Is it true that plant foods do not contain Vitamin B12?

Is it true that, "Plant foods do not contain B12 (all vegans should take B12)" as Dr. Fuhrman says?

I took a graduate medical school course in nutrition in 1983. In that course, the professor made this same statement, and I challenged him on it (because of some research I had done on my own). After some of his own research, the professor came back and admitted to the class that I was right, but he also defended his original statement on technical grounds.

He had stated his position the same way as Dr. Fuhrman did, in the quote above, but he also stated that only animal foods contain B-12. When he conceded my point that foods such as bananas contain Vitamin B-12, he explained that because micro-organisms actually produced the B-12 in the bananas -- and because he classified those micro-organisms as animals -- he was technically correct!

However, I think the bigger point was that our research at the time showed that several foods commonly eaten by vegetarians do contain Vitamin B-12. In that medical school nutrition class, we focused on bananas. But here is a list of some other potential sources of B-12 for vegetarians:

  • alfalfa
  • dulse
  • bladderwrack
  • kelp
  • comfrey
  • brewer's yeast
  • raw wheat germ (make sure it is not rancid - that means it must be nitrogen sealed!)
  • sunflower seeds
  • pollen
  • bananas
  • spinach
  • peanuts
  • lettuce
  • concord grapes

Since 1983, when I took that nutrition class, we have learned more about Vitamin B-12 and its various active forms. We know that many of the plant foods that contain B-12 contain, at least in part, a form that is not human active. Vegetarians who have Vitamin B-12 deficiency symptoms must be especially informed about the B-12 analogs. It is a fairly complex subject, and I now realize that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was back in 1983 when I made the medical school prof admit he was wrong. (Prof, if you are reading this, I apologize.)

Dr. Fuhrman may not be technically correct when he says that plant foods do not contain Vitamin B-12, but his caution that vegans require a B-12 supplement is generally good advice.

I have a friend who found out the hard way that the B-12 in sea vegetables (kelp, dulse) can be problematic. This vegan says she developed severe anemia while eating a lot of sea vegetables that are supposedly high in B-12. She made her problem worse while trying to help. Although these sea vegetables contain human-active B-12, it appears that they also contain significant amounts of a B-12 analog that competes with the human active form. Therefore, eating these items can actually worsen a B-12 deficiency by acting to displace the useable form of B-12.

I think we can safely say that some plant foods do contain B-12 and some vegans can apparently thrive without B-12 supplementation, but if you are a vegan and you have any symptoms of B-12 deficiency, don't rely on the foods I listed above to solve your problem without consulting with an expert on this subject. One really good source of information about the complexity of the issue can be found here.

If you have read my other articles, you already know what I'm going to say on this subject: add some ghee (clarified butter) to your plant-based diet! Butter (milk products) are a known excellent source of human active Vitamin B-12.

Also, please don't assume that you have to add animal protein just to get the B-12, and furthermore, please do not assume that all saturated fats are bad. A little ghee in a predominantly plant-based can be a very good thing. Not only is the saturated fat not a bad thing, it is also not a compromise to simply get some B-12 in your diet. The ghee (clarified butter) has many other micronutrients and valuable properties that science has not even fully identified yet. View the ghee as a totally natural broad-spectrum vitamin supplement.

 

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In your last paragraph above

In your last paragraph above you said "...please do not assume all saturated fats are bad."

I am a nutrition science analyst and my conclusion is that saturated fats have long been unfairly demonized for several reasons. First, about 50 years ago some overzealous scientists, led by American physiologist Ancel Keys, proposed the diet/heart hypothesis and set out to prove it so. Using carefully selected epidemiological studies involving 7 countries (but ignoring equally valid studies done in more than thirty other countries), Keys "discovered" a linear relationship between saturated fat intake and mortality from heart disease.

Second, vegetable oil interests, wishing to replace animal fats with their products, aggressively promoted the saturated-fat-is-bad idea.

Third, the sugar and soda pop interests joined in to demonize saturated fat because it diverted attention from the health-damaging effects of their products.

Fourth, vegetarian activists and animal rights groups found it convenient to bash saturated fats as a means of promoting their agenda. In fact, in 1988, the Center for Science in the Public Interest published an article defending trans fats in their nutrition action journal. Here's a quote: "All told, the charges against trans fat just don’t stand up. And by extension, hydrogenated oils seem relatively innocent."

So where does the truth lie? It's all around us. It involves recognizing the principle of biochemical individuality. Some people thrive on a strictly vegetarian diet. Others absolutely have to consume animal products to be healthy. Still others seem to be able to choose either route.

But as for saturated fat, take a look at the following book excerpt. See for yourself how harmless saturated fats can be if food intake contains adequate supportive nutrition.

David Brown
Kalispell, MT
E-mail davebnep@yahoo.com
Nutrition Education Project

Book excerpt: (my thanks to Dr. Donald R. Davis, Jr. Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin, for permission to use this material in my Nutrition Education Project).

The following paragraphs are from pages 81-83 of Nutrition Against Disease (1972) by Roger J. Williams, PhD. More information about Dr. Williams and his work is available at www.doctoryourself.com. I encourage you to read the references and notes. They are every bit as interesting as the associated text. Dave Brown

No discussion of heart disease would be complete without mention of the question of saturated fats. It has come to be almost an orthodox position that if one wishes to protect oneself against heart disease, one should avoid eating saturated (animal) fats. While this idea may not be entirely in error, it is misleading in its emphasis. The evidence shows that high fat consumption, when accompanied by plenty of the essential nutrients which all the cells need, does not cause atherosclerosis or heart disease.
Rats have been used extensively to study the effects of diet on atherosclerosis. Under ordinary dietary conditions the inclusion of saturated fats in their diet will consistently promote the deposition of cholesterol in their arteries.(50) For 285 days rats were fed a diet containing 61.6 percent animal fat, but highly superior with respect to protein, mineral, and vitamin content, without producing any pathological changes in the aorta or in the heart.(51) The animals did, to be sure, become obese, as much as three to four times their normal weight. Animals fed vegetable fats at the same level fared essentially no better and no worse. These findings were based upon extensive long-term experiments at Yale, using a total of 600 rats, which were observed for as long as two years. There were no findings suggestive that either high animal fat diets or high vegetable fat diets were conducive under these conditions to atherosclerosis.
These animals represented an extreme condition, since 81 percent of their energy came from fats. Their diets otherwise were extremely good. The protein was of high quality (casin) and was kept at a high level (20 percent); the vitamin levels were double those ordinarily used in this laboratory. The Yale findings were corroborated almost a decade later (1965) at Tufts University School of Medicine.(52)
That cardiovascular disease is not associated with high fat diets is also shown by comparison study of matched groups of twenty-eight railwaymen from North India and twenty-eight from Southern India.(53) The consumption of fats, mostly of animal origin, was ten times higher among the North Indians than the South Indians, but there were no significant differences between their lipid and cholesterol levels. Among the South Indian population, the incidence of heart disease is said to be fifteen times as high as among the North Indians where the fat content of the diet is ten times higher. Dietary factors are doubtless very important in connection with the incidence of heart disease, but fat is only one factor, and other dietary factors are considerably more important.
This is also corroborated by a study of 400 Masai men in Tanganyika.(54) In spite of the fact that the diet of these men is almost exclusively milk and meat (consumption of whole blood is relatively rare), both of which contain much fat and plenty of cholesterol, the cholesterol levels in the blood of the Masai are extraordinarily low, and there was "no evidence of arteriosclerotic heart disease." It should be noted that a diet containing large quantities of meat is free from "naked calories," and is certain to supply an assortment of amino acids, minerals, and vitamins in liberal amounts. Though the Masai have other health disorders - many of infective origin - they probably escape heart disease because their body cells are furnished with an environment that is adequate enough to protect their hearts and blood vessels.
A corollary of the notion that saturated fats are archvillains is the idea that one should eat substantial amounts of polyunsaturated fats. (The phrase "polyunsaturated fatty acids" has become virtually synonymous with "heart protection" in both popular and orthodox medical thinking.) While everyone should have unsaturated fats in his diet, their presence does not by any means afford adequate protection against atherosclerosis and heart disease. The current consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the USA is higher than it has ever been, yet this does not curb heart disease.(55) There are many reasons on which to base our conclusion that other factors are far more important.(56) When other deficiencies are eliminated, the amount of unsaturated fat is of secondary importance. If there is plenty of vitamin B6 in the diet, fat metabolism tends to take care of itself.
I have said a good deal about vitamin B6, but I do not mean to imply that it is, by itself, the answer to heart disease. All the nutrients contribute to the prevention of heart trouble.

