Energising B Vitamins are found in lots of different foods and help to lift our mood, and energy levels, as well as performing vital functions at key life stages.
What are B Vitamins?
B vitamins were first grouped together because they were found together in many of the same foods. Whilst they have many similar functions as energy vitamins – i.e. the conversion of food into energy or ATP – scientists soon discovered that these water soluble vitamins are in fact quite different, and have their own unique roles in the body. Some are more crucial to red blood cell production, others in nerve system functioning. All, however are essential to the normal healthy functioning of the body and metabolism.
All the B vitamins are present in a wide variety of other foods – both from animal and plant sources. Because the B vitamins play such an essential role in our health, many foods are now fortified with several of the B vitamins. However, those that are naturally present in foods are the best source.
- B1 (thiamine): whole grains, asparagus, kale, cauliflower, potatoes and oranges.
- B2 (riboflavin): milk, cheese, leafy vegetables, beans, mushrooms and almonds.
- B3 (niacin): chicken, fish, tomatoes, leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, nuts, beans, mushrooms, tofu and peanut butter.
- B5 (pantothenic acid): meats, whole grains, avocados, broccoli and mushrooms.
- B6 (pyridoxine): meats, whole grains, vegetables and nuts.
- B7 (biotin): peanuts, leafy green vegetables and corn.
- B9 (folic acid): vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, peas, dairy products, whole grains and meats.
- B12 (cobalamine): mostly in animal products.
The Benefits of B vitamins
The B vitamins (often referred to as the B Complex) are known by several different names and each plays a unique role in the body:
- B1 (thiamine): Thiamine is important for brain and nerve function as well as energy use throughout the body.
- B2 (riboflavin): Riboflavin is used to help make and transport energy in the body. It also helps with brain function and helps make chemicals that protect the body from free radical damage.
- B3 (niacin): Niacin is an essential part of both using energy and storing energy in the body.
- B5 (pantothenic acid): B5 is often used by the body to break down and build proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
- B6 (pyridoxine): Vitamin B6 is used to make some of the building blocks of proteins and also helps to break down carbohydrates and fats.
- B7 (biotin): Biotin is important in making the building blocks of proteins and also helps the body store energy.
- B9 (folic acid): Folic acid plays a key role in copying and repairing DNA, which makes it especially important in growth.
- B12 (cobalamine): B12 is important in copying DNA, but also plays a role in breaking down fats and proteins. It’s heavily used in the brain and nervous system.
When to take a supplement?
Folic acid is an essential vitamin for pregnant women, as large amounts are needed for the foetus to develop their brain and nervous system. Folic acid is recommended for anyone planning to get pregnant or already pregnant. For the most part, deficiency in any of the B vitamins is uncommon because they are present in many of the foods we eat, or added (i.e. fortification) to several processed foods such as breakfast cereals, that might otherwise be low in B vitamins. Those who are deficient tend to have an illness, follow a strict vegan or vegetarian diet (putting them at risk of B12 deficiency), have malabsorption problems (e.g. the elderly), or have a genetic enzyme dysfunction that puts them more at risk for deficiency. Coeliac disease, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) for example, can inhibit absorption of some B vitamins, so often supplementation is necessary. And heavy drinkers are also at risk of B12 deficiency. Older adults tend to be at higher risk for B12 deficiency because their body is less able to absorb it than the body of a younger person. A lack of both B12 and folic acid in adults can cause fatigue and some neurologic problems. Finally, those who eat a diet that is low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains are at risk for deficiency in B vitamins. And according to research published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism athletes with low levels of B vitamins will notice a dip in performance during high-intensity exercise, so if it’s worth checking your levels if you want to perform at your best.
When supplementing, B vitamins are best taken in a “B Complex” form, to ensure a balanced intake.