Vitamin B12 helps keep your nervous system healthy, release energy from carbohydrates, protein and fats - and along with folate, it helps make red blood cells. B12 is found in animal foods including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy. Plant foods do not contain B12, but you can get it from fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and non-dairy milk products (i.e. soy milk).
Vegetarians, especially vegans, are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency and may benefit from a B12 supplement (speak to your physician or dietitian before taking a supplement).
However, if you were a meat lover for a long time before turning vegetarian or vegan, you may have enough B12 stored in your liver to last for a few years. But over time your stores can become depleted and lead to a B12 deficiency.
Other people at risk of a deficiency include adults over 50 or people with a condition that affects B12 absorption such as pernicious anemia. Eating a lot of folate, found in dark leafy greens, liver, fortified breakfast cereals, legumes, asparagus, broccoli, oranges and strawberries may "mask" a B12 deficiency because B12 and folate have intertwining functions.
A vitamin B12 deficiency could lead to macrocytic anemia, a condition where your body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. This can result in symptoms such as fatigue, constipation/diarrhea, confusion and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. If left untreated, this could lead to nerve damage. If you suspect that you have a B12 deficiency or if you are at risk of it, speak with your doctor about getting a blood test.
Curious how much vitamin B12 you should be getting? Click here to use our Get Enough tool.