|Roast pork is a good source of B-12|
Your need for animal foods is literally written into your DNA. You need meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy because every cell in your body cannot survive without the essential nutrient found in animal foods: B-12. It is an essential nutrient which means it is not synthesized in your body and must be obtained in the diet. Deficient amounts of B-12 result in illness and if allowed to progress far enough, even death. Despite what you may have heard, it is never synthesized in the gut but through a symbiotic relationship between bacteria and plant roots in the soil (source). When herbivorous animals eat plants (roots, soil, bacteria and all) and they incorporate the B-12 into their own bodies and become a source of critical B-12 themselves. Only ruminants have complicated multi-chambered stomachs and produce cellobiase, an enzyme, both of which enable them to live on roughage sources of food like grass (source). There are "vegan" sources of B-12 available in the health food store which are obtained from the same set of bacterial sources but must be processed in a laboratory making this critical nutrition available only to those with access to this technology. Natural, traditional, non-technological sources of B-12 are, and have always been, animal foods.
What happens if you are deficient?
Your body uses B-12 for scores of complicated metabolic processes but one of the most significant is its use in the replication of DNA and cell division, healthy cell function and the critical interaction with the other B vitamin, folate. Without B-12, your body cannot divide cells. It is critically important especially for pregnant women whose babies are rapidly growing as well as other children and teens during the years of rapid growth.
Risk of deficiency include:
- The spongy marrow in your bones produces red blood cells which grow larger before dividing and in their smaller state, leave the bones to circulate in your blood. Without sufficient B-12, the red blood cells grow abnormally and become misshapen and too large to leave the bones which can lead to pernicious anemia, a dangerous condition that requires medical attention (source).
- The lining of the intestine is where the lion's share of vitamin and mineral absorption takes place and if the cells fail to divide properly, they also fail to absorb other critical nutrients in your food. A deficiency can cause weight loss and lead to other nutritional deficiencies (.
- Since B-12 also contributes to neurological function (through laying down the critical fat layer in neurons known as myelin), a deficiency can cause irreversible neurological damage found in problems such as depression, dementia, irregular gait and lack of gross motor control.
- Because of its role in lowering homocystine levels in the blood, a deficiency can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots.
- A deficiency can increase your risk of breast and other cancers.
- Low B-12 levels are associated with decreased resistance to disease, specifically tuberculosis.
- Men deficient in B-12 have a higher risk of infertility (source).
(Source for above not otherwise cited)
What are major causes of deficiency?
Most of the major causes of deficiency are related to either diet or an inability to absorb sufficient amounts of B-12, which can be the result of illness or simply aging. Vegans and vegetarians who eat little to no animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy need to supplement their B-12 intake. There are "vegan" labeled sources of B-12 but it is not generally found in yeast, despite the common perception (source). Vegans and vegetarians must carefully check that the product they are using has B-12 and that the formula has not changed recently. You may have heard that tempeh, miso and sea vegetables are a good source of B-12, but this simply is not true. In fact, rather than carrying an active and helpful form they contain an inactive form which can actually block the absorption of active B-12 in other foods (source). People with HIV, active ulcers in the stomach or intestine, the elderly and those suffering from celiac disease may have a harder time absorbing B-12 and may need to consumer more than the standard daily recommendation (source), which is seen below:
- Infants birth to 6 mos: 0.4 mcg
- Infants from 6-12 mos: 0.5 mcg
- Children 1-3 yrs: 0.9 mcg
- Children 4-8 yrs: 1.2 mcg
- Children 9-13 yrs: 1.8 mcg
- Teens and Adults: 2.4 mcg
- Women who are pregnant: 2.6 mcg
- Women who are breastfeeding: 2.8 mcg
A pregnant woman can completely satisfy her daily need for B-12 with a pint of milk and an egg; it does not take much animal food but it does take some. You see the B-12 amounts for some common foods HERE.
What are the symptoms of B-12 deficiency?
- Weight loss
- Swollen and sore tongue
- Difficulty maintaining balance
- Shortness of breath
- Tingling of hands and feet
(Source for above)
What are good sources of B-12?
Other than in manufactured supplements, B-12 is found only in animal foods such as fish, shellfish, poultry, dairy products and meat and particularly in organ meats such as liver and kidney (source). Ensuring that you have sufficient B-12 in your diet is not difficult and can be naturally and deliciously obtained.
What sources of B-12 have you eaten today?
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