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    Archive for the ‘Vitamin B12’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: B Vitamin Confusion

    51V3ZT72W8L._SS500_I need your help sorting out B vitamins.

    I thought they were all water soluble, but I recently heard that the body stores B12 for decades?  Is this true?

    What are all the B vitamins?  I keep seeing conflicting information on how many there are.  For example, is panthothenic acid a B vitamin?  What about choline?

    — Rebecca Plender
    (Location Withheld)

    There are eight B vitamins.  They are:

    • B1 (AKA Thiamin)
    • B2 (AKA Riboflavin)
    • B3 (AKA Niacin)
    • B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
    • B6 (AKA Pyridoxine, although that term is mainly used in scientific literature)
    • B7 (AKA Biotin)
    • B9 (AKA Folate)
    • B12 (AKA Colabamin; again, that term is mainly only used in scientific literature)

    Continue Reading »


    You Ask, I Answer: Sublingual Vitamins

    3291The vitamin B12 supplement I take is sublingual.

    The instructions say to place the pill under your tongue and let it dissolve.

    Most times, I forget and let it dissolve on top of my tongue.  Am I not getting any B12 when I do this?

    — Kate (last name withheld)
    Petaluma, CA

    No need to worry.

    When it comes to B12, it has been theorized sublingual doses are optimal since they are absorbed through the oral mucosa (rather than having to go through the gastrointestinal tract).

    One of the supposed “advantages” is faster absorption, though I can’t fathom why absorbing vitamin B12 immediately is better to absorbing it in a matter of hours.

    In any case, a study published in the 2003 issue of the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology compared the efficacy of sublingual versus standard oral vitamin B12 supplements and found they both did the job equally well.


    This Is America’s “Health Guru”?

    DrOz-OprahEven if you’ve never seen an episode of Oprah, you know who Dr. Oz is.

    His daily television show debuted in September and, apparently, many magazine editors and television producers are under the assumption he is the only person who can answer any health question.

    Although Dr. Oz is certainly one of the most skilled and knowledgeable cardio-thoracic surgeons in the country, he is perceived to be — and markets himself as — a one-stop shop to all your health questions.

    Whether you want to know about germs, sexual health, diabetes, anti-aging, skin care, or nutrition, he’s got the answer.

    Or does he?

    I have always been very vocal about the fact that while he is definitely not a quack — and has a basic grasp on nutrition — I often find Dr. Oz’s dietary advice  to be shockingly inaccurate, misinformed, or misleading.

    A visit to his show’s website earlier today, for example, revealed two pieces of information so wrong I could not believe what I was reading!

    First up — Dr. Oz’s “go vegan challenge!” page, where he dispenses tips for anyone interested in going vegan for 28 days (I’ll take this opportunity to say I’m so over all these tired 28-day plans).

    In any case, here is one gem:

    “Vegans should take a multivitamin and B12 supplement to ensure they are getting enough protein.”

    Huh!?!  I don’t even know where to begin!

    The notion that vegans should take a multivitamin makes the ridiculous assumption that they couldn’t possibly get all their nutrients from food.  As with any other diet, it depends on the quality.

    Some omnivores’ diets provide enough nutrition, others don’t.  “All vegans need multivitamins” is untrue and unfairly paints vegan diets with a “nutritionally inadequate” brush.

    I do agree that some vegans can benefit from B12 supplements, but why not mention that vegans can get B12 from nutritional yeast as well as fortified dairy alternatives and breakfast cereals?

    What truly shocked me — because it is so off-the-mark — was the idea that vegans should take a multivitamin to ensure they get enough protein.

    Not only do multivitamins not provide protein — there is also no reason whatsoever for vegans to supplement extra protein in their diet.  Grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and vegetables all contain protein.

    Then, on his “sugar-free in 28 days” page, Dr. Oz promises to help people kick their “addictive” sugar habit.

    How does he do this?  By recommending agave nectar.

    Once again: WHAT!?!?!

    Agave nectar has as many calories as sugar, and nothing about it is inherently healthy — or healthier than sugar.

    Sure, it is slightly lower on the glycemic index, but the fact remains that replacing the sugar in your morning coffee with agave is not a healthier or lower-calorie choice.

    To make matters more confusing, agave is described as “high in calories”.  It’s not.  It is just as caloric as sugar.

    My wish for 2010?  When it comes to matters of nutrition, let real experts have the floor, Dr. Oz.


    You Ask, I Answer: Chlorella

    chlorellaWhat are your thoughts on chlorella?

    My housemate and other raw foodists I’ve met swear it’s the most amazing and beneficial stuff ever.  I’ve also heard that it’s dangerous and toxic.

    The way I’ve heard it spoken about makes it seem like it’s a trendy nutrient that’s not very well understood by most people.

    What’s true and what’s hype?

    — Leah (Last name withheld)
    (Location Unknown)

    Chlorella is, very simply, a species of freshwater algae.

    Despite very limited research, chlorella is accompanied by lofty claims from its manufacturers, including:

    • helps achieve weight loss
    • “eliminates cancer risk”
    • contains the highest amount of protein per ounce than any other food
    • provides nutrients easily absorbed by the human body
    • offers very high levels of chlorophyll

    Each of these claims, by the way, is either completely misguided or inaccurate.  Here is why:

    1. Helps achieve weight loss

    No single food helps speed up weight loss.  You can make the argument that a food, depending on its composition, can make weight loss easier.  For example, a food like almonds that provides a fair share of fiber, protein, and fats (the three pillars of satiety) is a great addition to a weight loss plan since it takes fewer calories to feel full, in comparison to other foods.

    Ultimately, though, weight loss is about caloric balance, not about one single food’s magical properties.  Adding chlorella to a diet too high in calories will not result in weight loss.

    2. “Eliminates cancer risk”

    This is one of those claims that send my blood pressure through the roof.  While many foods contain phytonutrients and antioxidants that can help reduce one’s risk of developing certain diseases, it is preposterous to ever claim something downright eliminates cancer risk.  After all, diet is not the only cause of cancer.

    3. Contains the highest amount of protein per ounce than any other food

    A “so what?” statement.  The average adult in the United States already consumes 200 to 300 percent of their daily protein requirement.  What this factoid leaves out of the equation is that chlorella contains a very high amount of protein as percentage by weight.  You would need to eat a very high amount of chlorella to get a decent amount of protein from it.

    4. Provides nutrients easily absorbed by the human body

    A cliché vague statement that is meant to sound a lot more important than it really is.  The same can be said for thousands of foods.  It is worth pointing out, though, that the B12 in chlorella appears to be absorbable (unlike that of many other sea plants, which is in an analogue form).

    5. Offers very high levels of chlorophyll

    Too bad we aren’t plants.  Chlorophyll is completely irrelevant within the framework of human nutrition.

    In regards to chlorella’s toxicity, one concern is that if the water system in which this plant grows is contaminated, these toxins are directly absorbed.

    Chlorella gets nothing but a shrug and a feeble “meh” from me, especially since it is mostly consumed in powder or pill form (highly processed forms that deteriorate its initial nutritional profile).

    I would much rather someone spend the money they were planning on plunking down for a chlorella supplement on real food instead.


    You Ask, I Answer: Octopus & Squid

    octopusTwo of my favorite proteins are octopus and squid.  I rarely ever read or hear anything about their nutritional profiles.

    Can you enlighten me?

    — Paul (last name withheld)
    San Clemente, CA

    The United States consumes a lot less seafood than many other countries, and that is especially the case with these two mollusks.  In Japan, Portugal, and Spain, however, octopus is as common as canned tuna.

    A 3-ounce serving of cooked octopus delivers:

    • 139 calories
    • 2 grams of fat (of which none are saturated)
    • 240 milligrams of sodium
    • 25 grams protein
    • 510% of the Daily Value of vitamin B12
    • 45% of the Daily Value of iron
    • 11% of the Daily Value of vitamin C

    Just so you get an idea, a 3-ounce serving of chicken breast delivers five percent of the Daily Value of B12 and iron!  In fact, on an ounce-by-ounce basis, octopus packs in four times as much iron as — and 20 times the B12 of — beef.

    When simply grilled, squid has similar caloric and fat values to octopus.  However, squid offers less sodium and protein.  Squid is also void of any vitamin C and contains a substantially lower amount of iron and vitamin B12, but is home to 90% of a day’s worth of copper.

    The main issue with squid is that most people consume it in a breaded and deep fried form (calamari), which they then dip into sauces high in fat and sodium.


