Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B-12

This is one in a series of fact sheets containing information to help you select foods that provide adequate daily amounts of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber as you follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Guidelines are:
  • Eat a Variety of Foods
  • Maintain Desirable Weight
  • Avoid Too Much Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol
  • Eat Foods with Adequate Starch and Fiber
  • Avoid Too Much Sugar
  • Avoid Too Much Sodium
  • If You Drink Alcoholic Beverages, Do So in Moderation


A good food source of vitamin B-12 contains a substantial amount of vitamin B-12 in relation to its calorie content and contributes at least 10 percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (U.S. RDA) for vitamin B-12 in a selected serving size. The U.S. RDA for vitamin B-12 is 6 micrograms per day. (The U.S. RDA given is for adults, except pregnant or lactating women, and children over 4 years of age.

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In 1985 and 1986, 54 percent of the vitamin B-12 in the diets of women came from meat, poultry, and fish and 22 percent came from milk and milk products. Although grain products contributed by 14 percent of the vitamin B-12 consumed by women, the B-12 in these products was provided by the meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and milk they may contain. Likewise, the vitamin B-12 contributed by vegetables and fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and by fats, sweets, and beverages comes from added animal products. Vitamin B-12 is found only in animal products. Foods that contain small amounts of vitamin B-12 but are not considered good sources can contribute significant amounts of vitamin B-12 to an individual's diet if these foods are eaten often or in large amounts.


Vitamin B-12 is an important vitamin that is mainly found in fish, shellfish, meat and dairy products. Vitamin B-12, a water-soluble vitamin, aids in forming red blood cells and in building genetic material. Vitamin B-12 also helps in the functioning of the nervous system and in metabolizing protein and fat in the body.

Click here for nutrition table for 7,248 foods.


According to recent USDA surveys, the majority of Americans met their RDA for vitamin B-12.

Vegetarians, vegans and the elderly are at risk for not getting enough vitamin B-12. Most people with low vitamin B-12 levels either do not consume meat and dairy products or they have trouble absorbing vitamin B-12 from their stomach or small intestines.

What can cause problems with absorbing vitamin B-12?

The following are some things that can cause vitamin B-12 absorption problems:

  • A disease called pernicious anemia can destroy the cells in your stomach that help you absorb vitamin B-12.
  • Using medication for heartburn and ulcers for a long time.
  • Having had surgery on your stomach or your intestines.

Your doctor will find out why you have a low vitamin B-12 level by asking questions about your health, giving you a physical exam and taking a blood sample, if necessary.

What happens if my vitamin B-12 level is low?

You might not have any symptoms if your vitamin B-12 level is just a little bit low. However, a very low vitamin B-12 level can cause anemia, depression, dementia or problems with your nervous system.

Some people who have low vitamin B-12 levels also have high levels of homocysteine (say: ho-mo-sis-teen), an amino acid (a building block of protein) in the blood. If you have both of these problems, you may have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.


Eating a variety of foods that contain vitamin B-12 is the best way to get an adequate amount. Healthy individuals who eat a balanced diet rarely need supplements. However, vegetarians who do not eat any animal products may need a supplemental source of vitamin B-12. The list of foods will help you select those that are good sources of vitamin B-12 as you follow the Dietary Guidelines. The list of good sources was derived from the same nutritive value of foods tables used to analyze information for recent food consumption surveys of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Human Nutrition Information Service.

Can I just take one multivitamin pill every day to raise a low vitamin B-12 level?

No. Over-the-counter multivitamins do not contain enough vitamin B-12 to raise a low level. To get enough vitamin B-12, you will need to take special vitamin B-12 pills.

You can also get shots of vitamin B-12. Usually, these shots are given every 1 to 2 days for about 2 weeks. After this, a shot is given once every month. Your doctor can help decide whether pills or shots are right for you.


Some vitamin B-12 can be lost from foods during cooking. To retain vitamin B-12, roast or broil meat or fish.


The serving sizes used on the list of good sources are only estimates of the amounts of food you might eat. The amounts eaten of some meats may be easier to estimate by the piece rather than by weight. For example, the selected serving size for lamb is 1 chop weighing 2-3/4 ounces, 1 patty weighing 3-1/4 ounces, or 3 ounces of roast shoulder.


     FOOD                             SELECTED      PERCENTAGE OF
                                      SERVING SIZE  U.S. RDA (1)


Meat and Poultry Beef: Brisket, braised, lean only 3 ounces ++ Ground, baked or broiled; Extra lean 1 patty +++ Lean or regular 1 patty ++ Pot roast, braised, lean only 3 ounces ++ Roast, rib, roasted, lean only 3 ounces ++ Shortribs, braised, lean only 3 ounces +++ Steak, lean only: Baked or broiled 3 ounces +++ Braised 3 ounces ++ Stew meat, simmered, lean only 3 ounces ++ Frankfurter, beef 1 + Lamb: Chop, shoulder; braised, broiled, or baked; lean only 1 chop +++ Ground, cooked 1 patty ++ Roast, shoulder, roasted, lean only 3 ounces ++ Liver, braised: Beef, calf, or pork 3 ounces +++ Chicken or turkey 1/2 cup diced +++ Liverwurst 1 ounce +++ Pork, lean only: Chop, baked or broiled 1 chop + Roast, loin, roasted 3 ounces + Tongue, braised 3 ounces +++ Veal, roast, leg, roasted, lean only 3 ounces ++

Fish and Seafood Carp, cod, flounder, haddock, ocean perch, pompano, or porgy; baked or broiled 3 ounces + Catfish, perch, pike, or whiting; baked or broiled 3 ounces ++ Clams; steamed, boiled, or canned; drained 3 ounces +++ Crabmeat, steamed 3 ounces +++ Croaker, baked or broiled 3 ounces +++ Lobster, steamed or boiled 3 ounces +++ Mackerel; baked, broiled or canned; drained 3 ounces +++ Mussels, steamed, boiled, or poached 3 ounces +++ Oysters: Baked, broiled, or steamed 3 ounces +++ Canned, undrained 3 ounces +++ Salmon: Baked or broiled 3 ounces ++ Steamed, poached, or canned, drained 3 ounces +++ Scallops: Baked or broiled 3 ounces + Broiled or steamed 3 ounces + Shrimp; broiled, steamed, boiled, or canned; drained 3 ounces + Swordfish steak, baked or broiled 3 ounces ++ Trout, baked or broiled 3 ounces +++ Tuna, canned, drained 3 ounces ++

Eggs Egg, whole, cooked 1 large egg +


Cottage cheese, regular or lowfat 1/2 cup + Ice milk, soft-serve, not chocolate 1/2 cup + Milk; whole, lowfat, or skim 1 cup + Yogurt: Flavored or fruit, made with whole or lowfat milk 8 ounces + Frozen 8 ounces + Plain; Made with whole milk 8 ounces + Made with lowfat or nonfat milk 8 ounces +

(1) A selected serving size contains -

+ 10-24 percent of the U.S. RDA for adults and children over 4 years of age

++ 25-39 percent of the U.S. RDA for adults and children over 4 years of age

+++ 40 percent or more of the U.S. RDA for adults and children over 4 years of age

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