When it comes to plant-based eating, a lot of concerns are raised regarding the intake of adequate nutrients. There’s the famous protein question which seasoned vegans have grown tired of hearing and equal worries over iron, calcium, and a range of other minerals. Thankfully for us Green Monsters, experts agree that a ‘carefully planned’ plant-based diet supplemented with vitamin B12 is nutritionally adequate for people of all ages.
The importance of vitamin B12 and its absence in most plant foods bring some to question the validity of following a plant-based diet from a health stand point. While this concern is legitimate, a lack of knowledge about vitamin B12 and B-vitamins in general leads a lot of people to mistakenly assume that deficiencies in these vitamins are purely a vegan problem. It is, in fact, not as upward of 30 percent of the population is estimated to be lacking in B12.
Want to find out more about the importance of B-vitamins and how to avoid becoming a part of the 30 percent of Americans deficient in B12? Here are some crucial facts you need to know about the role of these vitamins in your body and how to source them on a plant-based diet with delicious recipes from the Food Monster App:
What Are B-vitamins and What Do They Do?
The B-vitamin complex is made up of eight water-soluble vitamins that act together in a variety of cellular processes that ensure our body gets its supply of energy and our brain chemistry functions properly. It’s important to consume all eight vitamins on a daily basis as, although they work together, each also performs specific functions. Let’s take a closer look at these eight vitamins and their roles.
1. Vitamin B12 (Methylcobalamin or Cyanocobalamin)
Raw Spiced Cashew Cheese/One Green Planet
The most well-known of all B-vitamins, vitamin B12 is also one of the most essential as it plays a crucial role in the production and maintenance of the myelin surrounding our nerve cells. It protects our cognitive functions and its deficiency can lead to severe neurological issues. Vitamin B12 is also important to the formation of red blood cells and helps breakdown amino acids and fatty acids to produce energy.
You can find B12 in enriched plant-foods such as plant-based milks, nutritional yeast, spirulina, and some cereals.
2. Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
6 Minute Green Pea Soup/One Green Planet
This vitamin is essential to energy production as it contributes to breaking down carbohydrates from our food. Thiamine is also a co-enzyme responsible for synthesizing fatty acids needed for the production of neurotransmitters and is a neuro-modulator of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter system involved with attention.
You can make sure you get plenty of thiamine by eating foods such as soybeans, green peas, beans, lentils, wheat germ, and oats.
3. Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Pan Seared Tempeh Soup/One Green Planet
Found in foods like tempeh, mushrooms, and green leafy vegetables, riboflavin is a precursor for vitamin B3 and B6 and is involved in the process of extracting energy from the macronutrients we eat. Getting enough riboflavin is also important for skin and eye health. Last but not least, this vitamin plays a role in iron absorption and the regulation of thyroid hormones.
4. Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Oyster Mushroom Steaks With Miso Gravy/One Green Planet
Also involved with the process of energy production, vitamin B3 or niacin promotes a healthy appetite and plays a role in lipid metabolism. This vitamin is also essential for optimal brain functions and DNA metabolism.
Niacin is naturally present in mushrooms, oatmeal, wheat, barley as well as soy products like tempeh and tofu.
5. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Pink Sushi Rice Avocado Stacks/One Green Planet
Vitamin B5, as the rest of the B-complex vitamins, is involved in metabolizing carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. It’s also important to the production of red blood cells and steroid hormones. Vitamin B5 plays a large role in the synthesis of cholesterol, fatty acids, and amino acids which contributes to the structure and proper function of brain cells.
The best way to get your fill of B5 is by eating avocados, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, beans, and lentils.
6. Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Dubu Jorim: Korean Spicy Braised Tofu/One Green Planet
Amongst all of the B-vitamins, vitamin B6 is arguably one of the most important for brain health as it plays a role in the synthesis of not one but five neurotransmitter circuits in the brain. Its impact on GABA, dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline, and melatonin production means that getting enough vitamin B6 is crucial for mood and sleep regulation. It’s good to note that B6 also affects immune functions and down regulates inflammation in our bodies.
Loading up on whole grains, tofu, potatoes, beans, lentils, bananas, nuts, and seeds is a good way to get your vitamin B6 needs covered.
7. Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Aloo Gobi: Cauliflower Curry With Potatoes and Chickpeas/One Green Planet
As you may perhaps know, biotin is the ‘beauty vitamin’. It promotes healthy hair, skin, and nails thanks to its role in fat metabolism. On a less superficial note, biotin is also important in glucose metabolism and promotes healthy blood sugar levels.
Vitamin B7 is present in plant-based foods such as sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, soy-based products as well as nuts and seeds.
8. Vitamin B9 (Folate)
Spinach and Pepper Potato Bowls/One Green Planet
Apart from being essential to the production of red blood cells, folate or folic acid is integral to the development of the fetal nervous system and works with vitamin B12 to protect nerve cells in adult brains. Getting enough folate through foods such as spinach, asparagus, broccoli, beans, and lentils is also important to prevent anemia and brain chemistry dysregulation.
B-vitamins Rich Recipes and What to Look for in a B12 Supplement
Quinoa and Pea Pesto Stuffed Sweet Potatoes/One Green Planet
Apart from vitamin B12 who is only found in enriched plant foods, all other eight essential B-vitamins are naturally present in whole grains, starches, vegetables, nuts and seeds. If your diet is rich in whole foods, chances are that you are meeting your body’s needs for B-complex vitamins. Sweet potatoes, beans, chickpeas, soy products, brown rice, quinoa, avocado, broccoli, spinach, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds are all great examples of plant foods rich in B-vitamins.
If you’re looking for delicious recipes featuring these vitamins filled ingredients, we suggest trying out these Sweet Potato Boats With Chickpeas and ‘Cheese’ Sauce, this Healthy Quinoa Salad, this Easy Cheesy Broccoli and Brown Rice Bake, and these Latkes With Fennel and Avocado Tartare.
Want more information on where to find B-vitamins? We suggest checking out B Vitamins: How to Get Them in a Vegan Diet to get some more examples of foods rich in these essential nutrients.
Now that you know where to find B-vitamins that are readily available on a plant-based diet, it’s time to focus on vitamin B12.
While there are plenty of foods enriched with B12 in the vegan world such as plant-based milks, soy-based meat substitutes, and nutritional yeast, taking a supplement is still advised to protect yourself in chances of malabsorption. Making sure you supplement your diet with vitamin B12 is especially important if you suffer from anemia or gastrointestinal disorders as issues with absorption is high in sufferers.
You can find vegan-friendly vitamin B12 supplements in most health food shops or online. In choosing your supplement, we recommend looking out for a sublingual, spray, or liquid type as these are instantly absorbed through the bloodstream instead of having to be digested. It’s also good to favor the methyl form of B12 as science suggests its absorption rate is higher than cobalamin, the other form of vitamin B12 commonly found in stores.
Recommended Resources and Recipes
Spinach Salad With Barley Bacon/One Green Planet
Want to get more information about essential nutrients and how to get enough on a plant-based diet? Here are some articles and recipes that might interest you:
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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