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Published on June 10, 2021

7 Health Benefits of Vitamin B12 (Backed By Science)

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7 Health Benefits of Vitamin B12 (Backed By Science)

Vitamin B12 supplements are packing the shelves lately. Whether in the form of chewable gummies or capsules, you have likely seen them in your local grocery store or pharmacy aisles. Now it is time to ask, what’s all the hype around this essential nutrient?

In this article, I’ll give you a quick overview of what exactly Vitamin B12 is as well as reviewing some of the health benefits of this nutrient.

What Is Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is also known as Cobalamin. According to Mayo Clinic, it is used in the formation of red blood cells, nerve function, and the creation of DNA. Mayo Clinic notes that it is pretty rare to have a deficiency of Vitamin B12 as your body can store it for several years. However, if you follow a diet low in meat products, such as a vegan or vegetarian diet, you may be at a higher risk for deficiency. Additionally, older adults are more likely to be deficient in Vitamin B12.[1]

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, mood disturbances (such as depression or confusion), and memory problems.[2] Therefore, it is important to ensure that you are getting enough Vitamin B12 in your diet.

The Main Sources of B12

According to Mayo Clinic, the best sources of Vitamin B12 are animal products, such as poultry, meat, fish, and dairy products. Some foods have Vitamin B12 added to them during processing as well. Fortified breakfast cereals or some commercial yeasts are two examples of this phenomenon.[3]

Given the fact that Vitamin B12 comes mostly from animal sources, those who follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet may have difficulty meeting their requirements of this nutrient. In these cases, Vitamin B12 can be supplemented. Two common ways that B12 is supplemented outside of the diet are by using an oral supplement or injection.

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7 Health Benefits of Vitamin B12

Here are seven science-backed health benefits of vitamin b12.

1. Reduces Risk of Anemia

According to Mayo Clinic, anemia is a condition where your body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. This means that the blood cannot properly transport oxygen to all parts of your body, which can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, cold hands and feet, shortness of breath, or muscle weakness.[4]

Given its role in red blood cell formation, it makes sense that one of the benefits of Vitamin B12 would be the prevention of anemia. When you are deficient in Vitamin B12, your body’s red blood cells become too large and take an irregular shape. This makes them unable to move properly throughout your body, causing a specific type of anemia termed “megaloblastic anemia.”[5]

2. May Reduce the Risk of Osteoporosis

Given the fact that Vitamin B12 is so important in DNA function, it makes sense that it would also be a key component of bone formation.

One study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research found that individuals with higher Vitamin B12 levels also had higher bone mineral density. Lower bone mineral densities are indicators of osteoporosis. This study showed that individuals who do not have sufficient Vitamin B12 stores may be at risk for osteoporosis.[6]

3. May Improve Heart Health

Homocysteine is an amino acid or a building block of protein. When proteins are broken down, homocysteine is one of the products. Studies have shown that having high levels of homocysteine is a risk factor for developing cardiovascular, or heart, disease. In humans, high levels of homocysteine usually indicate a deficiency in folic acid (Vitamin B9) or Vitamin B12.[7])

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According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Vitamin B12 (along with other B vitamins such as folic acid and Vitamin B6) can lower your homocysteine levels. However, it’s important to note that the NIH reports that taking B12 supplements does not reduce the risk of getting cardiovascular disease.[8]

If you’re looking for a supplement to specifically improve heart health, it may be beneficial to look into an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement instead.

4. May Reduce the Risk of Birth Defects

As mentioned previously, it is recommended that women who are pregnant add a greater amount of Vitamin B12 to their diet than the average adult. This is because Vitamin B12 deficiency has been associated with birth defects, such a neural tube defects, and complications in pregnancy.[9] Therefore, pregnant women need to ensure that they are meeting the recommended daily intake of Vitamin B12 to prevent birth defects in their children.

5. May Reduce Your Risk of Depression

According to the World Health Organization, depression is extremely common and affects more than 264 million individuals worldwide. This mental health disease can affect individuals of all ages.[10]

The American Women’s Health and Aging Study found that Vitamin B12 deficiency was found to be more common amongst adult women with depression than among those who were not depressed. In fact, they found that those individuals with Vitamin B12 deficiency were more than twice as likely as their non-deficient counterparts to be depressed.[11]

Another study conducted supports these results in a population of elderly individuals. The Rotterdam Study showed that elderly subjects who were deficient in Vitamin B12 were more likely to have depression.[12]

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Studies have also shown that Vitamin B12 supplementation may improve symptoms of depression. In a study published in the Open Neurology Journal, 100% of depressed individuals who were treated with Vitamin B12 supplementation showed a decrease in depressive symptoms after three months.[13]

6. May Improve Your Cognition

A study published in the American Academy of Neurology journal showed that a concentration of B12 markers in the body was associated with cognitive function and brain volume. The study found that if these markers showed a deficiency in Vitamin B12, total brain volume may be reduced, leading to impaired cognition.[14]

Another study found that individuals with lower Vitamin B12 concentrations had poorer memory performance and poorer learning ability.[15] These findings demonstrate the importance of having adequate Vitamin B12 stores for cognitive function.

