Vitamin B12 plays an important role in metabolism, nerve function, and the formation of red blood cells. While too much can cause dizziness, headache, anxiety, nausea, and vomiting, too little can cause anemia, digestive problems, muscle weakness, and nerve damage. Because meat has the most available food source of vitamin B12, people eating vegetarian and vegan diets are the most likely to be deficient. Luckily, many foods can help increase B12 levels.
Salmon, trout (farmed or wild), and tuna are excellent sources of vitamin B12. Canned or fresh, they offer more than 100% of the U.S. Food and Administration’s recommended daily value per 3-ounce serving. Cod and haddock provide less but are still healthy choices. In addition, fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Red meat is a great source of vitamin B12. One 3-ounce serving of liver provides almost 3,000% of the daily recommended value. By comparison, top sirloin and beef cuts provide 58%. Fat is a concern with red meat, so people with high cholesterol or low-fat dietary restrictions should choose lean cuts.
Milk, yogurt, and cheese provide calcium and vitamin D but are also great sources of vitamin B12. Fat-free and low-fat dairy products provide the same benefit as full-fat dairy, making them great options for low-fat diets. Dairy products that are lactose-free also provide the same amount of vitamin B12 as regular dairy products.
Three ounces of roasted chicken breast or white turkey meat provides 13% of the recommended daily value of vitamin B12. Poultry provides less vitamin B12 per serving than fish or red meat. Using fortified cereal for chicken breading or coating it with yogurt prior to cooking will enhance poultry’s nutritional benefits.
Hard-boiled eggs and egg whites are a good source of vitamin B12. Eggs contain iron and vitamins D and E, as well as magnesium and potassium. In addition to the usual chicken eggs, duck and quail eggs are also good sources of vitamin B12, but are high in fat. People with heart disease or high cholesterol should check with their doctor before eating these alternatives.
Anyone who bakes is familiar with yeast but may not know the difference between activated and nutritional yeast. Activated yeast is available in the store’s baking aisle to make bread and dough. Nutritional yeast comes as a yellow powder, flakes, or granules. It has an almost cheesy, “umami” flavor — distinctly savory — and many people use it as a salad topper and in recipes for dressings or sauces. For nutritional yeast to be an adequate source of vitamin B12, it must be fortified.
People salt, dehydrate, or smoke ham to preserve the meat and add flavor. A 3-ounce serving of cured ham provides 25% of the recommended daily value of vitamin B12. Given its high salt content, people with high blood pressure or a diet that restricts sodium should limit how much cured ham they eat.
Cooked clams are extremely high in vitamin B12, with one serving offering more than 3,500% of the recommended daily value. This seafood provides iron and omega-3 fatty acids, too, while being low in mercury. Because steamed clams are high in sodium, anyone on a low-sodium diet should eat them in moderation.
Soy is part of many foods, from edamame and veggie burgers to soy milk. Vitamin B12 values vary in soy products, so it is important to read nutrition labels. Fortified soy milk provides vitamin B12, copper, manganese, and iron. It is a great choice for vegetarians or vegans who eat limited amounts of foods containing vitamin B12, though some people do feel adverse effects from this ingredient.
Animal sources make up most of the foods naturally high in vitamin B12, so cereal may not seem like an obvious choice. Like soy milk, cereals that contain vitamin B12 are fortified during the manufacturing process. These cereals may include added sugar or other preservatives, however, so always read the labels and follow nutritional guidelines. One serving of fortified cereal provides 25% of the recommended daily value. Adding milk will help your increase overall vitamin B12 intake.