Vitamin B12, otherwise known as cobalamin, is a widely discussed topic amongst anyone on a plant-based diet, those with gastrointestinal disorders, or the elderly. Vitamin B12 deficiency should be taken seriously as it can cause serious long-term neurological problems, including dementia.
Other than animal sources, there are a range of other fortified foods, supplements, and pills that one can take to increase the amount of Vitamin B12 in their body. However, something that the supplement industry often does not tell you is that there are several different types of Vitamin B12 and they are not all the same.
Vitamin B12 Forms
As an onlooker, you may think that all Vitamin B12 is the same. However, there are differences between synthetic forms, bioactive forms, and fake forms that look similar to the Vitamin B12 structure but actually are harmful. Let’s start with the four main forms of Vitamin B12. Methylcobalamin and Adenosylcobalamin are the two forms that are bioactive inside the body (1). Any other type of Vitamin B12 that you consume will have to be converted into one of these forms to be absorbed. Hydroxocobalamin is another natural form that can be found in food sources, but it does have to be converted into either methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin to have an effect on the body. Additionally, cyanocobalamin is the synthetic form that industries have created (1). This type of Vitamin B12 is often found in oral supplements and injections because it can be man-made and is the cheapest option (1).
You may be thinking, “Phew, is that it?” Unfortunately, we have one more form to touch upon - the pseudovitamin B12, or the B12 analog. Studies have found pseudovitamin B12 in algae such as chlorella, spirulina, and nori (2)(3). However, this form is not real Vitamin B12 and is actually harmful. It binds to the enzymes necessary to absorb B12 but does not have the same positive effects within the body. Instead, it fills up the binding sites so that real Vitamin B12 cannot properly bind and be absorbed (3). So, not only do these foods not contain bioactive forms of Vitamin B12 that your body needs, it also prevents absorption of actual Vitamin B12. Additionally, though some studies have shown nori and chlorella to contain real Vitamin B12, it is very unreliable and consistently displays different amounts (4). Therefore, it cannot be considered a reliable source.
Foods Containing Vitamin B12
Foods traditionally high in Vitamin B12 include liver, kidney, clams, shellfish, sardines, beef, and tuna – all animal sources (5). However, new studies have shown that water lentils are a source of reliable, plant-based Vitamin B12!
And water lentils contain both adenosylcobalamin and methylcobalamin, the two bioactive compounds!
Water Lentils: The Only Reliable, Plant Source of Vitamin B12
When comparing water lentils to other food sources, 100 grams of water lentils contain 3x more Vitamin B12 than a 12 oz serving of beef, 2x more Vitamin B12 than sardines, and an equivalent amount of Vitamin B12 to clams.
This recent information is a life-changing discovery for plant-based individuals who previously thought that the only source of Vitamin B12 was through animal sources. By offering a plant source of natural Vitamin B12, vegans, vegetarians, and plant-based eaters will no longer have to rely on injections or synthetic supplements to receive enough Vitamin B12. Instead, they can begin to incorporate water lentils into their diets.