Over 85% of vegans have some kind of vitamin B12 deficiency – which is putting us at risk of nerve damage, mood swings and anaemia. But it doesn’t have to be that way – particularly if you love parmisan flavours! Load up on B12 as well as handful of other vitamins in these two super simple but delicious dishes.
Most of us have accepted that vegans can easily get enough protein from plants. The nutritional deficiency that is somewhat harder to solve, however, is that of vitamin B12. The vitamin is essential for keeping the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and without it, we can be at risk of anaemia, nerve damage, which in turn can impact our memory, thinking and mood and even paralysis.
We need around 1.5mg of B12 a day and generally speaking, it’s a nutrient that you get from animal products. It’s no wonder then that despite all the health benefits of veganism, one study has found that over 85% of all vegans have a vitamin B12 deficiency. According to the Vegan Society, the two groups most at risk from clinical B12 deficiency are long-term vegans who avoid common fortified foods (like raw vegans) and breastfeeding babies whose mums are vegan and whose own intake of B12 is low. It’s also worth flagging that it doesn’t take long to become deficient – a year is long enough to start feeling fired, experiencing tingling or numbness, poor memory and low mood. Even those plant-based foods that do boast B12 have been shown to have inadequate levels to make much of a difference… except for purple nori seaweed (and who has access to that?).
The easiest – and tastiest – way to increase your intake is by putting nutritional yeast on your food. Known as “nooch”, nutritional yeast tastes a bit like parmesan so is fabulous for putting on pasta dishes, beans on toast and even chips. Arguably the best known brand of B12 yeast flakes is Engevita and you get your hands on a big pot at Holland & Barrett, Tesco and Amazon for around £3.50. Here are two recipes from the original No Fuss Vegan, Roz Purcell, that prove just how delicious and versatile nutritional yeast can be:
Pea pesto pasta
100g frozen garden peas, defrosted
10 to 12 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
Handful of hemp seeds, crushed
For the pesto:
3 handfuls of fresh basil levels (remove the stalks)
100g frozen garden peas, defrosted
100g toasted almonds
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Juice of 1/2 lemon
6 tbsp olive oil
3 or 4 tbsp nutritional yeast
Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Drain well.
Meanwhile, defrost the frozen peas in a heatproof bowl of hot water for four to five minutes, then drain well.
To make the pesto, blend all the ingredients until mostly smooth – there should still be some almond chunks.
Put the drained pasta back in the pan.
Add two to four tablespoons of pesto and stir to coat all the pasta with the sauce.
Divide the pasta between two serving bowls, then divide the peas and chopped sun-dried tomatoes between them.
Sprinkle with hemp seeds and serve straight away.
Toast with almond ricotta and sweet red onion
1 tbsp oil
1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp maple syrup
For the almond ricotta
100g blanched almonds
Juice of one lemon
80 ml unsweetened almond milk
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
Pinch of sea salt
1 slice of bread, toasted
Freshly ground black pepper
To make the ricotta, put all the ingredients in a high-speed blender and blitz until smooth.
Spoon into a clean jar and store in the fridge for up to three days.
Heat the oil in a frying pan over a high heat.
Toss in the red onion and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the onion is slightly golden and crisp.
Stir in the maple syrup and cook for a further 30 seconds, then remove from the heat.
To serve, spread the almond ricotta thickly on your toast, then top with the sweet red onion and some freshly ground black pepper.
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Miranda Larbi is a freelance fitness and wellness journalist, and qualified personal trainer. When she’s not finding new vegan places to eat, she can be found training for the next marathon or cycling across London on a Tokyo bike.