Animal Rights and Vegan Advocacy
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In response to: 
“B12 is a problem for vegans, so a vegan diet is not natural.”

Article

This objection seeks to invalidate veganism and animal rights by asserting that vitamin B12 is problematic for vegans and that the need for B12 supplementation proves that a vegan diet is not natural. We show that even though it is true that most nutritionists recommend vegans supplement for B12, that fact does not make a vegan diet unnatural, and neither does it invalidate veganism.

B12 is produced by microorganisms in the soil and in the intestines of animals, including our own. The amount we produce is not sufficient to prevent deficiency.1Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M Campbell. The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. 1 edition. Dallas, Tex: BenBella Books, 2004

B12 deficiency can be a serious issue and should not be taken lightly. While it’s true that B12 can be obtained by eating animal flesh, getting adequate B12 through vegan sources is easy and inexpensive, as discussed below.

B12 supplementation is very inexpensive.

If concern over B12 is what’s keeping you from becoming vegan, then the twelve cents a week that it costs to buy B12 supplements is a small price to pay to avoid harming animals  and to reap the health benefits and other positive consequences of veganism.

The “twelve cents a week” figure is based on Nature Made brand B12, sold at Walmart and other stores, in the biweekly dosage recommendation explained below.2“Nature Made Vitamin B-12 Dietary Supplement Timed Release Tablets, 1000mcg, 190 Count.” Walmart.com. Accessed January 30, 2018. /ip/Nature-Made-Vitamin-B-12-Dietary-Supplement-Timed-Release-Tablets-1000mcg-190-count/36168191

Getting adequate B12 is easy.

For daily supplementation, dietitian Jack Norris (among others) recommends 25–100 micrograms of B12 in the form of cyanocobalamin.3Norris, Jack. “Daily Needs.” Vegan Health. Accessed January 30, 2018. https://veganhealth.org/daily-needs/

For biweekly supplementation, Norris (among others) recommends 1,000 micrograms twice a week in the form of cyanocobalamin.4ibid.

According to dietitian Brenda Davis, you can also get adequate B12 through fortified foods by consuming three servings of B12-fortified foods daily, with each serving supplying at least two micrograms.5Davis, Brenda, and Vesanto Melina. Becoming Vegan: The Complete Reference to Plant-Based Nutrition. Com edition. Book Pub Co, 2014. 221 Nondairy milk, breakfast cereals and bars, vegan meat substitutes, and nutritional yeast are commonly fortified with B12. This method requires more diligence and planning than supplementation.

The need for B12 supplements may be an artifact of modern living.

Countering the argument that our need for B12 supplementation proves that a vegan diet is not natural, Dr. Michael Klaper,6Klaper, Dr. Michael. “Vitamin B12 Basics.” Michael Klaper, M.D., Nutrition-Based Medicine, January 27, 2017. https://doctorklaper.com/answers/answers27 T. Colin Campbell,7Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M Campbell. The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. 1 edition. Dallas, Tex: BenBella Books, 2004 Dr. Alan Goldhamer,8Goldhamer, Alan, and Doug Lisle. “Vitamin B12 Recommendations for Vegans | TrueNorth Health.” True North Health Center, May 26, 2010. http://www.healthpromoting.com/learning-center/articles/vitamin-b12-recommendations-vegans and others believe that before our modern way of life, we would have gotten adequate B12 from the soil. Unlike previous times, during which one might say we lived a more natural life, our fruits, vegetables, and root crops are now grown in sterile soil and thoroughly washed, eliminating the B12 that would naturally be present in the food.

Prudence is advisable for any dietary regimen.

Everyone should take care to ensure they are not nutrient deficient no matter what their eating pattern. B12 is not the only nutrient of concern: according to the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), Americans are commonly deficient in seven nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, folate, vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium.9“Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Part D Chapter 1.” Health.gov ODPHP, 2015. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/06-chapter-1/d1-2.asp

In order to overcome these deficiencies, the ODPHP recommendation is to adopt a USDA healthy eating pattern,10ibid. such as a vegan diet.11“USDA Food Patterns: Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern.” Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Eighth Edition. Accessed August 4, 2017. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-5/

The idea of a natural diet is problematic.

