You may have heard of them, but never really appreciated them. However, B vitamins are essential to keeping our cells in tip-top shape. They are a group of eight water-soluble micronutrients (collectively called ‘vitamin B complex’) which work to create new blood cells, maintain healthy skin and brain cells and convert food into energy. They often occur in the same foods and, as such, eating a varied, balanced diet is the best way of ensuring you’re meeting your body’s requirements. However, they also occur in specific foods, have unique functions, and we need specific amounts of each (depending on our age and gender). We delved into the nutrition bible, Nutrition Concepts and Controversies by Sizer and Whitney (2017), to find out more and summarise everything you need to know.
Vitamin B1: Thiamine
Thiamine is vital for certain neural processes in the body. It is also important for carbohydrate metabolism and synthesizing certain hormones. As such, official guidelines for adults recommend we consume 1.1-1.2mg of thiamine per day, which can be obtained from sources including pork, potatoes, grains, and sunflower seeds.
Vitamin B2: Riboflavin
Vitamin B2 is also essential in a wide variety of metabolic processes including the production of energy. It also converts tryptophan into niacin (see below), another important B vitamin; and is involved in vitamin B6 metabolism in the body. Foods such as beef, spinach, milk and yoghurt are rich in riboflavin, and will help you meet your daily recommended 1.1-1.3mg.
Vitamin B3: Niacin
Niacin is the pre-cursor to the coenzyme, NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), which is fundamental for correct functioning of our metabolism (i.e. converting carbohydrates, fats and proteins into energy). We can get enough (14-16mg per day) in our diets by consuming plenty of fish and poultry. Plant-based foods such as grains also contain niacin, but our bodies can’t use it as easily.
Vitamin B5: Pantothenic acid
Meanwhile, it’s recommended we consume around 5mg of vitamin B5 per day. This is because it’s necessary for our bodies to create new proteins, fats and coenzymes with multiple metabolic functions. Like niacin, B5 can be found in a variety of foods. However, the highest concentrations are found in tuna, sunflower seeds, and avocados.
Vitamin B6: Pyridoxine
This vitamin is important for correct immune function, brain development, and metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Consequently, it’s recommended we consume 1.3mg of vitamin B6 per day. Tuna is also a rich source of pyridoxine. Don’t eat fish? That’s ok; pyridoxine is also found in bananas, sweet potatoes and fortified cereals.
Vitamin B7: Biotin
Unlike the first five B vitamins, you may have heard of biotin. This is widely used in supplements to improve the condition of hair, nails and skin. However, its main function is in metabolism and DNA regulation. It’s recommended we consume 30mcg of biotin daily, and our favourite sources are eggs and sunflower seeds.
Vitamin B9: Folate
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9, but you may also be familiar with the synthetic form, folic acid, which is more stable and bioavailable. Natural folate occurs in dark leafy green vegetables, avocados, and beans, amongst others. However, in the US, food manufacturers add folic acid to enriched grain products such as bread and cereal. It’s recommended women of reproductive age consume 400mcg of vitamin B9 (folic acid and/or folate) per day. This is to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (where the foetus’ brain and spinal cord don’t form correctly) during pregnancy. Like other B vitamins, vitamin B9 is also important in metabolism, and acts as a coenzyme to make new cells, so it’s recommended adult men also consume 400mcg per day.
Vitamin B12: Cobalamin
Last, but by no means least, vitamin B12 is essential in creating new red blood cells (in turn helping us feel energised) and in maintaining nerve cells. It’s recommended we consume 2.4mcg of vitamin B12 per day, which can be met by eating animal products, as it is naturally available in these types of foods. Hence, vegans and vegetarians are at risk of deficiency and may therefore need to obtain vitamin B12 from supplements. However, always consult with your healthcare professional beforehand.
B vitamins each have their own unique functions, but they work cumulatively to achieve maximum health benefits. Eating a balanced diet rich in whole foods will often provide us with everything we need. For example, Swisse Me’s range of smoothies contain oats, yoghurt, spinach, avocado and almond to give you a boost of Bs to power your day; no additional supplements needed.
Sizer, F.S. and Whitney, E. (2017) Nutrition Concepts and Controversies 15th Edition. Cengage Learning Inc.