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The B Vitamins: Your Health’s Unsung Heroes

The eight B vitamins, known as vitamin B complex, play a vital role in keeping us healthy and our bodily systems running smoothly. But despite the major role they play, their importance can be easily overlooked. Without them, we’d be unable to draw energy from the food we eat. We’d be anxious and irritable. And we’d struggle to maintain healthy hair, skin, and strong muscles. While many of the B vitamins work together to perform different functions, each has its own unique benefits. Here is what each B vitamin does for us:

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) is responsible for helping convert food into energy, glucose metabolism, proper nerve, heart, and muscle function; and promotes a healthy immune and stress response.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) promotes energy production, proper cell growth and function, eye health, and antioxidant support. It may also help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and could help prevent migraines, though more research is needed.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin) promotes heart health and boosts the production of HDL cholesterol, aka, good cholesterol. It also supports the nervous, digestive, and circulatory systems, and can help treat acne.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) helps the body convert food into energy, eases fatigue and tiredness, and promotes digestive, cellular, and skin health. It’s also essential for the production of sex and stress hormones.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) is a vitamin B superstar that assists in the function of over 100 different enzymes, is essential for protein metabolism, and supports sleep and mood by helping the body produce serotonin, melatonin, and the stress hormone norepinephrine.

Vitamin B7 (Biotin) helps maintain healthy skin, hair, and nails, and is essential for carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. Biotin, like its counterpart folate, is a crucial prenatal vitamin as it promotes healthy fetal development.

Vitamin B9 (Folate) is an essential prenatal vitamin that helps prevent birth defects like spina bifida, anencephaly, and some heart defects. It is also important for cell growth, DNA synthesis, and red blood cell production. Research indicates that it may be helpful in preventing memory loss and depression as well.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) is another vitamin B superstar that benefits the body in many ways. Not only does it keep you feeling energized and your mood stable, but it aids in red blood cell and hemoglobin production, digestion, heart health, and immunity.

Top 10 Healthy Sources of B Vitamins

Because B vitamins are water-soluble, they cannot be stored in the body and need to be replenished daily. A diverse diet rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and other whole, unprocessed foods will likely help you meet your daily B requirements. However, individuals over the age of 65, strict vegetarians and vegans, and those with digestive conditions such as IBS, celiac disease, and Crohn’s, may have trouble getting enough Bs—particularly B12. What follows is a short list of healthy foods that pack a big vitamin B punch.

Salmon. This low-mercury, omega-3-rich fish is high in riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), B6 and B12, as well as some thiamine (B1) and pantothenic acid (B5). Leafy greens like spinach, collards, turnip greens, and romaine lettuce are all excellent sources of folate (B9). However, the cooking process can lower the amount of folate, so try eating them raw or lightly steam them to reap the biggest nutritional punch.

Eggs. One large, whole egg provides one-third of your daily recommended intake of biotin (B7) in addition to smaller amounts of B2, B5, B9, and B12.

Milk. One cup of milk provides nearly one-third of your daily riboflavin (B2) requirement, and is also a good source of easily-absorbed B12.

Oysters, clams, and mussels. A three-and-a-half ounce cooked serving of any of these shellfish provides at least four or more times the recommended daily intake of B12 and a quarter of your daily riboflavin (B2), as well as smaller amounts of B1, B3, and B9.

Legumes are an excellent source of folate (B9) with edamame, lentils, and pinto beans packing the biggest punch per serving.

Poultry like chicken and turkey, and in particular the white meat, are rich sources of B3 and B6.

Plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt is rich in riboflavin (B2) and B12, giving you over one-third of your daily B2 and more than half of your B12 per serving.

Fortified nutritional yeast is an excellent source of seven of the eight B vitamins, and is a particularly rich source of B12 for vegetarians and vegans (coming in at whopping 130 percent per two tablespoons!)

Sunflower seeds and butter are both good sources of four B vitamins: niacin (B3), B5, B6, and folate (B9).

Unsure as to whether you’re getting enough B vitamins in your diet? Worried that a health condition or lifestyle factor may be inhibiting your ability to absorb them properly? Wondering if you need to supplement? Contact me. I’m here to help you answer these “B” questions and more!


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