7. May Improve Hair, Skin, and Nail Health

One of the most popular reasons for taking Vitamin B-12 is its promised effects on hair, skin, and nails. According to the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, deficiency of Vitamin B12 can commonly lead to hyperpigmentation, hair changes, skin changes, and glossitis (inflammation of the tongue).[16] Getting in a sufficient amount of Vitamin B12, either through diet or supplementation, will prevent these negative reactions from occurring.

How Much Vitamin B12 Do You Need?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it is recommended that adults get 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of Vitamin B12 per day. Some specific groups of adults require differing levels of this nutrient. Pregnant women are recommended to take 2.6 mcg per day of B12, and women who are breastfeeding are recommended to increase their daily dosage of Vitamin B12 to 2.8 mcg.[17]

Given the fact that Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, your body only absorbs as much as it needs and will pass the remainder out through your urine. This means that there is no benefit to taking greater than the recommended amount of Vitamin B12. Additionally, this means that Vitamin B12 toxicity is extremely unlikely, making it extremely safe.

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In Conclusion

Vitamin B12, or Cobalamin, plays an important role in red blood cell formation, nerve function, and DNA synthesis. As I’ve discussed here, getting enough Vitamin B12, either through diet or supplementation, may improve cognition, reduce your risk of osteoporosis, and reduce your risk of developing depression or reduce depressive symptoms.

While it’s always preferable to get vitamins through diet, Vitamin B12 supplements are generally considered to be safe, especially for those whose diets are low in animal products such as meat, dairy, and fish.

If you’re worried about your Vitamin B12 levels, we recommend speaking with your doctor to determine whether your levels are actually low and if supplementation is right for you.

More About the Vitamins for Energy

Featured photo credit: angela pham via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Samantha Klig, RD

Registered Dietitian

What Is the Best Time to Take Your Vitamins? Do Vitamins and Supplements Help With Energy? 8 Best Foods for Dieters to Eat Healthily Flaxseed Oil vs Fish Oil: Which Is Better? Cod Liver Oil vs Fish Oil: Which Is Better?

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Published on August 24, 2021

What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

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What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

I’ve been a dietitian now for a long time (more years than I care to mention), and if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that fad diets are best avoided. This is why I’m so pleased that whole food diets are being talked about more and more.

Rather than a “diet,” I prefer to think of a whole food diet as a way of life. Eating this way is balanced, and it is a great way to support your all-around body health and longevity. Plus, it’s delicious and—in my opinion—not limiting either, which is a massive bonus.

A well-balanced diet follows some fairly basic principles and, in essence, consists of plenty of the following:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Lean protein
  • Nuts
  • Water

This is essentially all a whole food diet is. Unfortunately, there isn’t an accepted definition of the whole food diet, which means that there are some highly restrictive versions around and some involve principles to frame your diet around rather than strict rules.

Read on to learn more about the whole food diet as a framework for eating rather than a strict rule book of dos and don’ts that restricts your lifestyle.

What Is a Whole Food Diet?

By definition, a whole food diet consists of eating foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. It’s easy to get lost in a quagmire of organic, local, or pesticide-free, but a whole food diet is basically food in its most natural form. Obviously, spices can be ground and grains can be hulled, but you get the idea. You eat the whole food rather than what’s left after being refined or processed.

In other words, it involves a lot of cooking because whole foods do not involve anything processed. That means no premade sauces, dips, or convenience foods like chocolate bars, sweets, or ready-meals. It also includes things like tinned vegetables and white bread.

Why? Processed and convenience foods are often high in salt, saturated fat, and additives in comparison to anything homemade. Because of this, their toll on your overall health is higher.

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Can Other Diets Also Be Whole Food Diets?

Here’s where it gets confusing—yes, other diets can also be whole food diets. Eating a whole food diet is a lifestyle choice, but many other diets can exist within a whole foods construct. So, diets like the MIND Diet and Mediterranean Diet are also whole food diets.

For example, here are the foods involved in the MIND Diet:[1]

  • Green, leafy vegetables five times a week
  • Five or more different colored fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Berries five times a week
  • Five or more servings of nuts a week
  • Olive oil five times a week
  • Whole grains five times a week
  • Oily fish twice a week or take an algae-based omega-3 supplement
  • Legumes and pulses five times a week
  • White meat/mix of plant-based proteins twice a week
  • Vitamin D supplement
  • Minimally processed foods
  • No more than one glass of wine a day
  • One or two coffee or tea a day max
  • Two liters of water a day

That’s pretty much a whole food diet, right? As long as any meat or plant-based proteins are as unprocessed as possible, then it can be a whole food diet.

Other diets, like a vegan diet, for instance, could be whole food diets or not. It really depends if processed foods are included. Some food substitutes are really heavily processed, so it’s important to read labels really carefully. But it’s only some, not all.

And here’s where it gets woolly. If you don’t need to eliminate certain food groups for whatever reason—ethical, health, religion—then a whole food diet can be great. But if you do exclude certain foods, then it could be beneficial to include certain “processed” foods. This is to make sure that you don’t miss out on vital nutrients to keep you healthy.

