Bzzzz. Bzzzz. Did you hear that too? There has been plenty of buzz surrounding B vitamins recently. What are they and why are they so important to us metabolically? The eight water-soluble vitamins in the B complex are found in both meat and vegetable sources. A water-soluble vitamin cannot be stored in the body for an extended period so it must be consistently replenished. B vitamins help us convert food into energy and keep our nervous system healthy and functional. A deficiency in any vitamin can be detrimental to our health.
Vitamin B1, also called thiamin, helps strengthen the immune system and assists with carbohydrate metabolism. While B1 is found in whole grains, meat and fish, the best sources of thiamin include beef, nuts, oats, pork, eggs, seeds, oranges and legumes.
Vitamin B2, also called riboflavin, is used to treat migraines. B2 is found in dairy products, eggs, leafy vegetables, organ meats like liver and kidney, as well as legumes, almonds and mushrooms. A deficiency in vitamin B2 affects the body’s ability to absorb iron and can contribute to anemia.
Vitamin B3, also called niacin, is used to lower LDL cholesterol, raise HDL cholesterol and treat cardiovascular disease in people who are not already taking statins. The best dietary sources of niacin include skipjack tuna, sesame seed flour, turkey, pork, peppers and portabella mushrooms.
Vitamin B5, also called pantothenic acid, is essential to the body and is used during the synthesis and metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Good sources of vitamin B5 include sunflower seeds, dried egg yolks, dried mushrooms, liver and unmilled whole grains (the majority of B5 is located on the outer layer of the whole grain).
Vitamin B6, also called pyroxidine, is an essential part of protein, glucose and fat metabolism, immune function, and the production of certain hormones and neurotransmitters. Foods with high levels of vitamin B6 include pistachios, chickpeas, beef, bananas, pork, turkey, whole grains and potatoes. The less processing the food has received, the more vitamin B6 will be available.
Vitamin B7, also called biotin, helps with the synthesis of fatty acids and is involved in gluconeogenesis, which is the production of energy by the liver. Our intestines can produce biotin using bacteria present in the gut. Biotin can also be found in brewer’s yeast, butter, soybeans, beef, liver, eggs, split peas, and nuts and seeds including peanuts, walnuts, pecans and sunflower seeds. Raw egg whites contain a protein called avidin that blocks the absorption of biotin, leading to a biotin deficiency if raw egg whites are consumed.
Vitamin B9, also called folate and folic acid, is essential for healthy fetal development and the prevention of neural tube defects during pregnancy. Folate is required to produce DNA, RNA and new cells such as red blood cells in the body. Folate consumption is essential for the prevention and treatment of anemia. High levels of folic acid are found in Brussels sprouts, avocado, spinach, asparagus, beetroot and liver.
Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, plays an important role in brain and nervous system function, as well as the creation of red blood cells and DNA. B12 is also involved in the metabolism of every cell in the human body. Plants, animals and fungi are incapable of producing B12, making it essential for it to be consumed in food or supplement form. Animals store vitamin B12 in the liver and muscles, which makes meat, liver, eggs and milk the primary sources of B12. Foods with the highest B12 content are clams, liver, mackerel, crab, fish eggs and turkey.
Bottom Line: B vitamins are essential to our existence and are found in a wide variety of foods. These vitamins are so important that most processed grain products have been fortified with B vitamins in order to avoid deficiency. Healthy eating is the first line of defense for a healthy life -- so eat your B’s and enjoy feeling the energy boost they provide.
Written by: Aimee Amacher, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern