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Vitamin B12 (cobalamin): foods, benefits & RDA

Siski Green / 26 January 2022

Vitamin B12 is found in liver, oily fish, dairy and eggs and can be stored in the body for many years.

Source of vitamin B12 salmon fillet on board
Oily fish, dairy products, liver and eggs all contain vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is also known as cobalamin and is essential for maintaining energy.

What is vitamin B12 used for and does it really work?

Vitamin B12 helps make red blood cells, keeps your nervous system in good shape and helps release energy from food. It’s water-soluble and asborbed as food travels through your intestines. What isn’t used is then stored in your liver for future use.

What’s the best way to take vitamin B12?

As vitamin B12 is found in the greatest quantities in meat and other animal products, especially liver, oily fish, dairy products and eggs, it’s also one of the vitamins vegans and vegetarians need to focus on with care. That needn’t be a problem, however, as many vegetables contain vitamin B12 too, just not in such high quantities. A serving of spinach, for example, would give you around 7% of your recommended daily intake. Other foods such as potatoes, seeds, mushrooms, yeast products (eg Marmite and nutritional yeast) and pulses also contain significant if not high amounts of B12. Finally, cereals and pastas may also be fortified with vitamin B12.

As you get older your body is less able to absorb vitamin B12 too, so a deficiency is more likely. Around one in ten older adults will experience a deficiency. The recommended intake is 1.5mcg per day. You can take a supplement to ensure you don’t become deficient – which will usually give you between 25 and 100mcg – but often a doctor will prescribe a vitamin B12 injection if you are found to be deficient. This gives your body an immediate and complete boost of the vitamin which is ideal.

Where can I get vitamin B12?

Aside from meat, fish, dairy and eggs, as mentioned some vegetable-sources also contain vitamin B12. Supplements are also widely available, often alongside other B vitamins.

What are the side effects or contraindications of taking vitamin B12?

Dietary B12 shouldn’t cause any problems, but if you have been prescribed a B12 injection you may experience mild diarrhoea, headache, nausea or vomiting. In rare cases it can cause an allergic reaction.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.