References and notes:
50. Thomas, W.A., and Hartroft, W.S. "Myocardial infarction in rats fed diets containing high fat, cholesterol, thiouracil, and sodium cholate." Circulation, 19:65, 1959; Taylor, C. B., et al. "Fatal myocardial infarction in rhesus monkeys with diet-induced hyper-cholesterolemia." Circulation, 20;975, 1959.
In the above experiments, the investigators found that prolonged feeding of butter or lard to rats resulted in hyperlipemia and finally coronary thrombosis and myocardial infarction with lesions similar to those found in human beings. The diets of these animals were regarded as otherwise "normal" in respect to their intake of supplementary vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Other data, however (see reference note 52 below) demonstrate that when fat and cholesterol (or animal protein) are increased in the diet, certain nutrients (particularly pyridoxine) must be increased above "average" or "normal" requirements.

51. Barboriak, J.J., et al. "Influence of high-fat diets on growth and development of obesity in the albino rat." J. Nutr., 64: 241, 1958.

52. Naimi, S., et al. "Cardiovascular lesions, blood lipids, coagulation and fibrinolysis in butter-induced obesity in the rat." J. Nutr., 86:325, 1965.
In this more recent study, Naimi and his colleagues were directly interested in the effects of a high fat butter-induced obesity on the cardiovascular system of seventeen male Wistar albino rats. Butter constituted 65 percent of the total calories, with 20 percent protein (casin) and generous vitamin and mineral supplements equal to if not superior to those used in the above-mentioned Yale study.
Under the conditions of their experiment, these investigators found that a high fat butter diet causing obesity in rats did not produce changes in blood cholesterol nor result in cardiovascular lesions, as other data had led them to expect. The authors note, "The absence of such adverse changes, despite, the development of gross obesity in these animals may be significant, since both obesity and animal fats have been considered to be associated with lipemia and vascular lesions. It may be suggested that other dietary factors might have protected the experimental group against such changes. Yet, even if this happens to be the case, it should not detract from the significance of the fact that large amounts of saturated fat and obesity are not necessarily associated with lipemia and vascular lesions."
We are confident that other dietary factors did protect these rats, and that only in the absence of sufficient supportive nutrients are obesity and high fat and high cholesterol diets associated with atherosclerosis and heart disease in the human population.

53. Malhotra, S.L., "Serum Lipids, dietary factors and ischemic heart disease," Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 20:462, 1967.
See also Malhotra, S.L., "Geographical aspects of acute myocardial infarction in India, with special reference to the pattern of diet and eating." Brit. Heart J., 29:777, 1967.