If a vegan diet is unnatural because of a need for supplementation, then perhaps being over fifty years old is unnatural, because those over fifty are commonly deficient in B12 and supplementation is recommended for anyone over fifty.12Institute of Medicine, and Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. 1 edition. Washington, D.C: National Academies Press, 2000. 306

Following a similar line of reasoning, perhaps the proverbial standard American diet is unnatural because of the common deficiencies of the seven nutrients mentioned previously.

This idea of a natural diet might make some sense in the context of gatherers and hunters, but since the invention of agriculture, with its selective breeding of both plant and animal species, the label loses its meaning.

Also, the claim that a vegan diet is not natural is an example of the naturalistic fallacy. That is to say, being natural doesn’t make something ethically or nutritionally sound. Hemlock is natural but not recommended for consumption.

Outline

 Talking Points OutlineKnowledge Base
  • Context
    • This objection seeks to invalidate veganism and animal rights by asserting that vitamin B12 is problematic for vegans and that the need for B12 supplementation proves that a vegan diet is not natural. We show that even though it is true that most nutritionists recommend vegans supplement for B12, that fact does not make a vegan diet unnatural, and neither does it invalidate veganism.
    • B12 is produced by microorganisms in the soil and in the intestines of animals, including our own. The amount we produce is not sufficient to prevent deficiency.13Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M Campbell. The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. 1 edition. Dallas, Tex: BenBella Books, 2004
    • B12 deficiency can be a serious issue and should not be taken lightly. While it’s true that B12 can be obtained by eating animal flesh, getting adequate B12 through vegan sources is easy and inexpensive, as discussed below.
  • B12 supplementation is very inexpensive.
    • If concern over B12 is what’s keeping you from becoming vegan, then the twelve cents a week that it costs to buy B12 supplements is a small price to pay to avoid harming animals  and to reap the health benefits and other positive consequences of veganism.
    • The “twelve cents a week” figure is based on Nature Made brand B12, sold at Walmart and other stores, in the biweekly dosage recommendation explained below. 14“Nature Made Vitamin B-12 Dietary Supplement Timed Release Tablets, 1000mcg, 190 Count.” Walmart.com. Accessed January 30, 2018. /ip/Nature-Made-Vitamin-B-12-Dietary-Supplement-Timed-Release-Tablets-1000mcg-190-count/36168191
  • Getting adequate B12 is easy.
    • For daily supplementation, dietitian Jack Norris (among others) recommends 25–100 micrograms of B12 in the form of cyanocobalamin.15Norris, Jack. “Daily Needs.” Vegan Health. Accessed January 30, 2018. https://veganhealth.org/daily-needs/ 
    • For biweekly supplementation, Norris (among others) recommends 1,000 micrograms twice a week in the form of cyanocobalamin.16ibid.
    • According to dietitian Brenda Davis, you can also get adequate B12 through fortified foods by consuming three servings of B12-fortified foods daily, with each serving supplying at least two micrograms.17Davis, Brenda, and Vesanto Melina. Becoming Vegan: The Complete Reference to Plant-Based Nutrition. Com edition. Book Pub Co, 2014. 221 Nondairy milk, breakfast cereals and bars, vegan meat substitutes, and nutritional yeast are commonly fortified with B12. This method requires more diligence and planning than supplementation.
  • The need for B12 supplements may be an artifact of modern living.
    • Countering the argument that our need for B12 supplementation proves that a vegan diet is not natural, Dr. Michael Klaper, T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Alan Goldhamer, and others believe that before our modern way of life, we would have gotten adequate B12 from the soil. Unlike previous times, during which one might say we lived a more natural life, our fruits, vegetables, and root crops are now grown in sterile soil and thoroughly washed, eliminating the B12 that would naturally be present in the food.
    • Supporting quotes:
      • Dr. Alan Goldhamer and Dr. Doug Lisle
        • “Upon reflection, we should note that in a more primitive setting, human beings almost certainly would have obtained an abundance of vitamin B12 from the bacterial ‘contamination’ of unwashed fresh fruits and vegetables, regardless of their intake of animal products. Human vitamin B12 deficiency is very unlikely to occur in such a setting. Only very small amounts of dietary vitamin B12 are needed because our bodies do a fabulous job of recycling this essential nutrient. A person living in the ancestral environment regularly would have consumed fresh fruits and vegetables that were not consistently, fastidiously cleaned, as we routinely do today. Our current unusual degree of hygiene is useful for combating many health threats, but may leave long-term, strict vegans vulnerable to the potential problem of vitamin B12 deficiency.”18Goldhamer, Alan, and Doug Lisle. “Vitamin B12 Recommendations for Vegans | TrueNorth Health.” True North Health Center, May 26, 2010. http://www.healthpromoting.com/learning-center/articles/vitamin-b12-recommendations-vegans
      • Dr. T. Colin Campbell
