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8th February, 20213 min read

Vitamin B12 foods: what to eat

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Helen Prentice
Last reviewed: 02/02/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Vitamin B12 plays an important role, helping your body to release energy from the food you eat and keep the nervous system healthy. And you might have heard that it’s found almost only in animal products, so even if you eat a balanced diet, you need to take special care to make sure you’re getting enough of this nutrient.

Why is vitamin B12 important?

Vitamin B12 has some essential roles in the body, including:

  • making red blood cells
  • releasing energy from food
  • keeping the nervous system healthy
  • helping the body use folate, which in turn helps create healthy blood cells

Which foods are high in vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is measured in micrograms (µg) and the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults aged 19 to 64 is 1.5 µg a day – a tiny amount.

To make sure you’re getting your daily dose of vitamin B12, include a range of these vitamin B12 food sources in your diet:

  • fish – 100g of baked cod in breadcrumbs contains 1 µg of vitamin B12, which is around 60% of an adult’s RDA
  • meat – 100g of stewed beef mince contains around 0.8 µg of vitamin B12, around half of the RDA
  • milk – 100ml of whole milk contains around 0.9 µg of vitamin B12, around half of the RDA
  • cheese – 100g of reduced-fat cottage cheese contains around 0.6 µg of vitamin B12, which is around a third of the RDA
  • eggs – a medium boiled egg contains around 0.25 µg of vitamin B12, which is around 16% of the RDA
  • some fortified breakfast cereals – a 30g portion of fortified bran flakes contains 0.69 µg of vitamin B12, which is around half of the RDA

Vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal products and not naturally in fruit, vegetables and grains. If you don’t eat animal products, look out for breads or cereals that are fortified with vitamin B12 or speak to your health practitioner about taking a vitamin B12 supplement.

What happens if I don’t get enough vitamin B12?

Healthy red blood cells carry oxygen around the body using a substance called haemoglobin. If you don’t get enough vitamin B12, the body can make abnormally large red blood cells that don’t work properly. Too few red blood cells or low haemoglobin levels can lead to a condition called anaemia.

Not getting enough vitamin B12 can also cause:

  • tiredness and lack of energy
  • pins and needles
  • a red, sore tongue
  • mouth ulcers
  • disturbed vision
  • depression
  • confusion
  • problems with memory, understanding and judgement
  • weak muscles

When to see a doctor

If you think you have anaemia or a vitamin B12 deficiency, speak to your doctor. Diagnosis is usually fairly straightforward and may involve a blood test.

Key points

  • vitamin B12 is important for a healthy nervous system
  • fish, meat, milk, eggs, cheese and some fortified cereals contain vitamin B12
  • vegans need to take extra care to get enough vitamin B12, as it is found mainly in animal products
  • anaemia can be caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency
  • speak to your doctor if you think you might have vitamin B12 deficiency
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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.