54. Mann, G.V., et al. "Cardiovascular disease in the Masai." J. Atheroscler. Res., 4:289, 1964.
In an extensive review of the various peoples of the earth who have little or no atherosclerosis and are virtually free of heart disease, Lowenstein found that the fat intake ranged from 21 grams per day to as much as 355 grams per day (Lowenstein, F.W. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 15:175, 1964). In both the Somalis and the Samburus of East Africa, the diet is from 60 to 65 percent fat (animal), and yet they are nearly free from atherosclerosis and heart attacks. While it might be argued that ethnic differences are involved here, population groups of wide ethnic variation have been reported who subsist on high fat, high cholesterol, high caloric diets while remaining virtually free of coronary heart disease.
In the text we have mentioned the report of Mann and his colleagues of the Masai tribe who subsist on a diet excessively high in butter fat (and cholesterol), the fat constituting as much as 60 percent of the total calories consumed, yet are virtually free of cardiovascular disease. Gsell and Mayer report that the semiisolated peoples of the Loetschental valley in the Valaisian Alps of Switzerland habitually eat a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol, high in calories, but evidence low serum cholesterol values and little cardiovascular disorders (Gsell, D., and Mayer, J. "Low blood cholesterol associated with high calorie, high saturated fat intake in a Swiss Alpine village population." Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 10:471, 1962).
Stout and his coworkers report that an Italian immigrant colony in Roseta, Pennsylvania, consumes diets much richer than other Americans, yet have less than half the incidence of coronary heart disease (J. A. M. A., 188:845, 1964).
In a survey study of 27,000 Kenya East Indians, A. D. Charters and B. P. Arya report (Lancet, 1:288, 1960) that the animal fat consumption was relatively high among the Punjabi nonvegetarians and relatively low among the vegetarian Gujeratis, but the percentage of heart disease morbidity "is closely proportional to that of the population." The statistics of their survey, conclude these investigators, suggest that in the case of the East Indian population in Kenya, "the ingestion of animal fats is not an important etiological factor" in heart disease morbidity. Interestingly, besides their low animal fat diet, the Gujerati vegetarians consume foods rich in polyunsaturated oils, as groundnut, cottonseed, and simsim oils, yet were not "protected from coronary occlusion by a high intake of unsaturated fatty acids."
In an epidemiological study of coronary heart disease in a general population of 106,000 Americans conducted over a one year period, W.J. Zukel and his coworkers found the highly provocative fact that farmers showed a much lower incidence of coronary heart disease than males of other groups, in spite of the fact that there were no substantial differences in their mean caloric intake or fat and cholesterol consumption (Zukel, W. J., et al. Am. J. Pub. Health, 49:1630. 1959).
In an epidemiological study of two Polynesian island groups, Hunter compared the diet, body build, blood pressure, and serum cholesterol levels of the tradition-following Atiu and Mitiaro with the more Europeanized Raroyongan Neighbors (Hunter, J.D. Fed. Proc., 21, Supp. 11:36, 1962). The Atiu-Mitiaro people live on a diet low in calories and protein but rich in highly saturated coconut fat. Hunter found that 25 percent of Rarotongans (males) suffered from hypertension as compared to only 10 percent of the Atiu-Mitiaro males. While the serum cholesterol levels of the saturated coconut fat-eating Atiu-Mitiaro males were higher (as high as European males), Hunter was unable to discover by electrocardiographic readings any tendency to coronary heart disease.
Finally we turn to the early primitive Eskimo who subsisted almost totally on an excessively high animal fat diet. In an early 1927 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (May), in an article titled "Health of a Carnivorous Race," Dr. William Thomas reports that of 142 adults between the ages of forty and sixty who were completely examined, he found no unusual signs of vascular or renal morbidity, and all indications were that diseases of the cardiovascular system were not prevalent among these people. This is in agreement with other reports of scientists of the primitive Eskimo (e.g. C. Lieb. J. A. M. A., July, 1926; V. Stefannsson, in his book Cancer: Disease of Civilization, p. 76; I. M. Rabinowitch, Canad. Med. Assoc. J., 31:487, 1936; W. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. New York: Hoeber, 1939).
It is clear, therefore, that adult males of a widely differing ethnic stock can subsist on a high fat, high cholesterol, high caloric diet, and yet remain relatively free of cardiovascular disorders. Even if prevailing views are to the contrary, I think that the evidence points strongly toward the conclusion that the nutritional environment of the body cells - involving minerals, amino acids, and vitamins - is crucial, and that the amount of fat or cholesterol consumed is relatively inconsequential.

55. Antar, M.A., et al. "Changes in retail market food supplies in the United States . . . ." Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 14:169, 1964

@David Brown: Thank you for

@David Brown: Thank you for your very detailed comment on this article. I enjoyed reading it.

I also generally agree with your position on saturated fats. I believe saturated fat (in the form of good quality ghee) is the very best choice for cooking.

I respect Roger J. William's work and I generally agree with his conclusions. However, I have not yet met anyone who _thrived_ on a vegan diet.