Processed Foods That Are Okay on a Whole Food Diet

Many brands of cereals are fortified with B vitamins, which can be hard to come by on a plant-based diet.

For example, vitamin B12 (needed for maintaining a healthy nervous system, energy, and mood-regulation), is largely found in animal sources. It is something that those on a plant-based diet need to keep an eye on, as studies show that around 20% of us are deficient. And we also know that 65% of vegans and vegetarians don’t take a B vitamin supplement.[2]

So in that case, choosing a cereal fortified with B vitamins would be a good option, if done wisely. By that I mean use your discretion and check the labels, as many brands of cereals are packed with sugar and additives. But you can strategically choose minimally processed foods using a whole foods mentality.

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As a rule of thumb, if there are any ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t understand, or sound artificial, they probably are best avoided.

Benefits of a Whole Food Diet

In a 2014 analysis by Yale University, they concluded that “a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”[3]

A diet rich in fruit and vegetables or other high-fiber foods like whole grains and nuts is really important in maintaining good long-term health and preventing health problems like diabetes and cancers. These kinds of foods also help our bodies to cope and control the effects of inflammation.

In fact, one review from 2019 stated that “diets high in plant foods could potentially prevent several million premature deaths each year if adopted globally.”[4] This is a big endorsement for a whole food diet.

Whole Foods and the Gut

Whole foods are loaded with fibers that are sometimes lost during processing or refinement. Fiber is essential for a healthy gut because aside from its traditional “roughage” reputation, it also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, providing a whole host of other benefits.

They also provide a lot of variety, which the gut loves. The more variety, the better. So, even though you might fall in love with certain recipes, it’s important to mix up the kinds of whole foods you eat to maintain a healthy gut. Aim for 30 different whole foods each week. It’s easier than you think!

Whole Foods and the Brain

The brain is a really hungry organ, and it uses 25% of the total energy you consume from your food. Everything it needs to function at its best is—you guessed it—a whole, unprocessed food.

In fact, the best diet recommended for brain health is the MIND Diet. In one study, it was shown that people who follow the MIND diet closely had a 53% reduced rate of developing Alzheimer’s.[5]

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Some of the best whole foods for the brain are:[6]

  • Oily fish
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Whole grains

Is It Easy to Follow a Whole Food Diet?

Once you’ve got your head around having “ingredients” rather than “ready-to-eat” things in your kitchen cupboards, it’s actually very easy. The only issue is the lifestyle and habit changes that come along with it.

It is very likely that for many people, following a totally, religiously whole food diet may be unattainable at least some of the time. For example, there are days where you don’t get time to make your lunch or if you want to enjoy social eating. Similarly, people who have young children or who are working more than one job are unlikely to be able to follow a whole food diet all of the time.

Sometimes, we put ourselves under pressure to be as perfect as we can with diets like this, which can lead to an eating disorder called Orthorexia, which is a preoccupation with healthy eating.

This means that following a whole food diet, in principle, can be healthy and accessible for some people but not for everyone. It also means that those with previous disordered eating, as always, need to avoid any form of dietary restriction or rules around their diet.

Is a Whole Food Diet Boring?

Absolutely not! The beauty of this way of eating is that there are barely any recipes that are off-limits. If you can make it yourself using natural ingredients, then it counts. So, dig out your recipe books and get familiar with your spice cupboard.

Here’s my advice if you’re just starting: stock up on coconut milk and canned tomatoes. You’ll use them all the time in sauces.

Best Hacks for Sticking With a Whole Food Diet

Here are some tips to help you stick with a whole food diet and develop this lifestyle.

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1. Practice Batch Cooking

Especially in the beginning, if you’ve been used to eating more convenience-based or packaged foods, you’re likely to feel like you spend the majority of your life in the kitchen. So, I’d suggest getting your cookbooks out and planning around five things to make per week. If you make double, or even triple portions depending on your household, you’ll have enough quantity to last several meals.

For example, his could be homemade granola. Make it once, and that’s breakfast sorted for a week. Whole food diet ingredients like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts, and seeds are all delicious, and great nutritional resources to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

I also love to make big stews, sauces, and curries that can happily be reheated and added throughout the course of a few days.

2. Make Your Own Convenience Foods

Sticking to a new way of eating can be really difficult, especially for your willpower. So, it’s very important to make it as easy as possible for yourself.

Pre-chop. Pre-chop. Pre-chop.

If you’ve got a container of carrot sticks on hand or can happily munch on a few pieces of melon from the fridge, use those—it’s almost easier than grabbing something from a package. This can extend to your other vegetables, too. If you get your veg delivered or buy it from a market, choose a few things to slice after you wash them. That way, if you need a speedy lunch or a lazy dinner, it’ll be ready in minutes.

Ready to Try a Whole Food Diet?

If you’re looking to maximize your overall health, well-being, and vitality, I’d absolutely suggest a whole food diet. But, as with everything, it’s important to do what works for you and your own lifestyle.

Featured photo credit: Louis Hansel – Restaurant Photographer via unsplash.com

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Reference

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