        • “Vitamin B12 is made by microorganisms found in the soil and by microorganisms in the intestines of animals, including our own. The amount made in our intestines is not adequately absorbed, so it is recommended that we consume B12 in food. Research has convincingly shown that plants grown in healthy soil that has a good concentration of vitamin B12 will readily absorb this nutrient. However, plants grown in ‘lifeless’ soil (nonorganic soil) may be deficient in vitamin B12. In the United States, most of our agriculture takes place on relatively lifeless soil, decimated from years of unnatural pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer use. So the plants grown in this soil and sold in our supermarkets lack B12. In addition, we live in such a sanitized world that we rarely come into direct contact with the soil-borne microorganisms that produce B12. At one point in our history, we got B12 from vegetables that hadn’t been scoured of all soil. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that modern Americans who eat highly cleansed plant products and no animal products are unlikely to get enough vitamin B12.”19Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M Campbell. The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. 1 edition. Dallas, Tex: BenBella Books, 2004
      • Dr. Michael Klaper
        • “In earlier times, humans acquired vitamin B12 in the same way. Our ancestors spent most of their daytime hours foraging for foods and most of their calories came from roots and tubers pulled up from the ground. Those plant parts were eaten without first being washed in (modern-day) chlorinated drinking water. As a result, humans ingested bacterial B12 from the surface of root vegetables, just as the grazing animals did (and do).
        • “When humans were thirsty, they would drink their fill from a stream and, in so doing, swallowed more B12-producing organisms in the stream water. Later, when wells were dug, vitamin B12 was present in almost every bucket of well water.
        • “Thus, until the beginning of the 20th century, humans (vegan or not) lived more earth-connected lives, ate harvested plants and drank from streams, rivers, and wells. As a result, there were ample B12 flowing through human bodies from the same, natural sources as swallowed and ingested by grazing animals, which means even vegans could expect to handily meet B12 needs without consuming animal flesh or dairy products.
        • “Now, however, traditional sources of B12 have been virtually obliterated by our modern, sanitized lifestyle. Root vegetables are now scrubbed and washed with chlorinated water, virtually eliminating every trace of natural B12 in the process.
        • “These days, few of us drink water from streams or wells and virtually all of our drinking water is chlorinated, which kills B12-producing organisms. Note: Although chlorination of water has eliminated a traditional source of B12, it also prevents water-borne diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever, which is of great benefit.
        • “As a consequence of the absence of traditional sources of B12, modern-day vegans must rely on vitamin B12 supplements to meet their B12 needs.”20Klaper, Dr. Michael. “Vitamin B12 Basics.” Michael Klaper, M.D., Nutrition-Based Medicine, January 27, 2017. https://doctorklaper.com/answers/answers27
  • Prudence is advisable for any dietary regimen.
    • Everyone should take care to ensure they are not nutrient deficient no matter what their eating pattern. B12 is not the only nutrient of concern: according to the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), Americans are commonly deficient in seven nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, folate, vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium.21“Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Part D Chapter 1.” Health.gov ODPHP, 2015. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/06-chapter-1/d1-2.asp
    • In order to overcome these deficiencies, the ODPHP recommendation is to adopt a USDA healthy eating pattern,22ibid. such as a vegan diet.23“USDA Food Patterns: Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern.” Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Eighth Edition. Accessed August 4, 2017. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-5/
  • The idea of a natural diet is problematic.
    • If a vegan diet is unnatural because of a need for supplementation, then perhaps being over fifty years old is unnatural, because those over fifty are commonly deficient in B12 and supplementation is recommended for anyone over fifty.24Institute of Medicine, and Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. 1 edition. Washington, D.C: National Academies Press, 2000. 306
    • Supporting quote:
      • “Because 10 to 30 percent of older people may be unable to absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12, it is advisable for those older than 50 years to meet their RDA mainly by consuming foods fortified with vitamin B12 or a vitamin B12-containing supplement.”25ibid.
    • Following a similar line of reasoning, perhaps the proverbial standard American diet is unnatural because of the common deficiencies of the seven nutrients mentioned previously.
    • This idea of a natural diet might make some sense in the context of gatherers and hunters, but since the invention of agriculture, with its selective breeding of both plant and animal species, the label loses its meaning.
    • Also, the claim that a vegan diet is not natural is an example of the naturalistic fallacy. That is to say, being natural doesn’t make something ethically or nutritionally sound. Hemlock is natural but not recommended for consumption.
  • Meta
    • Context
      • Purpose
        • The purpose of this piece is to counter the objection to veganism based on the need for B12 supplementation.
    • Contributors
      • Author: Greg Fuller
      • Copy Editor: Isaac Nickerson
    • Revisions
      • 2018-01-30 First published   glf
      • 2018-02-12 Copy editor’s first pass   isn

