“B” Educated

By Eli Follick

Every cell in your body needs B vitamins, a family of eight nutrients necessary for cell metabolism. Every one of these are vital for health, and since the body can’t manufacture them and can’t store them, they must be replaced every day, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These vitamins are essential to producing and regulating DNA and RNA (the body’s genetic material), turning food into energy, enabling nerve function, and equipping cells to divide and make new cells.

The B vitamins are not all found in the same foods. Good sources for these necessary nutrients include dark leafy greens, meats, poultry, whole grains, dairy products, eggs, fish, seafood, nuts, and seeds. A varied healthy diet of many different foods in the right amounts and prepared properly usually provides all the B vitamins we need. However, the standard American diet, which tends to comprise fast foods, processed foods, and junk foods, may not always give us all that is needed to maintain health and well-being.

To get better acquainted with the B family of vitamins, here’s a brief summary of them and what they do:

  • B1 – Thiamine: Thiamine helps keep your heart, mind, and eyes working properly. It helps metabolize carbohydrates, protein, and fatty acids. It also supports DNA and RNA production and assists nerve function. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) established by the NIH, is 1.2 milligrams (mg) per day for men, and 1.1 mg for women. Three ounces of pork delivers nearly 75 percent of your RDA, and half of a cup of green peas provides almost 20 percent. Other good food sources include grains, rice, and lentils.
  • B2 – Riboflavin: Riboflavin helps release energy from food and improves absorption of other B vitamins and iron. It also acts as an antioxidant (prevents cell damage done by oxidation). Riboflavin is sometimes used to treat migraines and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. The RDA is 1.3 mg per day for men and 1.1 mg for women. Good food sources are oats, milk, beef, almonds, and eggs.
  • B3 – Niacin: In addition to helping metabolize nutrients, niacin also helps maintain healthy nerves, skin, heart function, and digestion. Niacin’s upper intake level is 35 mg per day because too much can cause flushing of the face, arms, and chest. The RDA is 16 mg per day for men and 14 mg per day for women. Good food sources for niacin include poultry, fish, beef, mushrooms, and peanuts.
  • Pantothenic acid: This vitamin is essential to all life forms. It metabolizes food, helps make red blood cells, and controls sex and stress hormones. It also helps process cholesterol and aids digestion. Adequate intake (AI), an amount designated when the RDA has not been established, is 5 mg per day for men and women. Good food sources are sunflower seeds, fish, dairy, avocados, sweet potatoes, poultry, and eggs.
  • B6 – Pyridoxine: Pyridoxine is necessary for brain function, mood regulation, and heart and eye health. It also is necessary for protein metabolism. The RDA is 1.3 mg per day for men and women. Good food sources are garbanzo beans, salmon, poultry, potatoes, spinach, and bananas.
  • Biotin: Biotin, also called vitamin H, helps metabolize carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It regulates gene expression and is thought to strengthen nails and hair. It is also essential for healthy fetal development. Biotin is better absorbed from plant foods than from animal sources. AI is 30 mg per day for men and women. However, the NIH recommends up to 300 mg daily for everyone. Good sources are almonds, sweet potatoes, eggs, onions, oats, salmon, avocados, dairy, and legumes.
  • B9 – Folate/Folic Acid: Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate. Folate occurs naturally in foods and folic acid is usually found in supplements. Folate is crucial for mental and emotional health. It helps produce DNA, RNA, and red blood cells. It enables the body to process iron – a vital mineral. Folate isn’t always easy to absorb, so inadequate levels are more common than with other B vitamins. Since low levels can lead to birth defects, the NIH recommends that women start taking folate before they try to get pregnant. The RDA is 400 micrograms (not milligrams) per day for men and women. Good food sources include lentils, peanuts, asparagus, spinach, and brussels sprouts.
  • B12 – Cobalamin: Beyond metabolizing food, key functions of cobalamin include keeping nerve cells healthy, and producing DNA, RNA, and red blood cells. It also works with folate to help the body incorporate iron into the cells that depend upon that mineral. The NIH calculates that up to 15 percent of the population doesn’t get enough B12. More than half of people age 50 and older have levels below the RDA due to difficulty in digesting some foods. B12 is found only in animal sources. The RDA is 2.4 micrograms per day for men and women. Good sources include shellfish, beef, salmon, dairy, turkey, and eggs.

Before changing your diet or taking supplements, it is important to discuss with your health care provider any concerns about whether you are getting the vitamins you need and any symptoms that could be associated with a deficiency in vitamins and minerals.

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