It’s no secret that a healthy, balanced diet isn’t complete without the right vitamins and minerals. Each vitamin has a unique set of benefits, and vitamin B plays a major role in keeping our minds and bodies functioning at an optimal level.
In fact, research shows that B vitamins help enzymes do everything from delivering nutrients throughout the body to breaking down amino acids.
Aside from the popular and often talked about vitamin B12, there are several other B vitamins essential to health and wellness. Dr. Uma Naidoo, MD, a nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, nutrition specialist and author of the bestselling book This is Your Brain on Food dives into the benefits of each one. Here's everything you need to know about vitamin B.
Vitamin B1 (thiamin): An important vitamin for basic cellular functions and the metabolism of nutrients for energy. A deficiency can lead to heart disease and poor cognitive function as both organs especially need a constant supply of energy.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): Assists with many enzymes necessary for daily functions throughout the body. Animal studies suggest that long-term riboflavin deficiency can lead to brain disorders, heart disorders and certain cancers.
Vitamin B3 (niacin): Niacin works as a coenzyme with more than 400 enzymes dependent on it for proper reactions and energy conversions. It also helps to create cholesterol and fats, as an antioxidant and to create and repair DNA.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): Essential for making coenzyme A which helps enzymes build and break down fatty acids and perform other metabolic functions as well as acyl carrier proteins which supports building necessary fats in the body.
Vitamin B7 (biotin): Plays a role in assisting enzymes that break down macronutrients found in foods and regulate cell signals. Deficiency is associated with hair loss, skin and nail problems.
Vitamin B9 (folate/folic acid): A key vitamin for supporting brain health, optimal neurotransmitter function and mental health. It also helps form DNA, encourages cellular detoxification and assists in the production of red blood cells. Folic acid is crucial for healthy fetal development.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin): An essential vitamin for forming red blood cells and DNA, as well as supporting nervous system development and brain function. It supports the breakdown of homocysteine, a protein that is detrimental to cardiovascular health and may lead to dementia.
20 Vitamin B rich foods
Here are 20 vitamin B rich foods.
This includes spinach, Swiss chard, watercress and cabbage. “All are all rich in vitamin B9 (folate/folic acid). It is suggested for everyone to include plenty of leafy greens into the diet and supplementation is encouraged for women that are pregnant or trying to conceive,” says Dr. Naidoo. “As a Nutritional Psychiatrist, including leafy greens into the diet is one of the first suggestions I make for individuals looking to improve their mood!”
This highly nutritious fungus contains vitamin B2, riboflavin and fiber. “Mushrooms contain vitamin B2 and riboflavin,” Dr. William Li, internationally renowned medical doctor, researcher, Angiogenesis Foundation President/Founder and author of New York Times bestseller, Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself, explains. “Eating mushrooms also provides fiber that can improve gut health and immunity.”
Bring on the quinoa! “Whole grains naturally contain vitamin B1 (thiamin),” says Dr. Naidoo. “These include barley, quinoa, brown rice and oatmeal. They also help stabilize blood sugar and are a great source of energy.”
Beef contains a wide range of B vitamins. “Much like salmon, beef is rich in nutrients like niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 which are important for energy metabolism,”Mackenzie Burgess, RDN and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices, states. “When choosing beef, aim for products that are lower in saturated fat and grass-fed to reap the most health benefits. I often like to use Teton Waters Ranch products because they are 100% grass-fed and certified humane. For an energizing meal, combine protein-packed beef sausage, sliced bell peppers and rice to make the easiest sheet pan jambalaya.”
“Legumes are an excellent source of vitamin B9 (folate/folic acid), as well as small amounts of vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine),” says Dr. Naidoo. “These include foods such as black beans, chickpeas, edamame and lentils which are an incredible way to boost your mood and health.
This Mediterranean dip is made from blended chickpeas (high in vitamin B6). “One cup of chickpeas contains about 15% of our recommended daily intake of folate (vitamin B9),” says Burgess. “Ditch the store-bought stuff and make your own by blending a can of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and spices. Don’t have tahini? Swap it with peanut butter to provide that same nutty flavor.”
Related: Is Hummus Good for You?
Not only are these seeds a yummy snack, you only need a handful to reap the benefits.
“These are one of the best plant sources of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) and 20% of the recommended daily value of this nutrient can be obtained from just one ounce of these seeds! Can be eaten plain, roasted or as seed butter in a variety of recipes,” Dr. Naidoo explains.
If you’re looking for a nutrient-packed and filling food, add oats to your meal.
“Oats are filled with satiating fiber and health-promoting nutrients like folate (vitamins B9) and thiamine (vitamin B1), making it a great choice to add to your breakfast routine,” says Burgess.
