Do oats contain B12?

Oats are a popular breakfast food that provide many important nutrients. However, there is some confusion around whether oats contain vitamin B12 or not. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that plays a key role in several bodily functions. This article will examine if oats contain B12 and provide a detailed overview of this important vitamin.

The Basics of Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin that is involved in the metabolism of every cell in the human body. It plays a vital role in:

  • DNA synthesis
  • Neurological function
  • Red blood cell formation
  • Energy production

The recommended daily intake of B12 is 2.4 mcg for adults. While vitamin B12 deficiency is rare, it can cause serious complications like anemia, fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, neurological changes like numbness, and depression.

Vitamin B12 is naturally present in foods of animal origin only. That is why vegans and vegetarians are at a higher risk of developing a deficiency.

Do Oats Contain B12?

Oats are grains that come from the Avena sativa plant. They are commonly eaten as oatmeal, rolled oats, or steel-cut oats. Oats are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and various vitamins and minerals.

However, oats do not naturally contain vitamin B12. Since B12 is only found in foods of animal origin, plant foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds are not reliable sources of this vitamin.

Oats and Enriched B12

While oats themselves do not contain B12, some types of processed oats foods are enriched with it. Enrichment is the process of adding vitamins and minerals lost during processing back into the food. For instance:

  • Many brands of fortified whole grain ready-to-eat cereals like oatmeal contain added vitamin B12.
  • Some packaged instant oatmeal may also contain enriched B12.
  • B12 may be added to oat milk, although amounts can vary across brands.

If you choose enriched oat foods, be sure to check the nutrition label for the B12 content per serving. The % daily value can indicate if it is a significant source or not.

Dietary Sources of B12 for Vegans

Since oats and other plant foods do not naturally contain vitamin B12, vegans and vegetarians need to obtain it from other sources in their diet:

  • Fortified foods: Cereals, non-dairy milks like soy, almond and oat milk, meat substitutes, nutritional yeast.
  • Supplements: Oral B12 supplements with cyanocobalamin, B12 sprays, injections from a medical provider.
  • Fortified Nutritional Yeast: Inactive yeast grown in a fortified culture, different from baking yeast. 2 tablespoons provides 4 mcg B12.

Consuming 2-3 reliable vitamin B12 sources every day can help vegans meet their daily requirement and prevent deficiency.

B12 Absorption and Digestion

There are a few key points related to vitamin B12 absorption and digestion:

  • Bound to proteins in food, stomach acid helps detach B12 from proteins.
  • A carrier called intrinsic factor, secreted by stomach cells, binds to B12 and allows its absorption in the ileum of the small intestine.
  • Certain medications like acid blockers, Metformin and colchicine can impair B12 absorption.
  • Conditions affecting digestion like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and loss of stomach cells also affect absorption.

Since B12 requires acidity and intrinsic factor for optimal absorption, some experts recommend supplementation for those over 50 years old even with normal B12 levels.

B12 Deficiency Symptoms and Testing

While a frank vitamin B12 deficiency takes years to develop, some symptoms indicating depletion include:

  • Persistent fatigue and weakness
  • Tingling and numbness in hands and feet
  • Difficulty walking or moving
  • Vision loss or blurred vision
  • Mental fogginess, memory issues and confusion
  • Depression, hallucinations and mood changes
  • Pale skin, sore tongue, mouth ulcers

Blood tests for B12 levels can confirm if they are in the normal range of 200-900 picograms/milliliter. Levels below 300 pg/mL indicate possible deficiency.

Doctors may recommend B12 injections or high-dose supplements to restore levels. Addressing it early prevents permanent nerve damage and disability.

Other Essential Nutrients in Oats

While oats do not offer much B12, they provide several other beneficial nutrients like:

  • Fiber: Oats contain beta-glucan fiber that slows digestion, improves cholesterol levels and gut health.
  • Protein: High quality protein helps build muscle when combined with exercise.
  • Iron: Provides oxygen carrying capacity as part of hemoglobin.
  • Manganese: Aids bone health and antioxidant function.
  • Phosphorous: Supports bone mineralization, cell membranes and energy production.
  • Magnesium: Regulates nerve and muscle function, blood glucose and pressure.
  • Zinc: Boosts immunity and facilitates growth and DNA synthesis.
  • Copper: Helps iron absorption and red blood cell formation.
  • Vitamin E: Protects cell membranes as an antioxidant.

Enjoying oats along with vitamin C rich fruits and veggies can further boost iron absorption as well.

Whole Oats vs Processed Oats

Whole oats like steel-cut and rolled oats have higher fiber content compared to processed instant oats. A 1⁄2 cup serving provides:

Type Fiber (grams)
Steel cut oats 5.0
Rolled oats 4.0
Instant oatmeal 3.0

Whole oats take longer to break down and keep you full for longer. Overnight oats prepared with rolled or steel-cut oats also offer more satiating fiber compared to packaged instant oatmeal.

Risks of B12 Deficiency in Vegans

Studies estimate that vitamin B12 deficiency affects anywhere from 50–90% of vegans and vegetarians. This is because plant foods do not provide a reliable source of this essential nutrient.

While overt B12 deficiency may take years to develop, studies show that even asymptomatic vegans still exhibit lower B12 levels compared to non-vegans. Vegans not taking supplements or eating fortified foods are at highest risk.

Given that vitamin B12 is crucial for neurological health, blood cells and DNA, it is recommended for vegans to include B12 fortified foods or take a daily supplement as insurance against deficiency.

B12 During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

The recommended intake of B12 doubles to 2.6 mcg per day during pregnancy and 2.8 mcg when breastfeeding.

This increased need is due to the baby’s demand for growth and development. Deficiency in the mother can lead to preterm birth, low birth weight, neurological problems, developmental delays and anemia.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women who maintain vegan diets should plan their diet especially carefully to include sufficient vitamin B12 sources every day.


In summary, oats themselves do not contain any vitamin B12 since it is only found naturally in foods of animal origin. However, many processed and fortified oat foods are enriched with B12.

To prevent deficiency, vegans should include other reliable B12 sources like supplements, fortified plant milks and nutritional yeast. Getting bloodwork monitored annually can also help assess B12 status.

Though oats themselves cannot meet B12 needs alone, they remain a healthy breakfast choice as part of a balanced diet. Pairing oatmeal or overnight oats with nuts, seeds, fruit and plant milk can provide a nourshing nutrient-dense meal to start the day.

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