    Quick & Healthy Recipe: “Spicerack Special” Salad Dressing

    olive_oil_pour_spoutI came up with this recipe when I wanted more than just olive oil and vinegar but didn’t feel like chopping, slicing, or even getting the food processor dirty.

    This unique combination of ingredients hits the spot!

    The recipe calls for nutritional yeast, which can be purchased at local health food stores (or Whole Foods’ baking aisle).  I am partial to the Red-Star brand, which retails for $4.49 for a 5-ounce jar.  I use quite a bit of nutritional yeast in my cooking, and a jar lasts me approximately three or four months.

    In case the name turns you off, nutritional yeast has a unique and very tasty cheesy/nutty flavor profile.

    YIELDS: 4 servings


    4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon paprika
    3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
    1 Tablespoon lemon juice
    Ground black pepper, to taste


    Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until evenly mixed.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving):

    140 calories
    2 grams saturated fat
    150 milligrams sodium

    Excellent Source of: Folic acid, monounsaturated fat, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12

    Good Source of: Selenium, vitamin E, zinc


    You Ask, I Answer: Tofu Cream Cheese

    brealfastHow does tofu cream cheese stack up against regular cream cheese?

    Is the tofu type any better for you?

    — Ella Biggadike
    Brooklyn, NY

    Dairy and soy-based cream cheeses don’t offer much nutrition.

    Here is what you get in one tablespoon of dairy-based cream cheese:

    • 50 calories
    • 3 grams saturated fat (quite a bit for a mere 50-calorie serving!)
    • 1 gram protein
    • 4 percent of the vitamin A Daily Value
    • 2 percent of the phosphorus Daily Value
    • 1 percent of the Daily Value of: calcium, pantothenic acid, potassium, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin K

    Of course, fat-free varieties do not offer saturated fat (and clock in at 35 calories per tablespoon).

    Soy-based cream cheeses have an almost identical nutrient profile (except their fat is mostly polyunsaturated, rather than saturated).

    The bigger nutritional concern is what cream cheese is being slathered on.

    The average bagel, for example, clocks in at anywhere from 400 – 500 calories.  Considering that it takes three or four tablespoons of cream cheese to fill them decently, you are easily looking at a 700-calorie breakfast.

    I recommend using nut butters as bagel fillings.  Their fiber, high protein content, and healthy fats (especially in the case of peanut and almond butters) will keep you full for much longer.

    A half bagel topped with two tablespoons of nut or seed butter is a filling breakfast that adds up to approximately 400 calories.


    You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin B12 Content of Berries and Herbs

    hawthorn_berries_shropshire_september_2006_close_upI recently went vegan [and had a question for you].

    [Can an individual get sufficient vitamin B12] from alfalfa, burdock root, hawthorn berries, cat nip, or dong quai?

    It’s an ongoing debate [in the vegan community].

    — @IraGM
    Via Twitter

    A few of the herbs you ask about contain a certain amount of Vitamin B12, but it’s really a moot point.

    First, the majority of the B12 in these herbs is not “human active,” meaning it does not have the same characteristics — or efficacy — of the B12 found in animal products.

    Second, many of these herbs also contain B12 analogues, which can often result in reduced absorption of human-active B12.

    You should not rely on these herbs for adequate B12 intake.  As a vegan, you are better off with nutritional yeast, fortified foods (mainly cereal and non-dairy milks) or a supplement in pill form.

    From my viewpoint, there isn’t much room for debate on this issue.


    You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin B12 Shots

    b12 micI try to get a Vitamin B12 injection every few months in addition to supplementing with pills.

    Is that good enough?  Do you suggest I do one or the other?

    I get the injections because I feel rundown and thought maybe I was B12 deficient.  That’s a myth, right?

    — Dennise O’Grady
    New Jersey

    Assuming your body can absorb B12 efficiently, there is no need for injections if you are getting enough of it from your diet or supplements.

    Let’s briefly discuss B12 absorption.

    In order for B12 to be absorbed, it must combine with intrinsic factor, which is produced in the stomach.  This helps explain why gastric bypass patients often require B12 shots (without a functioning stomach, you will not absorb any B12, no matter how much you consume).

    Individuals who have lived with autoimmune gastritis for years also have very limited ability to make intrinsic factor.  Hence, they, too, need B12 injections.

