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Your Complete Guide to B Vitamins

B-Complex Vitamins - Foods high in B vitamins and B vitamin supplements.

Do you know your B vitamins? You should. They’re essential to your overall health! Use this B-complex vitamins guide to learn about the benefits of B vitamins, including what each B vitamin does, food sources of B vitamins, and how to make sure you get enough B vitamins in your diet.

B-Vitamins Guide Infographic

Your Guide to B Vitamins

There are eight B vitamins in total, and they each have different roles and benefits. But while they’re all different, they still work together to complete some of the most vital functions in the body and play an important role in cell metabolism. Also, B vitamins are a class of water-soluble vitamins that are often referred to as an entire unit: The B-complex vitamins.

B-Complex Vitamins

The discovery of vitamins was a major achievement in the history of wellness research. While physicians and researchers had previously linked healthy eating to healthy bodies, they soon realized there was more to the story and began isolating various nutrients in food to better understand their chemical structure and potential impacts on our health. Initially, scientists thought vitamin B was a single nutrient, but much later they discovered that there are many nutrients in the B-complex family of vitamins and gave them all designated numbers as they began to explore their roles in the body.1

What Do B Vitamins Do?

B-complex vitamins are essential for converting food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), making them popular as energy boosters. They also help promote optimum mental and physical health, help protect against free radicals and support cardiovascular nutrition.

Likewise, all B vitamins are water soluble, which means the body does not store them like it does with fat-soluble nutrients, so you need to replenish your body’s supply of B vitamins continually.

Let’s dive deeper into what makes each B vitamin unique and where you can find them.

Vitamin B-1 (Thiamin)

Thiamin was the first B vitamin discovered, which is why it’s called vitamin B-1. Thiamin plays an important role in forming adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which every cell uses for energy.2 It also supports nervous system function and is sometimes referred to as an “anti-stress” vitamin because it may promote immune health and help the body when under stress.2

Food Sources of Vitamin B-1
  • Pork
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Liver and organ meats
  • Whole grains or enriched grain products
  • Legumes
  • Wheat germ
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Nuts
  • Blackstrap molasses
Vitamin B-1 Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

For healthy adults, the RDA of thiamine is 1.2 mg for males and 1.1 mg for females.2

Vitamin B-2 (Riboflavin)

In addition to promoting energy production by helping the body convert food into fuel, riboflavin works as an antioxidant that helps protect against free radicals.Riboflavin also helps convert vitamin B-6 and folate into forms the body can use.3 Riboflavin has been shown to promote eye health and support red blood cell production.3

Food Sources of Vitamin B-2
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Almonds
  • Organ meats
  • Whole grains
  • Wheat germ
  • Mushrooms
  • Soybeans
  • Eggs
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Spinach
Vitamin B-2 Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

For healthy adults, the RDA of riboflavin is 1.3 mg for males and 1.1 mg for females.3

Vitamin B-3 (Niacin)

Niacin, or vitamin B-3, is involved in the production of many stress-related hormones and may promote heart health and healthy circulation.4 Like the other B-complex vitamins, niacin is essential for supporting healthy energy levels.

Food Sources of Vitamin B-3
  • Beets
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Beef liver and kidney
  • Fish like salmon, swordfish and tuna
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Peanuts

Foods that contain tryptophan may also be a source of niacin because the body converts the amino acid tryptophan into niacin.4 Tryptophan is found in many types of meat and dairy products.

Vitamin B-3 Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

For healthy adults, the RDA of niacin is 16 mg for males and 14 mg for females.4

Vitamin B-5 (Pantothenic Acid)

Pantothenic acid, vitamin B-5, helps the body break down fats and carbohydrates for energy.5 This vitamin also supports cellular health and the production of red blood cells, promotes digestive system health, and helps the body use other vitamins, including B-2.5 It may also support skin health and healthy blood lipid levels.5

Food Sources of Vitamin B-5

Pantothenic acid is found in a wide variety of foods, but unfortunately, the amount of vitamin B-5 decreases during processing. Processed foods, like canned and frozen goods, have less pantothenic acid than fresh, unprocessed foods.6

  • Beef and organ meats
  • Poultry
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocado
  • Legumes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Wheat germ
  • Salmon
Vitamin B-5 Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

There is no established RDA for vitamin B-5, but experts recommend 5 mg per day for healthy adults.5

Vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxine)

Pyridoxine, vitamin B-6, is a heart-healthy B vitamin that works together with vitamin B-12 and folic acid to keep homocysteine levels in check.7 It’s necessary for healthy brain development and function, supporting the production of several neurotransmitters, including serotonin and norepinephrine, which support mood health, and melatonin, which helps regulate sleep and wake cycles.7

Food Sources of Vitamin B-6
  • Poultry
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Beef liver
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Brown rice
  • Bran
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Wheat germ
  • Bananas
Vitamin B-6 Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

For healthy men and women between 19 and 50 years old, the RDA of vitamin B-6 is 1.3 mg. For adults over 50 years old, the RDA is 1.7 mg for men and 1.5 mg for women.7

Vitamin B-7 (Biotin)

Vitamin B-7 is better known as biotin. It's sometimes referred to as Vitamin H after the German words Haar (hair) and Haut (skin) because of biotin's benefits for hair and skin.8 This B-complex vitamin helps convert food into fuel so the body can produce energy. Biotin is best known for promoting hair, skin and nail health.9 It's called “The Beauty Nutrient” for a reason!

Food Sources of Vitamin B-7
 

  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Eggs
  • Sardines
  • Nuts like almond, peanuts, pecans and walnuts
  • Soybeans
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Cauliflower
  • Bananas
  • Mushrooms
Vitamin B-7 Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

There is no RDA for vitamin B-7, but the Food and Nutrition Board has established an Adequate Intake (AI) of 30 mcg of B-7 per day for healthy adults.10

Vitamin B-9 (Folate vs Folic Acid)

Vitamin B-9 is a crucial prenatal vitamin. It supports cell growth, DNA synthesis and red blood cell production.11 It also helps your body use iron properly.11

What is folate?

Folate is the naturally-occurring form of the vitamin B-9 found in foods.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid refers to the synthetic form of folate used in many supplements and fortified foods.

Women who consume healthful diets with adequate folate throughout their childbearing years may reduce their risk of having a child with a birth defect of the brain or spinal cord. Sources of folate include fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, fortified cereals and dietary supplements.

Food Sources of Folate
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Asparagus
  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Lima beans
  • Soybeans
  • Beef Liver
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Root vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Salmon
  • Orange juice
  • Avocado
  • Milk
Folic Acid Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

For healthy adults, the RDA of folic acid is 400 mcg.11 For pregnant women, the RDA is 600 mcg.11

Vitamin B-12 (Cobalamin)

Vitamin B-12 may help promote cardiovascular health and healthy nerve cells.12 2Like all B vitamins, it plays a role in energy metabolism. It also works with vitamin B-9 (folate) to support red blood cell production and help iron work properly in the body.12 Vitamins B-9 and B-12 also work together to produce S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), which supports immune function and mood.12

There are four forms of vitamin B-12: cyanocobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, adenosylcobalamin and methylcobalamin. You’ll find all of them in supplements, but the two most popular forms are cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin.

Methylcobalamin exists in nature. It’s typically more bioavailable than other forms because the body can use it as is instead of having to convert it first.

Cyanocobalamin is the synthetic, less expensive version of vitamin B-12. The body converts cyanocobalamin into methylcobalamin before using it.

Vitamin B-12 gets a lot of attention because unlike the other B-complex vitamins, B-12 can only be found in adequate amounts through animal products. Some plant sources, such as algae like chlorella, contain vitamin B-12, but it’s unclear whether the human body can absorb it from those sources. That means vegetarians and vegans may not get enough vitamin B-12 without supplements.

Food Sources of Vitamin B-12
  • Organ meats
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Dairy products
  • Wild game
Vitamin B-12 Recommended Dietary Allowance

For healthy adults, the RDA of vitamin B-12 is 2.4 mcg.12

B-Complex Vitamins & Beyond

B-complex vitamins support health and vitality in so many ways, but the rest of the alphabet vitamins are just as important! Learn all about them in the post Amazing Alphabet Vitamins: The Six Vitamins You Need to Know and be sure to check out these Game-Changer Nutrition and Supplements for Optimal Health.

Lindsey Bristol, Swanson Health Products
 

 

About Lindsey Bristol, MS, RD
Registered Dietitian, Swanson Health Products

Lindsey is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and nutritionist with a soft spot for ice cream. She empowers people to take charge of their health by finding the balance between the pleasure and nourishment in food. 

Her philosophy is that you should take care of your body because it’s the only permanent home you have. It’s what inspired her to pursue a career in nutrition and, ultimately, led her to Swanson Health Products.

Sources

1 Vitamin B-Complex. Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan. http://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2922005 (Accessed 11/29/2017)

2 Vitamin B1 (Thiamine). University of Maryland Medical Center.https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b1-thiamine (Accessed 2/26/2018)

3 Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin). University of Maryland Medical Center. https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b2-riboflavin (Accessed 2/26/2018)

4 Vitamin B3 (Niacin). University of Maryland Medical Center. https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b3-niacin (Accessed 2/26/2018)

5 Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid). University of Maryland Medical Center. https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b5-pantothenic-acid (Accessed 2/26/2018)

6 Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid). University of Louisville Physicians. https://www.uoflphysicians.com/health-information/health-library?p=health_information/Complementary%20and%20Alternative%20Medicine/33/000336.html (Accessed 3/2/2018)

7 Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine). University of Maryland Medical Center. https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b6-pyridoxine (Accessed 2/26/2018)

8 Vitamin H. The Dermal Institute. http://www.dermalinstitute.com/us/library/94_article_Vitamin_H.html (Accessed 3/2/2018)

9 Vitamin H (Biotin). University of Maryland Medical Center. https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-h-biotin (Accessed 2/26/2018)

10 Biotin. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Biotin-HealthProfessional/ (Accessed 2/26/2018) 

11 Vitamin B9 (Folic acid). University of Maryland Medical Center. https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b9-folic-acid (Accessed 2/26/2018)

12 Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin). University of Maryland Medical Center. https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b12-cobalamin (Accessed 2/26/2018)

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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