When it comes to vitamins, we often think about the more "important" ones, like vitamin C for immunity and vitamin D for bone health, but may forget about the B vitamins. Did you know there are eight B vitamins? Together they are referred to as the "B Complex" and have a number of essential functions in the body.
One important function of B vitamins is energy production. B vitamins help our bodies produce energy from food by aiding in the metabolism of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat). An added plus -- this boost in energy has also been shown to help improve cognitive performance. Additionally, B vitamins may have mood boosting effects. Studies have shown that supplementation with the vitamin B complex has been linked to decreasing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, further demonstrating the link between food and mood.
So next time, if you’re feeling like you need a boost of “energy” or a boost to your mood, you may want to consider looking at your diet and seeing if you need more B vitamins. B vitamins are more commonly known by their names than by their numbers and are widely available in a variety of foods. Here is more information about the health benefits of B vitamins and their food sources:
Thiamin (Vitamin B1) is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, certain types of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and fats and can be found in foods such as pork, peas, whole grain and enriched-grain products, including bread, pasta, rice and fortified cereal.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) is an essential part of energy production as it helps to metabolize other B vitamins so that they can do their jobs. Therefore, riboflavin deficiency can impair the efficacy of other B vitamins and indirectly lead to other B vitamin deficiencies. Riboflavin can be found in foods such as cheese, yogurt, enriched grains, lean meats, eggs, almonds and leafy green vegetables.
Niacin (Vitamin B3) is similar to thiamin and riboflavin in that it is also needed in the metabolism of energy production. Research also shows that niacin may play a role in lowering blood cholesterol levels. Foods that contain niacin are high protein foods such as peanut butter, beef, poultry and fish, as well as enriched and fortified grain products.
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) is a precursor in the synthesis of coenzyme A. Coenzyme A is essential to many biological reactions that sustain life. Pantothenic acid can be found in a wide variety of plant and animal foods such as yogurt, milk, sweet potato, avocado, corn eggs, beans and fortified cereals.
Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) helps to create non-essential amino acids and produce insulin; a hormone needed to help glucose enter the cells so it can be used for energy in the body. Beans, chicken, bananas, baked potato, pork, fish, nuts and fortified breakfast cereals all contain vitamin B6.
Biotin (Vitamin B7) plays a huge role in helping the body convert food into usable energy and helps keep our hair, skin, eyes and nervous system healthy. Biotin can be found in peanuts, almonds, egg yolk, sweet potatoes and fish.
Folate (Vitamin B9), also known as folic acid, is particularly important during pregnancy. Consuming adequate amounts helps reduce the risk of fetal spine and brain deformities. A diet low in folate can also lead to megaloblastic anemia, which may cause fatigue, weakness and shortness of breath. Sources of folate include beans, oranges, avocados and spinach as well as fortified foods.
Cobalamin (Vitamin B12) plays an important role in creating new red blood cells, therefore a deficiency in this vitamin could result in pernicious anemia (low count of red blood cells). Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products, so vegetarians and vegans are especially at risk of deficiency if they do not consume B12 fortified foods or a B12 supplement. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also occur in elderly individuals due to impaired intestinal absorption (absence of intrinsic factor) which leads to a malabsorption of vitamin B12. This vitamin is present in animal products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, fish, poultry and fortified cereals.
Bottom Line: B vitamins contribute to much more than just energy production; they are fundamental to our health and well-being. It’s important to remember that food is the preferred choice of nourishment and vitamin supplementation is intended to supplement an individual’s diet, not replace it. In the case of vitamin B12, supplementation might be necessary for vegetarians, vegans and the elderly.
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Written by: Manuel Alonso, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern