Vitamin B12 Vegetables and Other Natural Sources
“Vitamin B12 Vegetables and Other Natural Sources” was written by Lauren Whitman, RDN & edited/reviewed by Aly Bouzek, MS, RDN.
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient to humans, and even more important for older adults. You can get all the B12 you need through your diet, as long as your diet is balanced with meat, seafood, and dairy products.
If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, then you can rely on some other foods like fortified cereal and plant-based milk to get your daily B12 requirement.
There are only two vegetables that are good sources of vitamin B12 – dried seaweed and dried shiitake mushrooms. In general, fruits and vegetables are not a good source of the vitamin.
Jump to read more about the two best vegetable sources of B12.
Where Does Vitamin B12 Come From?
Our bodies can’t make vitamin B12 on their own, which is why it’s important to get enough vitamin B12 in our diet. Like us, animals and plants do not naturally make B12 either.
This probably has you wondering where do we all get this vitamin from? Let’s find out below!
Bacteria Makes It
Believe it or not, vitamin B12 is made by only certain types of bacteria and single-celled organisms. (1)
Some plants that live in an environment with certain bacteria are able to store vitamin B12 in their tissue. Animals that have a diet high in vitamin B12 can store it in their tissues as well.
Some animals, like cows and sheep, also have bacteria in their gut which produces vitamin B12, and in turn, makes their meat and milk higher in the vitamin. (1) Cool!
Humans and Animals Store it
When we eat plants and animals that are high in B12, we absorb the vitamin and store it in our bodies. We can store vitamin B12 for about 3 to 5 years, but our ability to absorb and store it decreases as we age. (2)
Therefore, it’s especially important for older adults to get a variety of vitamin B12 sources in their diet.
Natural Sources of Vitamin B12
Meat, seafood, and dairy products are the best natural sources of vitamin B12, but there are some vegetables, fortified foods, and fermented foods that are good sources as well.
Meat and seafood
The best six food sources of vitamin B12 are clams, animal liver, animal kidneys, fish eggs, octopus, and oysters. (3) These have the highest amount of vitamin B12 per gram than any other food.
If you don’t eat a lot of those foods, then you can get high amounts of B12 from tuna, salmon, crab, ground beef, herring, and game meat. A good rule of thumb is that you can find B12 in most animal meats and organs.
If you are a vegetarian, then you can still get a lot of vitamin B12 naturally through milk and cheese. To name a few: yogurt, 2% milk, cheddar cheese, and Swiss cheese are all good sources of B12.
Click here to read more about benefits of milk for the elderly.
There are some vegetables that contain vitamin B12, but the truth is that the vast majority of vegetables are not good sources of this vitamin. Fruits are not a rich source of vitamin B12 either.
In general, the amount of B12 in fruits and vegetables is so little, that you would have to consume extremely large amounts to get the recommended amount every day.
However, there are 2 types of vegetables that contain a considerable amount of B12. Let’s keep reading to learn more!
Nori is the Best Vegetable Source of Vitamin B12 (4)
Nori is the Japanese word for seaweed, which is commonly found in American diets as a dehydrated snack. It’s also found in American diets in sushi, but that version of seaweed does not contain a lot of B12.
You would have to eat about 100 grams of nori (about 3, 1.2oz packages) to reach the necessary 2.4 mg/day of vitamin B12 for adults. Wow!
Next time you are at the grocery store, head to the Asian and snack aisles, and look for nori seaweed snacks. They are a light, crunchy, delicious snack!
Dried Shiitake Mushrooms are the Second-best Vegetable Source of Vitamin B12 (4)
It is important to note that the vitamin B12 content can vary in each shiitake mushroom, but in general, 1-2 cups dried shiitake mushroom can provide your daily amount of B12.
Other mushroom types, like Black trumpet, golden chanterelle and Lion’s mane mushrooms are also good vegetable sources of B12. But, like shiitake, the amount of B12 can vary.
Mushrooms can be used in many ways such as soups, stir-fries, pasta dishes, pizza, and more. The options are endless!
Aside from nori and some mushrooms, only trace amounts of B12 are found in other vegetables. Although vegetables provide a ton of benefits, they are not good sources of vitamin B12.
Cereal, nutritional yeast, and plant-based milks can all be fortified with vitamin B12, making them all great food sources of the vitamin.
There is also an added bonus to fortified foods that the form of vitamin B12 being added is the easiest to absorb, even for people with absorption problems. (5)
This means that fortified foods are a great source of vitamin B12, especially for older adults with digestion troubles.
Soymilk is a great milk-alternative and can be used with cereal, smoothies, and protein shakes. It’s also great by itself!
Fermented foods are created through a process where bacteria are added to convert carbohydrates to alcohol and/or acids, and in some cases, vitamin B12 is produced too.
Tempeh, kimchi, and kefir are all fermented foods you may be familiar with and may contain a considerable amount of B12.
It’s important to note that the B12 content can vary greatly in fermented foods, so you shouldn’t rely on them as your only source of vitamin B12.
Summary of Vitamin B12 Foods
The bottom line is that aside from nori and some mushrooms, only trace amounts of vitamin B12 are found in vegetables. And again, although vegetables provide a ton of benefits, they are not good sources of B12.
In Summary, the 5 Best Ways to Naturally Get Vitamin B12 are:
- Eat a variety of meats and seafood
- Include dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese every day
- Add fortified foods like cereals, nutritional yeast, and plant-based milk
- Incorporate dried seaweed and dried mushrooms into your diet
- Try more fermented foods like tempeh, kimchi, and kefir
Want to learn more about vitamin B12? Check out The Top 5 Vitamin B12 Benefits for Elderly.
Resources and Further Reading:
- Vitamin B12 sources and microbial interaction. Experimental Biology and Medicine. 2018;243(2):148-158. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29216732/.
- Ankar A, Kumar A. Vitamin B12 Deficiency. StatPearls Publishing; 2002.
- FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/.
- Vitamin B12-containing plant food sources for vegetarians. Nutrients. 2014;6(5):1861-1873. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4042564/.
- Vitamin B12. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/.