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In reply to: B12 is a problem for vegans, so a vegan diet is not natural

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Context

This objection to veganism 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.[1]

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.

Talking Points

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]

Getting adequate B12 is easy.

For daily supplementation, dietitian Jack Norris (among others) recommends 25–100 micrograms of B12 in the form of cyanocobalamin.[3]

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

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.[5] 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,[6] T. Colin Campbell,[7] Dr. Alan Goldhamer,[8] 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]

In order to overcome these deficiencies, the ODPHP recommendation is to adopt a USDA healthy eating pattern,[10] such as a vegan diet.[11]

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.[12]

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.

See Also

Meta

This article was originally authored by Greg Fuller and copyedited by Isaac Nickerson. The contents may have been edited since that time by others.

  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