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Best guide to B group vitamins - benefits, concerns and food sources!
3 October 2021
Vitamin B12, B6, folate, biotin, B7 - gets a bit confusing doesn’t it? Here’s your “who’s who” in the vitamin B world and who’s not even considered as a vitamin! What are the main benefits of B group vitamins, what might cause B group vitamin deficiency and what to eat to avoid it? All the answers are below!
There are eight B vitamins and they are all water-soluble and essential for metabolic processes. The B vitamins are B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12. What about B4, B8, B10 and B11, you might ask? Well, they exist as other nutritional supplements, but they are not considered as vitamins anymore. Something like Pluto not being a planet anymore: they no longer fit the official definition of a vitamin. But let’s find out more about the 8 that count as vitamins!
"B1 deficiency is rare and it is easy to obtain it from normal diet."
B1, Thiamine - benefits, foods and deficiency
B1 was the first B vitamin discovered! The body needs B1 to make a molecule that transports energy within our cells. All tissues of the body need B1 to function properly! Good news is that deficiency is rare and it is easy to get B1 from the normal diet. Pork, poultry, bread, rice, legumes, lentils, peas, wholegrain cereals and some other foods contain it. However, people who drink a lot of alcohol and people with specific diets or certain eating disorders can face B1 deficiency that can impact the nervous system, brain and heart.
"B2 can be found in milk, cheese, eggs, leaf vegetables, liver, kidneys, lean meats, legumes, mushrooms, and almonds."
B2, Riboflavin - why do we need it and what are the sources
Discovered in 1920, B2 is required by the body for cellular respiration - a metabolic process that is essential in the body. B2 can be found in foods such as milk, cheese, eggs, leaf vegetables, liver, kidneys, lean meats, legumes, mushrooms, and almonds. People with bad eating habits and/or eating disorders may develop vitamin B2 deficiency. Subclinical deficiency has also been noticed in women taking birth control pills, in the elderly, people with chronic alcoholism and people with restrictive diets, e.g. vegan and vegetarian diets. A gluten-free diet may also be low in B2. In case your diet does not include enough B2, it is good to consult a medical expert for advice on supplements.
"B3 is converted into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide which is required by more than 400 enzymes in our body to function!"
B3, Niacin - importance and food sources
B3 is essential to convert carbohydrates, fat and alcohol into energy and is involved in DNA repair. In the body, B3 is converted into NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) which is required by more than 400 enzymes to function! It can be found in meat, poultry, tuna and salmon, but also in fortified wheat flour. B3 deficiency is rare, but again associated with malnutrition and chronic alcoholism. In the regions where people mostly eat corn, B3 deficiency can occur as corn is low on B3.
"Pantos refers to the fact that B5 is present in almost everything we eat!"
B5, Pantothenic Acid - deficiency is rare!
This vitamin is essential for fatty acid metabolism as well as synthesizing and metabolizing proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. It is also needed to produce red blood cells and steroid hormones. Fortunately B5 deficiency is very rare! The name pantothenic comes from a Greek word pantos which means “from everywhere” as small amounts of it are present in basically everything we eat: animal-sourced food as well as potatoes, tomato products, oat-cereals, sunflower seeds, avocados and mushrooms.
Half way through! We have four more B group vitamins to discover!
"Alcohol, contraceptive pills, age and thyroid diseases may cause B6 deficiency."
B6, Pyridoxine - fruits, veggies and grains!
B6 is required by the body for utilization of energy in the foods we eat, production of red blood cells, and proper functioning of nerves. It can be obtained from fruits, vegetables and grains but also beef liver, tuna and salmon. Deficiency of B6 is rare, but people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol, women who take contraceptive pills, the elderly and people with thyroid diseases are the most at risk. In case of doubt, consult your doctor.
"The Beauty vitamin B7 or biotin is known to promote hair growth, nail strength and skin health."
B7, Biotin - the beauty vitamin, but not only
Biotin is a common supplement used to promote hair growth, nail strength and skin health. It is involved in metabolic processes primarily related to the utilization of fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids. The name comes from a Greek word bios meaning “to live”. B7 deficiency is quite rare as it can be found in many food products such as chicken and beef liver, eggs, salmon, tuna, almonds and peanuts, sweet potatoes, and in smaller amounts also in milk, cheese or even wine and beer. But let's be frank - drinking is not making anyone more beautiful!
"B9 deficiency is associated with bad nutrition and excessive consumption of alcohol."
B9, Folate - the deficiency symptoms
B9 is required to make DNA and RNA and metabolise amino acids necessary for cell division. Women of child-bearing age are considered to need a diet rich in folate. B9 deficiency is associated with bad nutrition and excessive consumption of alcohol. Symptoms of B9 deficiency include diarrhea, depression, confusion, anemia, and fetal neural tube and brain defects. But luckily there are many foods that contain B9 such as peanuts, sunflower seeds, lentils, chickpeas, asparagus, spinach, lettuce, soybeans, broccoli and some other plant based foods. A very good source of folate is chicken or calf liver.
"People on a vegan diet might need to include more B12 in their diet."
B12, Colabamin - good news for meateaters
And last but not least, B12. It is important for DNA synthesis and for the normal functioning of the nervous system. It also plays a role in the maturation of red blood cells in the bone marrow. People on a strict vegan diet tend to be most commonly affected by B12 deficiency. It is also noticed in the elderly. B12 deficiency can potentially cause damage to the brain and nervous system. Lighter symptoms include fatigue, difficulty walking, depression, poor memory, breathlessness, or pale skin. But like other B vitamins, B12 is easy to obtain from food. Great sources of B12 include liver, meat, milk and nori. Plant-based sources though are considered unreliable for sufficient amounts of B12. If you are on a vegan diet, you might want to make sure you get the necessary vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy.
In short, B vitamins are highly important for the normal functioning of the body. Deficiencies are relatively rare and associated mostly with malnutrition, specific diets, eating disorders and alcohol intake. For a healthy adult, it is easy to obtain the necessary B vitamins from a diverse diet. In case of any medical concern, it is always recommended to consult a doctor.
1. "Thiamin. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." National Institutes of Health
2. "Riboflavin. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." National Institutes of Health
3. "The Gluten-Free Diet: Safety and Nutritional Quality." National Institutes of Health
4. "Oral Contraceptive Use, Micronutrient Deficiency, and Obesity among Premenopausal Females in Korea: The Necessity of Dietary Supplements and Food Intake Improvement." National Institutes of Health
5. "Niacin. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." National Institutes of Health
6. "Pantothenic Acid. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." National Institutes of Health
7. "Biotin. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." National Institutes of Health
8. "Folate. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." National Institutes of Health
9. "Vitamin B12. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." National Institutes of Health