• Jessica Wasteney

What is vitamin B12 and how do you know if you are deficient?

Are you getting enough Vitamin B12?

I have been a vegetarian for years now. There have been a few flaws in my diet as I suffered from a lack of energy due to being anaemic and low on vitamin B12. Over the last few months, I have been experimenting with an (almost) vegan diet as I want to have a diet that is in line with my ethics and improves my health.

The first vegetarian society was formed in 1847 in England and almost a hundred years later Donald Watson, founder of the Vegan Society, took the first and last letters of the word vegetarian to create his orthodox version of vegetarianism as a statement against vegetarians who ate dairy products.

I sought a diet that still gave me the nutrients that I needed. There’s no official name for it yet, l call it “entovegan”, or “entovegetarian” - having a plant-based diet which includes insects. Crickets have a tiny environmental impact and are kind on our planet when compared to any other animal products yet provided many micronutrients we need.

Entomophagy - insect-eating is a worldwide practice and been around for thousands of years. It was only seen as taboo by people in western cultures but it is now becoming trendy in the USA, Canada, Europe, and Australia.

What’s all this got to do with vitamin B12 you may ask?

Vitamin B12 is essential for health and although we are told that a whole food plant-based diet is healthy for us, people with a vegetarian or vegan diet do not get enough of this essential nutrient as can we only get it from animal products.

The recent UK report found that vegans had taken an average of 4.8 days off work as a result of cold, coughs or flu. By comparison, meat-eating office workers had taken an average of 1.4 days.

There are of course many issues and concerns that can arise from people adopting healthy plant-based diets, a trend which is likely to increase as people look to reduce their meat consumption for both environmental and health reasons.

Vitamin B12 derives from bacteria and is produced throughout the environment; animals eat plants and drink water that is rich in microorganisms and they absorb it naturally.

Humans, on the other hand, struggle to absorb enough Vitamin B12.

We spray, wash and peel all our vegetables and sanitise our soil with pesticides thus removing the naturally occurring microorganisms from our crops. Now that our water is purified and chlorinated we no longer get the, otherwise abundant, vitamin B12 found in rivers and streams.

However, it’s not only what we eat and drink but how well do we absorb vitamin B12?

This takes place in the small intestine and we need three different substances present for optimal absorption - gastric acid, digestive enzymes, and a substance called intrinsic factor. As people age, gastric acidity tends to diminish and this lowers the ability to absorb the vitamin.

Some elderly patients who have been admitted into nursing homes in a state of confusion have, in fact, been suffering from a loss of the ability to absorb B12.

The elderly people, pregnant women, vegans, and vegetarians are more susceptible to B12 deficiency.

Vitamins B12 is needed for red blood cell formation and DNA synthesis whilst supporting the normal function of your nerve cells. Low levels can cause fatigue and weakness.

According to an NCBI report ‘The long-term consequences of sub-clinical deficiency may include adverse effects on pregnancy outcomes, vascular, cognitive, bone and eye health’

It is clear that we need to seek alternative ways to get B12 into our diets.

Popping a few vitamin B12 supplement pills can help but there is better bioavailability of B12 in fermented vegetarian foods, algae and above all edible insects!

I have been on an entovegan diet for 9 months and I now have sustained energy and feel great as I have been eating cricket-based diet to get my Vitamin B12

A random sample of 1085 Australian men and 1125 Australian women aged 20-97 years was studied over a twelve-year period and this demonstrated the prevalence of Vitamin B12 deficiency and subclinical low normal levels were found in 26% of the population. It also showed that Vitamin B12 levels declined with age and were lower in men than in women. One in 5 people are low!

Out of curiosity I wanted to know more and decided I wanted more data, so went to my GP to get a blood test to check how my vitamin B12 blood levels were, I was pleased to see that my meat-free, plant-based, and cricket filled diet had given me high levels of vitamin B12! Above all, I feel healthy, energised and haven't had a sniffle, let alone a cold. My immunity is the best it has been for years!

I think it's also important to remember that an optimum diet is not just one that affords us the needed nutrients. It should also provide us with delicious feasts that we can savour and enjoy! I love the taste of crickets and enjoy them in many diverse ways including pancakes, fajitas, smoothies and bars.

If you want to feel revitalised and introduce them to your diet, follow the link to find out where you can get yours.

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