Good Health with B Vitamins in Your Daily Diet

It’s easy to get B vitamins in your diet. These water-soluble nutrients include thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folate, B12, biotin, pantothenic acid, and choline. Bread and cereal products are often enriched with some B vitamins.

Here's how B vitamins size up in your healthy diet:

  • Thiamin (vitamin B1): Helps ensure a healthy appetite and acts as coenzyme essential for extracting energy from carbohydrates. Thiamin also is a mild diuretic.

    Although thiamin is found in every body tissue, the highest concentrations are in your heart, liver, and kidneys.

    The richest dietary sources of thiamin are unrefined cereals and grains, lean pork, beans, nuts, and seeds. In the United States, refined flours are stripped of their thiamin, so most Americans get their thiamin from breads and cereals enriched with additional B1.

  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2): Like thiamin, riboflavin is a coenzyme. Without it, your body can’t digest and use proteins and carbohydrates.

    You get riboflavin from foods of animal origin (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk), whole or enriched grain products, brewer’s yeast, and dark green vegetables (like broccoli and spinach).

  • Niacin: This pair of naturally occurring nutrients — nicotinic acid and nicotinamide — is essential for proper growth and for enzyme reactions that enable oxygen to flow into body tissues. Like thiamin, it gives you a healthy appetite and participates in the metabolism of sugars and fats.

    Niacin is available as a preformed nutrient in meat or via the conversion of the amino acid tryptophan in dairy foods. Some niacin is present in grains, but your body can’t absorb it efficiently unless the grain has been treated with mineral lime. In the United States, breads and cereals are routinely fortified with niacin, which your body can easily absorb.

  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): A component of enzymes that metabolize proteins and fats, vitamin B6 is essential for getting energy and nutrients from food and helps lower blood levels of homocysteine.

    The best food sources of vitamin B6 are liver, chicken, fish, pork, lamb, milk, eggs, unmilled rice, whole grains, soybeans, potatoes, beans, nuts, seeds, and dark green vegetables such as turnip greens. In the United States, bread and other products made with refined grains have added vitamin B6.

  • Folate, or folic acid: An essential nutrient for human beings and other vertebrates, folate takes part in DNA synthesis, protein metabolism, and the synthesis of amino acids used to produce new body cells and tissues. Folate is vital for normal growth and wound healing.

    An adequate supply is essential for pregnant women to enable them to create new maternal and fetal tissue and dramatically reduces the risk of spinal cord birth defects. Beans, dark green leafy vegetables, liver, yeast, and various fruits are excellent food sources of folate, and all multivitamin supplements must now provide 400 mcg of folate per dose.

  • Vitamin B12: Protects the myelin, needed to transmit electrical messages that make it possible to see, hear, think, and move.

    Vitamin B12 is the only vitamin that contains a mineral — cobalt. Vitamin B12 is made by beneficial bacteria living in your small intestine. Meat, fish, poultry, milk products, and eggs are good sources of vitamin B12. Grains don’t naturally contain vitamin B12, but like other B vitamins, it’s added to grain products in the United States.

  • Biotin: Biotin helps you metabolize fats and carbohydrates and is essential for synthesizing fatty acids and amino acids needed for healthy growth. And it seems to prevent a buildup of fat deposits that may interfere with the proper functioning of liver and kidneys.

    The best food sources of biotin are liver, egg yolk, yeast, nuts, and beans. If your diet doesn’t give you all the biotin you need, bacteria in your gut will synthesize enough to make up the difference.

  • Pantothenic acid: Helps stabilize blood sugar levels, defends against infection, and protects hemoglobin, nerve, brain, and muscle tissue. You get pantothenic acid from meat, fish and poultry, beans, whole grain cereals, and fortified grain products.

  • Choline: Neither vitamin, mineral, protein, carbohydrate, nor fat, choline is usually lumped in with the B-vitamins. Choline keeps body cells healthy. It’s used to make acetylcholine, a chemical that enables brain cells to exchange messages. It protects the heart and lowers the risk of liver cancer.

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