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1.Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M Campbell. The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. 1 edition. Dallas, Tex: BenBella Books, 2004
2.“Nature Made Vitamin B-12 Dietary Supplement Timed Release Tablets, 1000mcg, 190 Count.” Walmart.com. Accessed January 30, 2018. /ip/Nature-Made-Vitamin-B-12-Dietary-Supplement-Timed-Release-Tablets-1000mcg-190-count/36168191
3.Norris, Jack. “Daily Needs.” Vegan Health. Accessed January 30, 2018. https://veganhealth.org/daily-needs/
4.ibid.
5.Davis, Brenda, and Vesanto Melina. Becoming Vegan: The Complete Reference to Plant-Based Nutrition. Com edition. Book Pub Co, 2014. 221
6.Klaper, Dr. Michael. “Vitamin B12 Basics.” Michael Klaper, M.D., Nutrition-Based Medicine, January 27, 2017. https://doctorklaper.com/answers/answers27
7.Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M Campbell. The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. 1 edition. Dallas, Tex: BenBella Books, 2004
8.Goldhamer, Alan, and Doug Lisle. “Vitamin B12 Recommendations for Vegans | TrueNorth Health.” True North Health Center, May 26, 2010. http://www.healthpromoting.com/learning-center/articles/vitamin-b12-recommendations-vegans
9.“Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Part D Chapter 1.” Health.gov ODPHP, 2015. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/06-chapter-1/d1-2.asp
10.ibid.
11.“USDA Food Patterns: Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern.” Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Eighth Edition. Accessed August 4, 2017. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-5/
12.Institute of Medicine, and Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. 1 edition. Washington, D.C: National Academies Press, 2000. 306
13.Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M Campbell. The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. 1 edition. Dallas, Tex: BenBella Books, 2004
14.“Nature Made Vitamin B-12 Dietary Supplement Timed Release Tablets, 1000mcg, 190 Count.” Walmart.com. Accessed January 30, 2018. /ip/Nature-Made-Vitamin-B-12-Dietary-Supplement-Timed-Release-Tablets-1000mcg-190-count/36168191
15.Norris, Jack. “Daily Needs.” Vegan Health. Accessed January 30, 2018. https://veganhealth.org/daily-needs/ 
16.ibid.
17.Davis, Brenda, and Vesanto Melina. Becoming Vegan: The Complete Reference to Plant-Based Nutrition. Com edition. Book Pub Co, 2014. 221
18.Goldhamer, Alan, and Doug Lisle. “Vitamin B12 Recommendations for Vegans | TrueNorth Health.” True North Health Center, May 26, 2010. http://www.healthpromoting.com/learning-center/articles/vitamin-b12-recommendations-vegans
19.Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M Campbell. The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. 1 edition. Dallas, Tex: BenBella Books, 2004
20.Klaper, Dr. Michael. “Vitamin B12 Basics.” Michael Klaper, M.D., Nutrition-Based Medicine, January 27, 2017. https://doctorklaper.com/answers/answers27
21.“Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Part D Chapter 1.” Health.gov ODPHP, 2015. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/06-chapter-1/d1-2.asp
22.ibid.
23.“USDA Food Patterns: Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern.” Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Eighth Edition. Accessed August 4, 2017. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-5/
24.Institute of Medicine, and Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. 1 edition. Washington, D.C: National Academies Press, 2000. 306
25.ibid.