I say this even though I also agree with Colin Campbell's general conclusion that a predominantly plant-based diet is healthier. I just think that when people go to the extreme of 0% animal products, they are letting ideology get in the way of optimum health.

That said, I am now starting to interact with the following group:
http://www.veganbodybuilding.org/

I will find out how many of these people thrive on a vegan diet. Maybe they do thrive, and if so, then I will not longer be able to say I haven't met anyone who thrived on a vegan diet. ;)

Thanks again for your comment.

@David Brown:I just re-read

@David Brown:
I just re-read my last paragraph. I think I see another way to interprete it. Therefore, I want to clarify.

What I meant was that I think a _little_ ghee is generally safe for most people. I think a lot of ghee is safe for many people, provided they are otherwise eating well.

This is supported by the principle of biochemical individual. It is also a principle of ayurvedic medicine. Although ayurveda holds ghee in high regard, there are some situations (such as diseases) when even a little ghee isn't recommended.

That said, a lot of modern ayurvedic practitioners are saying that people with high cholesterol constitute a group that should not use ghee. This advice is simply based on an acceptance of the modern misunderstanding (or diliberate misinformation) about saturated fats - as you pointed out.

It is a shame to see the ayurvedic knowledge get distorted like that. However, I wrote a couple articles (here on my blog) in recent days about research that shows ghee actually lowers "bad" cholesterol. And, within limits, the more ghee, the lower the bad cholesterol.

I think we both agree that good quality saturated fat can be a very good addition to a healthy diet.

What I do not agree with is that eating a lot of meat is a healthy long term practice. I think Weston Price had success with meat products in a therapeutic sense, but have not seen any research that convinced me that high intakes of meat promote maximum health and longevity. Meat can be considered a medicine if used temporarily to treat a disease, or if used to treat a deficiency caused by an extreme diet (such as a vegan diet for certain people). Once the person is in good health, the medicine (meat) should be stopped. Otherwise it will lead to side effects. I don't see how scientific people can argue with the results of the China Study in that regard.

More people ought to view

More people ought to view food intake in terms of its context. Our bodies adjust to the total mix of micro and macro nutrients as best they can given the way the metabolic machinery is set up by genetics and environment. It's possible to switch from a high carb diet to a ketogenic diet without ill effect as long as the quality of food intake is properly maintained.

An interesting experiment testing athletic performance and based on this sort of dietary change is discussed in an article published in the August 2004 issue of "Nutrition & Metabolism." Article title is Ketogenic Diets and Physical Performance, was authored by Stephen D. Phinney and is available at http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/1/1/2

Where human nutrition is concerned, it hardly makes sense to generalize about the dangers or benefits of any class of food. The human metabolism, whatever it's configuration, does its best with whatever nutrients its owner supplies.

A major change in nutrient configuration will stimulate adjustments in the digestive, enzyme, and hormone systems. These take time, generally two weeks or more. During the adjustment period, a person may feel and perform better or worse, depending on his baseline condition and the nature of the biochemical adjustments the body is forced to make.

Nutrition and Metabolism contains some other interesting articles relevant to the saturated fat controversy.

David Brown
Kalispell, MT
E-mail davebnep@yahoo.com
Nutrition Education Project

@David Brown: thank you for

@David Brown: thank you for the reference. I will take a look at it. I am particularly interested to learn about the result of athletic performance on the ketogenic diet. Were the methods good? I guess I'll find out when I read it. Thanks again.

Hello, I read some of the

Hello,

I read some of the articles on your web-site with great interest. I have heard that the vitamin b12 in milk is destoyed when milk is heated. Do you know anything about this and how it would apply to vat pasturised milk, milk that is boiled, and b12 in yogurt.

thanks,
Daniel

Daniel-Cobalamin (vitamin

Daniel-Cobalamin (vitamin B-12) is stable to heat unless it is heated in something with an extreme pH. Therefore, I do not think B-12 in ghee or VAT pasteurized milk is destroyed - although I have not researched that issue in any great depth.

You may find this link useful:

http://www.healthy.net/scr/Article.asp?Id=1924&xcntr=2