non-vegetarians. The issue of vitamin B12 from plant foods versus animal foods is confusing, since no plants or animals are capable of making vitamin B12. Microorganisms—and especially bacteria and fungi—are the only organisms definitively known to produce vitamin B12. However, even though land animals and fish cannot make vitamin B12 in their cells, they are often able to save up B12 produced by bacteria and concentrate it in their cells. By storing B12 in their cells, many land animal foods and seafoods become rich in B12, even though they cannot make this vitamin on their own. All but one of our WHFoods ranked sources of B12 come from animal foods or fish. (The single exception here is crimini mushrooms, which fall into the fungus category as discussed further below.) There has been longstanding debate over algal production of B12, which includes debate over the potential role of sea vegetables to provide B12 (as well as debate over dietary supplements like spirulina). However, we interpret the research in this area to show that sea vegetables cannot be counted on for B12 support, not because there is no possibility of B12 production in sea vegetables, but because the form of B12 in sea vegetables is not a usable vitamin form. While fresh plant foods cannot be counted on to provide you with B12, the fermentation of plant foods can change this situation. The use of B12-producing bacteria and/or...

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