Of the 13 vitamins that your body needs to stay healthy and well , the B vitamins make up more than half of them.
They’re a group of eight vitamins that occur naturally in a range of different foods, but some of us may not be getting an adequate intake of every single B vitamin from our diets.
Find out how to avoid falling into that category, and why your health will benefit, when you do.
What are the types of vitamin B?
While the eight B vitamins are often grouped together, they all have individual names, too:
- Vitamin B1 – thiamine
- Vitamin B2 – riboflavin
- Vitamin B3 – niacin
- Vitamin B5 – pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B6 – pyridoxine
- Vitamin B9 – folate
- Vitamin B12 – cyanocobalamin
- Vitamin H - biotin
Each B vitamin plays an individual, unique role in the body. But as a group they’re most well-known for helping the body unlock the energy it needs to function well, from nutrients like carbohydrates, fat and protein. The B-group vitamins have also been linked to helping to improve stress levels.
B vitamins including vitamin B1, B2 B5, and B6 play a role in cellular energy production.
Vitamin B12 helps support normal blood production and vitamin B3 is involved in DNA repair and supports skin health.
Vitamins B1, B2 and B6 help support the healthy functioning of the nervous system .
Vitamin B6 may also help to relieve symptoms of PMS
and biotin may help to support strong nails.
Maintaining adequate folate levels pre-pregnancy may help to reduce the risk of some birth defects if taken daily for one month before conception and during pregnancy.
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B vitamin foods
The good news is that there are plenty of vitamin b sources, as they are found in a variety of foods.
Even though finding one food that delivers a hit of all eight at once can be tricky, it’s relatively simple to create a meal that fulfils that brief. Plus, many foods contain more than one, and even multiple B vitamins.
Generally speaking, good sources of the B-group vitamins include wholegrain cereals, meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, fish, milk, legumes and fresh vegetables . As well, mushrooms, fruit and seeds are often rich in specific types of B vitamins.
In Australia, all flour used in bread making (with the exception of flour that’s destined to be used in breads labelled as ‘organic’) is fortified with folic acid, which is the synthetic form of folate. Plus, it’s mandatory for white and wholemeal flours used for bread making, to be fortified with thiamine.
But, while making a conscious effort to eat a wide variety of wholefoods will help to ensure you are meeting your B-vitamin requirements, it pays to remember that all eight B vitamins are water soluble and delicate, which means they’re easily destroyed or washed out during food storage, processing and preparation methods .
This explains why white flours, breads and rice tend to be less vitamin B rich and nutritious than their wholegrain counterparts.
To reduce vitamin loss, take care to refrigerate fresh produce, keep milk and grains away from harsh, strong light and keep any cooking water from vegetables to use in soups and stocks.
How much vitamin B do you need?
Because there are eight different B vitamins, there’s no single daily ‘dose’ of vitamin B that you should strive for.
Instead, every single one of the eight B vitamins has its own recommended dietary intake , the amount of which will vary by age, gender and life stage – such as pregnancy.
The main thing to remember is that, with the exception of folate and B12, the body has a limited capacity to store the six remaining B vitamins.
It’s a fact that means, in order to maintain optimal levels of B vitamins, you need to regularly ‘top up’ your body’s supply, by making a habit of eating vitamin B rich foods every day.
Who’s at risk of vitamin B deficiency?
Eating a poor, unbalanced diet over an extended period may result in an inadequate intake of B vitamins, but there are other things that can increase your risk of experiencing lower than optimal levels, even if your diet isn’t lacking in vitamin B rich foods.
Drinking too much alcohol , taking the contraceptive pill, and getting older can increase the risk of becoming deficient in certain B vitamins, including vitamin B6, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin.
Plus, because the main sources of vitamin B12
are animal-based foods, people following vegan and vegetarian diets may find it a challenge to get enough of that particular B vitamin from diet alone.
Should I take a vitamin B supplement?
Requirements for B vitamins are generally met by eating a healthy, balanced diet day to day, however there may be times where supplementation may be needed.
You may benefit from a vitamin B supplement during times of stress , or at times when your dietary intake isn’t quite up to par.
If you’re regularly hitting the gym or getting out for a daily run, swim or other workout of choice, you may be in need of a top up of vitamin B to help support your body while you are exercising.
Women planning a pregnancy, as well as pregnant women, will benefit from folic acid supplementation to help reduce the risk of neural tube defects, while vegans and vegetarians
may require vitamin B12 supplementation to help meet their daily requirements.
Before taking a supplement, check in with your healthcare professional for advice, as B vitamin supplements can sometimes mask deficiencies of other vitamins and other minerals.
Always read the label. Use only as directed. If symptoms persist see your healthcare professional. Supplements may only be of assistance if dietary intake is inadequate.