Eggs and ham and sweets and ... Vitamin B12. Who would have thought that typical Easter food is a treasure trove of one of the most elusive vitamins? Let's go hunting!
If you’ve heard about vitamin B12, it was probably in the context of how vegetarians and vegans are at risk for not getting enough. Or you might have had it prescribed to help fight tiredness and fatigue. In any case, it is an important nutrient which affects our body significantly, and as such, it is vital to know a bit more about it – especially where to find it!
What does B12 do?
Like other vitamins from the B group, vitamin B-12 is water-soluble. Vitamin B12 contains the mineral cobalt, so compounds with vitamin B12 activity are called “cobalamins.”
It is the largest and most structurally complex vitamin with diverse functions in our body.
B12 is crucial for the functioning of the entire nervous system. It is also involved in the synthesis of DNA, formation of mature red blood cells, and fatty acids. Pretty versatile and very important indeed!
Am I at risk for not having enough B12?
Certain medical conditions make it more likely you will develop vitamin B12 deficiency because they impact how your body absorb or stores it. They include atrophic gastritis, pernicious anaemia, Crohn's disease, celiac disease, lupus, AIDS, liver disorders, etc.
If you have any intestinal or autoimmune disorders, consult your doctor, because you are more at risk. The same goes for medications.
Age is also a factor – older people are more at risk of vitamin B12 deficit because they have decreased stomach acidity. It makes it harder for our body to remove vitamin B12 from the protein in meat.
What happens if we don’t get enough?
Lack of vitamin B12 can occur because:
- You don’t consume enough.
- You don’t absorb or store it properly.
Vitamin B12 deficiency leads to anaemia, which commonly expresses as fatigue, weakness, and paleness, in severe cases as shortness of breath, dizziness, and a rapid heart rate.
If it affects nervous system, people feel it as tingling sensation and weakness in feet and hands. Some people also experience confusion, irritability, and mild depression.
Severe vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to delirium, paranoia, impaired mental function, even dementia.
How much B12 do I need?
Luckily, we don’t need much of it. The typical general supplemental dose of vitamin B12 ranges from 1 to 25 micrograms per day.
Extensive evidence has shown that 2 micrograms of B12 daily will maintain not only adequate levels in your body but also create substantial reserves. Pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly require higher doses.
You have substantial reserves of vitamin B12 safely stashed away in your liver. If you cut off any source of B12 now, your body has enough stored to last you for 3–5 years!
This means that with diverse nutrition (and no other factors which can significantly impact your levels), you can gave enough B12 without much effort.
Which brings us to …
Where can I find B12?
Vitamin B12 is the most abundant in meat (beef, pork, and offal), seafood, eggs, milk, and other dairy products, such as Greek yoghurt.
Bad news for vegetarians and vegans is that B12 is typically not present in plant-based food, although some nutritional yeast products contain it. There is, though, a wide selection of fortified foods available, from cereals to milk, as well as food supplements so you can get it no matter your diet.
Food supplements are available over the counter, and they usually contain cyanocobalamin, a form that the body readily converts to the active form, or one of the active forms itself, the methylcobalamin.
Traditional Easter food: a B12 banquet
Especially eggs are a great source of complete protein and B vitamins, mostly B2 and B12. Two large eggs (100 grams) provide you with more than 20% of the required daily intake of vitamin B12. Add ham with 0.7 µg per 100 g, cheese with one slice containing 0.9 µg of B12, and you can put together a not only tasty but also a nutritionally rich meal.
And did you spot the pattern? Good sources of vitamin B12 can all be found on a traditional Easter table! By combining only eggs, ham and cheese, you are providing your body with its daily requirements of this particulate nutrient.
What are other rich sources of B12?
What do your genes say?
Even though the lack of vitamin B12 is commonly attributed to vegetarians, vegans, and older people, there can be a gene-related reason as well. Scientific studies have found that a FUT2 gene and its mutations can influence vitamin B12 levels in your body.
Every unfavourable copy of the said gene reduces the levels of the vitamin by 10 percent, which means that people with the least favourable genetic makeup (two unfavourable copies) have a 20 percent lower B12 level.
Since approximately 49 percent of the population carries one favourable and one unfavourable copy of the FUT2 gene, half of the population is prone to the lack of it. You can check if you need to be extra careful about B12 intake with our Vitamins and Minerals DNA test. One simple saliva sample, and you will learn your predisposition for lack of vitamin B12 and many other essential micronutrients.
For a happy and healthy Easter (and beyond)
So if you learn that you need to include more sources of B12 to your diet, just make sure to incorporate Easter Bunny’s menu to your everyday meals.
And even if your genes have your back and your reserves are full, it won’t hurt to add a bit more. After all, B12 comes in all sorts of delicious dishes, and combining it with good company on a traditional Easter feast is just an added bonus!