Quinoa, which is a whole grain from South America, has become popular in the last few years due to its many nutritional benefits. Many vegetarians and those following a gluten-free diet enjoy quinoa because it is the only whole grain that contains all of the essential amino acids humans need and therefore is considered a complete protein. Although it may be a great source of nutrition for vegetarians, it is lacking in vitamin B12.
Quinoa was a staple in the Incan diet, who believed the grain was sacred. Recently, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations declared that 2013 be declared “The International Year of Quinoa”. It contains all essential amino acids, a significant amount of fiber, and is also high in antioxidants such as quercetin and kaemperol. It provides alpha linoleic acid, which can help reduce inflammation and risk of chronic diseases.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that is generally found bound to protein in animal foods. It is required in the body for red blood cell formation, proper neurological function, and the synthesis of DNA. A B12 deficiency may lead to pernicious anemia, which may lead to digestive and neurological problems. The recommended dietary intake of vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4 mcg per day.
Quinoa and B12
Even though quinoa is high in protein, it does not contain any vitamin B12, since B12 is only found bound to animal proteins, not plant protein. Quinoa is high in many other B vitamins and calcium, which vegetarians also need. So, vegetarians will have to look elsewhere for good sources of B12.
Vegetarian Sources of B12
Since vegetarians do not eat meat, a main source of vitamin B12, their main source of the vitamin will be fortified foods, such as cereals. Some fermented products such as tempeh or miso may contain vitamin B12, but the amount is variable. Cheese and dairy, which some vegetarians consume, do contain vitamin B12. But, if you do not eat any animal products at all, a daily multivitamin should give you all the B12 you need. Consult your doctor for more advice on what is best for you.
Ana Johnson is a registered dietitian with professional experience in clinical nutrition, weight loss and medical nutrition therapy. She has also covered nutrition for various online publications, including Smarty Pants Vitamins and HUM Nutrition. Johnson holds a Master of Science in clinical nutrition.