The Benefits of Vitamin B
Vitamin B was once thought to be a single entity, and not a combination of elements. We now know that it consists of eight different vitamins in total, each one bringing its own unique benefits. Together they're known as the vitamin B complex, a whole family of vitamins working to keep us healthy inside and out.
Before we look at what the individual B vitamins can do for us, here is a list of the B vitamins and their common names.
The Vitamin B Complex
The B vitamin family is composed of the following members:
- B1 - also known as thiamine.
- B2 - also known as riboflavin.
- B3 - also known as niacin.
- B5 - also called pantothenic acid.
- B6 - also known as pyridoxine.
- B7 - also called biotin.
- B9 - also known as folic acid.
- B12 - otherwise known as cobalamin.
Of the eight listed above, some will be more familiar than others. Vitamins B1, B2 and B3 are commonly listed on cereal packages. B9 is another name for folic acid. Cobalamin probably doesn't ring any bells, but that's because this particular vitamin is more commonly known by its B-name, B12.
Which B Vitamins Count?
The most important B vitamins in terms of overall health and well being are B6 and B12. As a rule the human body requires relatively small amounts of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B7. B9 (folic acid) plays an important role during pregnancy, helping to ward off birth defects. It has also been shown to slow down the effects of aging, particularly how that relates to brain function.
You'll find the B vitamins in a wide variety of food groups. Here are some of the best sources for each of the vitamins in turn:
- Thiamine - Dark green leafy vegetables, fortified whole grain cereals, wheat germ, lentils, almonds, pecans, pork and ham.
- Riboflavin - Dark green leafy vegetables (especially spinach and asparagus), milk and milk products (including cheese and yogurt), eggs, chicken, fish and fortified cereals.
- Niacin - Salmon and tuna, chicken and turkey, cereals, legumes, peanuts and pasta.
- Biotin - Liver and egg yolks, salmon and pork, avocado, most fruit and vegetables.
- Pantothenic acid - Avocado, broccoli, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and yogurt.
- Folic acid - Fresh fruit and vegetables, grain products including rice, breads and pasta.
- B6 - Avocado, leafy green vegetables, bananas, spinach, potatoes, salmon and herring, sunflower seeds and walnuts.
- B12 - Beef; shellfish, clams, muscles, crab; broccoli, spinach, asparagus; milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt; nuts and pulses; brown rice, wheat germ, whole grains; bananas and potatoes.
Eat a Balanced Diet
B12 can only be found naturally in animal products, but soy-based foods and cereals are usually fortified with B12. Many of the B vitamins are distributed throughout the foods available, so the best way to make sure you get enough of everything is to eat a balanced diet.
A look at the list above confirms a number of facts that can help you make sure your diet includes all the B vitamins it needs:
- Leafy green vegetables are crucial.
- Nuts and pulses including beans and rice can add variety to meals while supplying much-needed vitamin intake.
- A selection of fruit and vegetables should be eaten throughout the week.
- Yogurt is rich in riboflavin.
- Bananas and potatoes are good sources of B6.
- Popeye was right - spinach really is good for you.
Why Vitamin B Matters
The B vitamin complex is essential to help release energy from food, strengthen your immune system, aid digestion and enable cell repair to take place. B6 and B12 work together to allow your body to make efficient use of folic acid, while B12 is necessary for breaking down fat and carbohydrates.
Deficiency of B6 or B12 can result in anemia and memory loss, particularly among older people. B6 is important in regulating hormones, and a lack of it can lead to depression or high blood pressure.
B1 is believed to contribute to a healthier heart, while B2 gives you energy and keeps your skin in good shape. B3 works with your nervous system, B5 is thought to aid concentration, and B7 is important for healthy hair.
Vegetarians can get enough B12 in their diet by ensuring they eat eggs and dairy produce. Vegans can find B12 in fortified foods such as soya powder and milk, breakfast cereals, soya mince and yeast extracts.
It may be necessary under certain dietary or medical conditions for some people to boost their B vitamin intake with supplements. This is perfectly acceptable, provided it's done with the professional help and guidance of a doctor or nutritionist.
B Vitamin Quick Facts
Although there are 8 distinct vitamins in the B complex, they work together as a team at various times. When they "cooperate" with each other in this way they make it possible to:
- Improve your memory
- Fight depression and anxiety
- Boost your immune system
- Encourage proper digestion
- Promote cell growth
- Protect you from cardiovascular disease
- Promote healthy skin and muscle tone
- Convert carbohydrates to glucose
- Manage your metabolism
When you see the positive benefits written in a list like this, the importance of getting vitamin B in your diet suddenly makes perfect sense!