    To make matters slightly more complicated, intrinsic factor is only rendered effective in a sufficiently acidic environment.  SInce stomach acid production decreases with age, it is common for older adults to require B12 injections.  With compromised acidity, B12 can not be absorbed.

    Lastly, if the terminal ileum (a particular portion of the small intestine) is damaged (due to irritable bowel syndrome, for instance) or missing (as a result of surgery), B12 can not be fully absorbed.

    If any of the above conditions apply to you, then a B12 shot is necessary.  Otherwise, you are just fine getting it from food or supplements.

    PS: I have also heard claims of Vitamin B12 shots for weight loss, which are absolute nonsense.


    You Ask, I Answer: Children & Soy Milk

    pearl-original-soymilkDo you think it’s okay for toddlers to forgo cow’s milk altogether and just drink soy milk instead?

    — Jane (last name withheld)
    Waltham, MA


    As long as the brand of soy milk they are drinking is fortified with calcium and Vitamin D (as most are) and it contains some fat (as most do), I don’t see a problem.

    Since soy milk provides roughly a half or two thirds of the fat in whole milk, be sure to make up for that by providing some extra fat in their meals.

    I certainly don’t recommend buying “light” versions.

    Remember, too, that all soy milks (except unsweetened ones) contain added sugar.  Yes, even plain flavors.


    You Ask, I Answer: Egg Yolks (Part 2)

    How unhealthy are egg yolks?

    Is it true that some people have more of a chance (due to genes) of producing more LDL cholesterol and [that] only these individuals should eat egg yolks in moderation?

    — Lori (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Egg yolks are branded with an undeserving “unhealthy” label that has proven hard to shake off.

    It was formerly believed that high intakes of dietary cholesterol resulted in high blood cholesterol levels. We now know, however, that blood cholesterol levels are linked to intakes of of trans fats and most saturated fats.

    It is true that some individuals have a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol. Consequently, they are recommended to limit their intake of whole eggs to three per week.

    If, however, you do not fall into that category, you can safely eat one egg a day.

    As far as I’m concerned, the average healthy individual should concern themselves much more with saturated fat than cholesterol.

    After all, very low intakes of cholesterol simply mean your liver makes up for it by creating more.

    As I pointed out during Season 4 of Bravo’s reality competition show Top Chef, people often make significant nutrition mistakes when avoiding meats high in cholesterol. These meats are usually much LOWER in saturated fat and, therefore, a healthier option than varieties low in cholesterol but high in saturated fat!

    Your average large egg provides 77 calories and only 1.5 grams of saturated fat. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a good way to add riboflavin, B12, selenium, and biotin to your diet!


    You Ask, I Answer: Miso

    Is [tamari] similar to miso? I’ve seen miso listed as an ingredient before, but have no idea what it is.

    — Corey Clark
    (location withheld)

    Miso shares some similarities with tamari.

    Whereas tamari is liquid, miso is a thick paste usually made by fermenting soybeans, rice, buckwheat, or barley (with the help of a particular mold, of course).

    Before letting it age for anywhere from two months to three years, a little salt is also sprinkled on.

    Miso is mainly used as a flavoring agent — often in place of salt — due to its high sodium levels.

    Many chefs prefer to use miso since, as a result of its fermentation, it adds earthy, savory tones to food (akin to nutritional yeast.)

    Some vegans like to include it in their diet since the bacteria used in the fermentation process creates B12.

    However, miso’s B12 content — which isn’t really that spectacular — is of the analogue variety, so I urge vegans to instead get this vitamin through nutritional yeast or fortified soy products.

    The most popular use of this ingredient in the United States is with miso soup, which is basically a mixture of miso paste with water, seaweed, tofu, and scallions.

    Although some people laud it as a nutritious food, its high sodium content has me viewing it more as an alternative flavoring agent to use when cooking, rather than an ingredient to bolster the nutritional profile of a dish.


    You Ask, I Answer/Quick & Easy Recipes: Vegan Alfredo Sauce

    I became vegan about two months ago.

    I don’t really miss many things since I find perfectly tasty substitutes, but yesterday night I found myself craving alfredo sauce (maybe it’s the cold weather).

    Since I have seen some vegan recipes on the blog, I wondered if you had any ideas as to how I can have alfredo sauce without dairy?

    — Shannon Gibson
    St. Paul, MN

    You’ve come to the right place, Shannon!

    Although I am not vegan, I love vegan cooking — it is creative, healthy, and always offers a new experience for the tastebuds.

    After several experiments, I crafted this delicious dairy-free alfredo sauce:

    YIELDS: 6 servings (1 serving = 1/2 cup)


    3/4 cup raw cashews
    1 cup water
    3 garlic cloves
    2 Tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed preferred)
    1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    1/4 cup nutritional yeast
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon pepper (optional)
    2 or 3 large basil leaves (optional)


    Place cashews in food processor. Pulse for 20 – 30 seconds.

    Add water and pulse until cashews and water are evenly mixed.

    Combine rest of ingredients in food processor until blended.


    150 calories
    1.5 grams saturated fat
    380 milligrams sodium
    4 grams fiber
    8.5 grams protein

    Good source of: B vitamins (including B12!), magnesium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, iron


    You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin B12

    As a vegetarian (vegan most days) I know I have to supplement my diet with vitamin B 12. However, I’m really puzzled about something.

    The best sources (non-veg) of vitamin B 12 are mollusks, snapper, calf’s liver, lamb, venison, etc. If these animals are able to produce vitamin B 12 in their tissues, why aren’t we?

    — Jennifer Armstrong
    Saratoga Springs, NY

    Great question.

    Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria in animals’ — yes, that includes humans — digestive tracts. However, since this occurs in our large intestine, it is past the point of absorption (nutrient absorption takes place in the small intestine).

    You may be wondering, then, why Vitamin K — also synthesized by bacteria in the large intestine — is absorbed with no difficulty.

    Simple. Our colons contain Vitamin K receptors which aid in the absorption process. Keep in mind, though, that we do not produce enough vitamin K to meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance, so we must get some from food.

    While we’re on the subject of B12, I want to point out other important factors regarding its consumption and absorption.

    Too often, I see various forms of algae and seaweed described as “good sources of B12”, which is inaccurate.

    What those foods contain are B-12 analogues — compounds that mimic real B12 and compete with it for absorption (bad news!).

    Some fermented soy foods (natto, tamari, and miso) contain real B12, but the amount is so insignificant that it is really a moot point.

    A much better idea for vegans and vegetarians is to supplement B12 through fortified foods (i.e.: certain brands of nutritional yeast, as well as most brands of non-dairy milks and cereal) or supplements.

    It is not only vegans who need to be concerned with B12, though.

    People with celiac disease need to be careful; gluten intake damages the microvilli in their small intestines, thereby inhibiting absorption of nutrients, including B12.

    Similarly, individuals who undergo total gastrectomy are at high risk of developing B12 deficiencies, as they lack intrinsic factor (a glycoprotein produced by the stomach and required for B12 absorption.)

    A large body of research has also established that B12 absorption capacity decreases with age, which is why it is often recommended that individuals over the age of 60 supplement B12.


    A Sprinkle of Health

    As regular Small Bites readers know, I’m a huge fan of what I like to call “nutritional sprinkling”.

    A tablespoon of ground flaxseeds in a smoothie, a tablespoon of wheat germ with yogurt, and a few teaspoons of oat bran in your cereal are wonderful ways of gradually integrating substantial nutrition to your day.

    Now I introduce you to another all-star on my sprinkling team — nutritional yeast.

    Many vegans are familiar with it — for the right reason!

    Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast naturally loaded with B vitamins and usually fortified with vitamin B12 (the one vegans have the hardest time getting in their food.)

    Even better — two tablespoons of it provide a whopping 5 grams of fiber, 8 grams of protein, a practically non-existent 30 milligrams of sodium, and 375 milligrams of potassium (as much as a small banana)!

    As if that weren’t enough, it’s also a great source of zinc and selenium.

    If you have never tried nutritional yeast, I can best describe it as a delectable nutty/parmesan cheese-like flavor.

    As far as initial experiences go, I recommend sprinkling it over popcorn, in soups and stir-fries, or over your favorite pasta dish.

    Although most conventional supermarkets don’t carry nutritional yeast, you can find it at Whole Foods, or your local health store.

    It is by no means a wallet buster — a 5 ounce (that’s plenty!) container of Red Star Nutritional Yeast, for instance, retails for $5.19.

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