Eggs and ham and sweets and ... Vitamin B12. Who would have thought that typical Easter food is a treasure trove of one of the most elusive vitamins? Let's go hunting!
If you’ve heard about vitamin B12, it was probably in the context of how vegetarians and vegans are at risk for not getting enough. Or you might have had it prescribed to help fight tiredness and fatigue. In any case, it is an important nutrient which affects our body significantly, and as such, it is vital to know a bit more about it – especially where to find it!
This essential nutrient is crucial for the functioning of the entire nervous system. It is also involved in the synthesis of DNA, red blood cells and fatty acids. Pretty versatile and very important indeed! Vitamin B12 contains the mineral cobalt, so compounds with vitamin B12 activity are called “cobalamins.”
Lack of it leads to anaemia, fatigue, weakness, psychological disorders, and bad eyesight. Certain medical conditions make it more likely you will develop vitamin B12 deficiency: atrophic gastritis, pernicious anaemia, Crohn's disease, celiac disease, lupus, and other immune system disorders. Even if you are lucky enough to have none of the above, there may be another factor influencing your B12 levels. That’s right, your genes!
What do your genes say?
Even though the lack of vitamin B12 is commonly attributed to vegetarians, vegans, and older people, there can be a gene-related reason as well. Scientific studies have found that a FUT2 gene and its mutations can influence vitamin B12 levels in your body. Every unfavourable copy of the said gene reduces the levels of the vitamin by 10 percent, which means that people with the least favourable genetic makeup (two unfavourable copies) have a 20 percent lower B12 level.
Since approximately 49 percent of the population carries one favourable and one unfavourable copy of the FUT2 gene, half of the population is prone to the lack of it.
How much do I need?
Luckily, we don’t need much of it. The typical general supplemental dose of vitamin B12 ranges from 1 to 25 micrograms per day, and extensive evidence has shown that 2 micrograms of B12 daily will maintain not only adequate levels in your body but also create substantial reserves. Pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly require higher doses.
Where can I get it from?
If your genes say that you are likely to experience lack of vitamin B12, you should adjust your nutrition to include the following foods: meat (beef, pork, and offal), seafood, eggs, milk and other dairy products, such as Greek yoghurt. Bad news for vegetarians and vegans is that B12 is typically not present in plant-based food, although some nutritional yeast products contain it. There is, though, a wide selection of fortified foods available, from cereals to milk, as well as food supplements so you can get it no matter your diet. Food supplements are available over the counter, and they usually contain cyanocobalamin, a form that the body readily converts to the active form, or one of the active forms itself, the methylcobalamin.
Traditional Easter food = a B12 banquet
Especially eggs are a great source of complete protein and B vitamins, mostly B2 and B12. Two large eggs (100 grams) provide you with more than 20% of the required daily intake of vitamin B12. Add ham with 0.7 µg per 100 g, cheese with one slice containing 0.9 µg of B12, and you can put together a not only tasty but also a nutritionally rich meal.
And did you spot the pattern? The richest sources of vitamin B12 can all be found on a traditional Easter table! By combining only eggs, ham and cheese, you are providing your body with its daily requirements of this particulate nutrient.
This means that if you learn that you need to include more sources of B12 to your diet, just make sure to incorporate Easter Bunny’s menu to your everyday meals! And if your genes have your back, a bit of reserve never hurts.