Raw diet, Vitamin B 12 and being underweight

Q: Hi Wayne,
How do vegans get vitamin B-12 from their diet or do they need a supplement. I guess there is no B-12 and folic acid in Just Barley is there? Also I have tried to eat mostly raw but I lose a lot of weight. Right now I am 5 pounds underweight and I would lose even more on an all raw diet as my life is a lot of walking – on days I deliver newspapers it is 5-8 hours of walking. Hope to hear from you soon. Yours Truly, Glenda.

A. Healthy humans produce B-12 in their colons. Eating refined foods, short or long term use of medications, overeating, excessive alcohol (see more complete list below) will likely prevent a healthy ideal colon to produce it’s own B-12.

Here are a few ways to ensure getting B-12 if you are concerned.

Vegan foods supplying a good source of B-12 would be spirulina, chlorella, miso (look for raw low salt-miso) and sea vegetables such as dulse, nori, hijiki and others. More minimal sources of B-12 would be organic greens such as spinach, barley and wheat grass, dandelion and other greens.

The following are additional short term or very occasional use sources of B-12. I do not recommend taking these products on a regular basis.

Nutritional yeast and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is contained in some whole food vitamin supplements such as Mega Food. Nutritional yeast grown on molasses solution which comes as yellow flakes or powder. It has a cheesy taste. Brewer’s yeast or torula yeast can be more tolerable forms of food yeasts than Nutritional yeast. It can often be used by those sensitive to other yeasts. I however only recommend these for very occasional use or in place of less healthy solutions to adding B-12 to the diet! Yeasts can be made from cane and beet molasses, wine, dairy yeasts or wood-paper waste by-products. I only recommend the Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast. Although they are whole food, I don’t like yeasts other than a treat on popcorn or in emergency situations because it is pasteurized/cooked!

Some vegans even eat some fruits and veggies without washing to get the soil organisms into their systems that would contain B-12. Just be careful and make sure if you do that, you are eating a manure free soil to prevent getting parasites! Humans can store B-12 for up to 30 years without eating any animal foods. This is mainly due to our own re-circulating bile from our liver that contains B-12.

Some other minor sources of B-12
Alfalfa, sprouted beans, bee pollen, comfrey (herb), garlic, Korean & Siberean Ginseng, sprouted grains, nuts, sprouted seeds, most sprouts, wheatgrass, white oak bark (herb).

List of Conditions that might deplete B-12 stores are:

Pregnancy, long term high alcohol consumption, medications, hyperthyroidism, long term use of synthetic vitamin and mineral supplements.

I have read studies showing that vegan raw foodists can have lower than normal stores of B-12. What is not known is that might be the body adapting as the subjects were healthy otherwise. I tend to theorize that higher levels may not be normal! More studies are needed to see a wider range of vegan raw foodists and optimum health. Being idealistic about vegan, raw food diet is secondary to the occasional need for a wholefood vitamin, Spirulina (considered vegan and raw) yeast, raw dairy or other B-12 sources. Some long-lived, nearly disease-free cultures, occasionally will consume animal foods. Overeating is more detrimental to a long healthy life.

Please see below for the only 3 whole food vitamin supplements I recommend! Poor assimilation (notice I am not saying absorption) due to less than optimal stomach, pancreas, liver and colon functioning usually caused by an unhealthy diet from overeating, eating refined processed food, etc.

Glenda, I would not be concerned about your weight eating raw at this time, unless your energy is low and getting lower, or you have other negative symptoms.

I will suggest 3 possible scenarios for you for your weight:

  1. If your weight is getting lower and your energy is not good, then you are missing something in your diet or there could be an underlying health issue?
  2. If your weight is getting low and your energy is good, then try eating a little more raw fats, up to 30% of your diet calories for a short period of time (maintaining 20% is ideal), such as avocado, nuts and seeds and olives. Here I advise people to make our fresh nut/seed milk recipe. Adding more fruit such as bananas into your diet will help as well. Fruits have more protein and would likely help you gain a little weight. I have found that Spirulina has always helped people gain the weight they need! So try adding some to your diet daily.
  3. How long have you been eating raw? Let me guess? Less than 1.5 years! If your energy is good and your weight is a little low, I have found from years of consulting and helping hundreds of clients, that the body seems to take 1.5 years to clean out and regenerate 90% + liver function. Some clients can be a little underweight undertaking a strict raw foods program, but as soon as the 1.5 year mark comes up on the calendar, those extra pounds come on like magic! You will NOT lose more weight if you eat enough food, and eat the right foods!

Try to eat more bananas with 5-20 grams of Spirulina for your breakfast before you go walking. If your energy gets a little low when you’re walking/working, trytaking some other high energy, easy to digest sub acid fruits and/or bananas along for the walk if you feel you need more energy. Dinner should be a large salad and some avocado or nut/seed dressing.

Please see this link for more information. Please note that this Q & A is more complete than the previous answer.

Best 3 Whole Foods Vitamin/mineral supplements for Vitamin B-12

  1. Mega Food (coming to Canada Nov. 2003)
  2. Garden of Life
  3. Vita Synergy

Virtually any other brand on the market is from USP (United States Pharmacopeia or in layman’s terms pharmaceutical grade) or has synthetic ingredients.

Glenda, If you email me your diet diary on an average day I am sure I can help you maintain and even add weight! I have never failed to help a healthy person gain healthy weight! Please Live Forever Healthy!

2. Groff J, Gropper S. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, 3rd ed. Wadsworth, 2000.