However, be mindful of the type of oats and brand you choose. “You can choose rolled oats, steel cut or instant oats. However, keep in mind many store-bought instant oatmeal packets are loaded with processed ingredients and unnecessary sugars. Instead, I love to choose Bob’s Red Mill instant oatmeal packets. They take only a minute to make and contain little to no added sugars.
Filled with vitamin B3, tree nuts are a great snack option. However, a supplement for this vitamin is recommended since it’s harder for the body to absorb vitamin B3. “The natural form in foods is not easy to absorb, so a vitamin supplement can be helpful for this one,” Dr. Li states.
This colorful fish is also one of the most nutritious with omega-3 fatty acids and a great source of vitamin B. “Salmon is naturally rich in all of the B vitamins, especially vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B12 (cobalamin), making it a healthy brain food,” Dr. Naidoo explains.
This green fruit is not only delicious, it’s nutrient-dense. “Avocados contain vitamin B6 as well as other important nutrients like copper and magnesium, which keep our immune systems strong against viruses and bacteria,” Burgess states. “Avocados also have healthy fats which increase the absorption of fat-soluble, immune-supporting vitamins A, D and E.”
If there’s one vitamin B superfood, it’s liver. It contains all 8 B vitamins! “All B vitamins help with generating energy from the foods we eat,” says Megan Wong, RD at AlgaeCal. “They break down carbohydrates, protein, and fats, converting these into energy that fuels our muscles, organs and cells.”
This is another nutritious vegetable to add to your grocery cart. “Brussels sprouts are a versatile veggie that’s perfect to roast, sautee or boil,” Burgess states. “A ½ cup serving of boiled Brussels contains 78 mcg of folate, or about 20% of our daily needs.”
A breakfast staple for many of us, eggs are filled with B vitamins. “One whole egg contains an entire third of the recommended daily value of vitamin B7 (biotin) while also containing small amounts of many of the other B vitamins,” Dr. Naidoo explains. “These versatile foods can be eaten in so many ways or utilized in many dishes to reap all of these benefits.”
Yeast is packed with vitamin B12. “This is a perfect option for vegans and vegetarians to meet their B12 needs, as B12 is only naturally present in animal foods,” Wong states. “Vitamin B12 is crucial for healthy red blood cells as well as brain and nerve cells.”
Chicken, lean meat, pork and dairy foods are also good sources of B vitamins. “An excellent source of complete protein, these foods can help you feel fuller longer between meals,” Tara Gerke Tomaino, RD, a nutritionist at The Park in Berkeley Heights, NJ. “When looking for these types of foods, opt for the leanest cuts of meat, trim away any visible fat and select low- or non-fat dairy products.”
“High in both vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B12 (cobalamin), plain yogurt is an incredible health food! Also high in natural probiotics, which support both gut health and mental health,” says Dr. Naidoo.
While many cereal brands are high in sugar, fortified cereal is filled with important B vitamins. “When you turn over a box of cereal to the nutrition facts panel, you’ll likely see many products contain 10-20% of the daily value for B vitamins like thiamine, folate and vitamin B12. These cereals are fortified with B vitamins, meaning they are added into the product during production,” Burgess states.
The next time you make a pasta dish, throw in some clams, tuna or salmon for some added vitamin B. “These are great sources of vitamin B12 and most spaghetti is enriched with folate (check nutrition labels to be sure). Deficiencies in these two B vitamins have been linked to stress, anxiety and depression,” Wong explains. “One likely reason is that they’re involved in making and regulating dopamine and serotonin, both of which send ‘feel-good’ signals to the brain.”
Whether it’s an addition to your smoothie or cereal topping, bananas are a great way to increase your vitamin B intake. “Bananas are also a good source of B vitamins and an easy option to get vitamins needed says Dr. Nicole Avena, PhD, nutrition and health expert. “They include B6, folate, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin.”
Harvard T.H. Chan: “B Vitamins”
Harvard T.H. Chan: “Thiamin – Vitamin B1”
Harvard T.H. Chan: “Riboflavin – Vitamin B2”
Harvard T.H. Chan: “Niacin – Vitamin B3”
Harvard T.H. Chan: “Pantothenic Acid – Vitamin B5”
Harvard T.H. Chan: “Vitamin B6”
Harvard T.H. Chan: “Biotin – Vitamin B7”
Harvard T.H. Chan: “Folate (Folic Acid) – Vitamin B9”
Harvard T.H. Chan: “Vitamin B12”
William Li, internationally renowned medical doctor, researcher, Angiogenesis Foundation President/Founder and author of New York Timesbestseller, Eat To Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.
Mackenzie Burgess, RDN and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices