There is so much to consider when it comes to nutrition, from calories and macronutrients, to vitamins and minerals. Learning what it takes to establish a well-balanced diet takes one step at a time. Our in-house scientific contributor, Heather Huntsman, Ph.D. CSCS, helps lessen the overwhelm by walking us through an important micronutrient, vitamin B12, and how to make sure you are getting enough of this important compound in your diet.
Are you plugged into nutrition and constantly trying find the right plan for you? You may already know there are two major concepts in food choices: macronutrients and micronutrients. There are 3 macronutrient categories: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, which are mainly referred to in the context of energy requirements. Think of macronutrients as the major fuel sources our body uses, each with a separate metabolic process to extract that energy. Creating the right balance of macros and consuming the appropriate amount of calories can help aid weight loss and maintenance.
Then there are micronutrients. As the name suggests, these are smaller categories of nutrients and include things like vitamins and minerals. Rather than thinking of these as fuel sources or a way to control body weight, micronutrients are more important when considering proper or optimal function of our bodies. Common examples are vitamin A for healthy eyesight, calcium for strong bones, and zinc for healthy immune function. Increasing your micronutrients intake requires consuming a diversity of nutrient dense foods in their whole forms.
Vitamin B12 is a powerful micronutrient worth highlighting. Vitamin B12 plays an essential role in many key functions of the body, like red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function and the production of DNA, the molecules inside cells that carry genetic information.1 Studies have shown that when the body receives the right amount of vitamin B12, energy levels are higher, and cognitive function (all the way down to the cellular level) is optimized.2-3
How much vitamin B12 do you need and where do you get it? As we have discussed in previous articles it depends on factors like your age, sex, and life stage. As you might suspect based on its function, vitamin B12 is important at every stage of life.
As for food sources, vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal products like poultry, meat, fish and dairy products. For those on a vegan or a strict vegetarian diet, vitamin B12 is also added to some foods, such as fortified breakfast cereals, and can be found in nutritional yeast. Although rare, vitamin B12 deficiencies can be treated with prescribed oral supplements, injections, or nasal sprays.5 These are most often seen in the elderly, or in individuals with digestive problems like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease.
There is one last piece of advice to provide when it comes to vitamin B12. It can be overwhelming to try to track all the different pieces that make up a good and well-balanced diet. At times, it may not feel realistic to track everything from calories to macronutrients, to all of the different micronutrients which have different recommended daily amounts. So where should you start? My advice (and it’s the same strategy I use in my daily life): be mindful and strive for diversity. For some, that looks like tracking all of the food they consume in an app, for others it’s eating the rainbow or trying to stick to a whole foods-only diet like paleo or Whole30. Whatever works for you, stick with that.
Finally, keep learning. Learn about important vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12 and how to work them into your diet. Try to add some vitamin B12 foods into your diet if they aren’t already. Figure out what you like and how it makes you feel. This practice will not only add to your mindfulness, but may also increase your energy and overall wellbeing.
Curious how you can optimize your nutrition to meet your health goals? Talk with our team of Nutrition Coaches to get started today!