Vitamins B12 & D on a Vegan or Raw Diet

As my regular readers know, I recently embarked on a 6-month journey into raw foodism. One month in, and so far, so good. I am happy to report that I have great energy throughout the day, my focus and concentration have not faltered and I feel reinvigorated in my life and in my work. All good results. Additionally, I lost four pounds which was a small side bonus for me.

Along the journey it’s important that I stay on top of my nutritional status to make sure I’m getting all the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fats and proteins that I need. I typically have a green juice in the morning that includes a couple of handfuls of kale, some parsley, a cucumber, an apple and pear, as well as some spinach and a lime. This combination may not sound like much in regards to taste, but it is actually quite yummy, with the apple, pear and lime off-setting the bitterness of the vegetables. This also provides an enormous amount of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients in a single glass that help keep my immune system strong and my liver clean. I find it to be one of the best ways to start my day. It doesn’t however, provide a lot of protein or essential fats, so I tend to have a handful of cashews or almonds (soaked, of course) with it to round it out. To mix it up, another favorite is a breakfast smoothie made with banana, berries, protein powder, flax oil, a handful of arugula, and kale blended with ice water. It is delicious and contains plenty of protein, fiber, essential fats, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to get me through my morning.

As you can see I am eating a lot of plant food, and although highly beneficial and nutritious, there are certain nutrients that I am not getting through a raw, vegan diet that need to be supplemented in order to maintain long term health, namely Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D.

Vitamin B12

Many strict vegans already know about the need to supplement with B12, a nutrient found primarily in animal protein. In addition to vegans, the elderly population as well as anyone with an absorption issue such as irritable bowel syndrome or colitis should also consider supplementing this nutrient.

B12 is necessary for the prevention of anemia, the proper digestion and absorption of food, as well as the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. It also helps to maintain the health and longevity of cells, and prevent nerve damage.

Long term deficiencies of B12 can lead to a wide range of issues from constipation, depression and headaches to chronic fatigue, liver problems and pernicious anemia. Clearly it is important to make sure that you have adequate levels in your body.

Vegetarian sources of B12 come primarily from Brewer’s Yeast and seaweeds. Sea vegetables play a big role in the raw food lifestyle but despite the fact that they are often used in the preparation of raw foods, it is really not available in adequate amounts, so supplementation becomes key. Ideally you’d want to take 1000mcg of B12, dissolved under the tongue (sublingually) once a day.

Vitamin D

Also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” because of our bodies ability to create it through exposure to sunlight, Vitamin D is now reaching nearly rock star status in its importance in preventing and fighting diseases from osteoporosis and cancer to heart disease and Alzheimer’s. This important nutrient is essential in helping with the assimilation of calcium thereby strengthening bones and teeth. Low levels have been linked to a wide variety of disorders such as type 1 diabetes, a wide variety of cancers such as breast, prostate, lymphatic and esophagus and inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Clearly, this previously overlooked vitamin plays a huge role in our general health and wellbeing.

Unfortunately, many people are deficient in this vitamin and it is not just because of little sun exposure or vegan diets. Long term, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a deficiency of vitamin D as can malabsorption issues, including inflammatory bowel disorders, gallbladder problems or stomach resectioning operations intended for weight loss can also cause severe deficiencies in this nutrient, requiring high dose supplementation.

Mostly found in fish liver oil, fatty fish and dairy products, Vitamin D is best consumed and absorbed in supplement form. The standard recommendation is approximately 400 IU daily with food during the summer (this dose can also be achieved through exposure to direct sunlight for 20 minutes a day) and as much as 800 to 1000 IU in the winter. However, it is best to have your D levels checked to determine what the best dose is for you. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions then a higher dose might be necessary. Always best to check with your doctor or health care professional.

Share Your Thoughts...

10 comments on “Vitamins B12 & D on a Vegan or Raw Diet

  1. Avatarandrea

    hi barbara!

    I have been struggling with both b12 & d levels. I have been vegan for 5 years and raw for about 3 months. I am on weekly b12 injections, sub lingual pills, and d supplements. I am preparing myself for one day having children and it really makes me nervous. do you think over time my levels will come up? i have had two “holistic” doctors tell me to eat meat and i just can’t do it!


  2. AvatarBarbara

    Hey Natalie~
    Great questions and thanks for taking them time to ask~
    The question of B12 and its analogues is whether or not there is enough active B12 to lower MMA (Methylmalonic Acid), which is a by-product of protein digestion, elevated amounts of which can cause B12 deficiencies. In regards to seaweed, nori has been shown to be the best for B12, of which the raw Nori had the most amount of bio-active B12 (as opposed to dry Nori). So seaweed can be an appropriate source of dietary, bioactive B12, but should not be relied upon solely for B12 supplementation because you will not get adequate amounts. Supplementation will still be needed.
    Which bring me to the vegan supplement question. Because of the way B12 may develop on seaweed (perhaps through the interaction of bacteria on seaweed or from tiny crustaceans that might get ground up in the process of drying), they may not be strictly vegan. Some also contain milk additives. I did find a vegan B12 though, that also uses Methylcobalamin and is made by a comany called Deva. You can probably find it on-line
    I hope this is clear~ thanks again for checking in~

  3. AvatarLouis

    BMM – excellent flurry of blogs – really helpful to know how you have progressed on your raw food adventure – inspires the rest of us – you’re the best – Lou Lenzi

  4. AvatarNatalie Ullmann

    Hi Barbara: thanks for the great newletter and reliable info.

    B12 questions…Gabrielle Cousins in Conscious Eating brings up an issue with seaweed…that some have B12 analogues that actually block the uptake of B12 in the body. (He’s pretty depressing on the whole B12 issue!) what are your thoughts on this? And once we discussed probiotics, do you still recommend this? Also, I found that the B12 supplement I was taking was not this common? Okay, hope you don’t mind the inquiries :).

  5. AvatarBarbara

    Thanks Dana and Margaret, for your comments~
    Margaret is correct in that you soak nuts to remove an enzyme inhibitor thereby facilitating absorption. As for testing levels, you can have your doctor test both Vit D and B12 with blood work. There are ways to maximize absorption and help prevent bone loss, and in some cases, rebuild bone through nutrients. Thanks for the idea Margaret, I will definitely write a post about it in the near future~

  6. AvatarMargaret

    Thank you for the alert for Vitamin D. Pls let your readers know that even if they are taking Vit D with a calcium supplement, to be sure to have a blood test to check their level. I thought I was getting enough but discovered to late that my level was still low and it less to the lack of absortion of the calcium and now I have osteoporosis! If you have any suggestions to rebuild the bone besides the medications prescribed such as Fosomax or Boniva, pls share this info. The long-term effects of these meds are not very encouraging.

  7. AvatarDana Covington

    Hi Barbara, This is really good information, thanks! I happily stumbled upon your blog recently when I was looking up raw food diet stuff. How do I know if I am getting enough of either of these vitamins? Is there a way to tell? Probably not, right. Just have to make sure i take the supplements. Also, why do you soak the nuts??


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *