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Vitamin B

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In this Lesson you will Learn

  1. What are the different B vitamins?
  2. Why are B vitamins important?
  3. Which foods contain the B vitamins?
  4. How much of the B vitamins do I need?

There are eight B vitamins, some of which are better known by other names. They are: thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), biotin (vitamin B7), folate (vitamin B9), and cobalamin (vitamin B12).

All B vitamins help the body turn food into energy. They are also important for healthy skin and hair, as well as for a properly functioning liver and nervous system.1 Since all B vitamin have an important function in the body, many foods (e.g. cereals, pastas, bread, flour, etc.) are fortified with B vitamins.

livercanned fishfortified cerealegg yolksleafy greens

The body cannot store B vitamins well (except for vitamin B12 and folate, which can be stored in the liver2), so it is important to consume vitamin B-rich foods every day.

Thiamin (B1) is found naturally in many foods, including asparagus, spinach, Brussels sprouts, tuna, sunflower seeds, and beans. Severe thiamin deficiency is called beriberi. It is rare in developed countries, but sometimes occurs in alcoholics, causing serious problems for the heart and nervous system. Untreated, beriberi can be fatal.3

In addition to helping turn food into energy, riboflavin (B2) is important for producing red blood cells.4 Riboflavin also acts as an antioxidant to protect the body from cell damage.1 Natural food sources of riboflavin include leafy greens, dairy products, eggs, and meat, especially venison. Deficiency is uncommon in the U.S., but severe deficiency can cause anemia and skin problems.4

Some research suggests niacin (B3) can help improve cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease.5 Niacin is found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, and fortified breads and cereals. Niacin deficiency leads to pellagra, a disease that causes confusion, weakness, diarrhea, and sores on the skin.6

Pantothenic acid (B5) is important for the production of red blood cells and various adrenal hormones.7 Small quantities of panthothenic acid are found in most foods, but the best sources include avocados, yogurt, eggs, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and cauliflower. Inadequate consumption of pantothenic acid can lead to tiredness and weakness.8

Vitamin B6 (also called pyridoxine) helps produce hemoglobin and is also necessary for proper cognitive function and a healthy immune system.9 Foods naturally high in vitamin B6 include tuna, salmon, beef, chickpeas, potatoes, spinach, bell peppers, and bananas. B6 deficiency can lead to anemia, dermatitis, depression, confusion, and a weakened immune system.10

Biotin (B7) is well known for its role in maintaining healthy hair and nails. It can be found in organ meats, egg yolks, soy beans, and fish. Biotin deficiency is rare.11

Folate (B9) is best known for its role in preventing birth defects. Folate also assists in building and repairing DNA, and might help reduce the risk of heart disease and even some cancers.12 Folate occurs naturally in foods such as spinach, broccoli, asparagus, strawberries, orange juice, beans, and avocado. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is often added to breads, pasta, cereals, and other fortified foods.13

Vitamin B12 (also called cobalamin) is necessary for healthy circulatory and nervous systems. Food sources of vitamin B12 include meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, which is one reason that vegans could suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency. For these individuals, fortified cereals and soy milk are good sources of vitamin B12.14 Still, deficiency is uncommon since the body can store vitamin B12 in the liver. If you are deficient in vitamin B12, however, you may experience memory loss, confusion, weakness, and numbness in the arms and legs.15

The body requires the B vitamins  in different amounts. For example, 20 mg niacin covers 100% of the niacin needs of the average adult, while it takes just .006 mg vitamin B-12 to cover 100% of the average adult's B-12 requirement.

Vitamin B12-rich Foods

Ingredient µg of Vitamin B12 per 100g µg of Vitamin B12 per 100 calories
lamb liver 90.1 64.8
calf liver 59.9 42.8
liver 59.3 43.9
foie gras 54.0 40.6
duck liver 54.0 39.7
caviar 20.0 7.6
turkey liver 19.7 15.4
all-bran cereal 18.8 7.2
canned herring 18.7 8.6
chicken livers 16.6 13.9
herring fillets 13.7 8.7
liverwurst 13.5 4.1
mussels 12.0 14.0
canned sprats 11.5 5.7
clams 11.3 13.1
salt cod 10.0 3.4
salmon roe 10.0 7.0
tuna steaks 9.4 6.5
crabmeat 9.0 10.7
sardines 8.9 4.3
oysters 8.8 17.2
burger-style crumbles 8.3 5.9
trout fillets 7.8 5.3
corn chex 7.7 2.1
crisp rice cereal 7.2 1.9
canned mackerel 6.9 4.4
cocoa krispies cereal 6.9 1.8
cheerios 6.8 1.8
grape-nuts cereal 6.3 1.8
venison 6.3 5.3
reindeer 6.3 5.0
venison ribs 6.2 3.7
rice chex 5.6 1.5
corn flakes 5.4 1.5
bluefish fillets 5.4 4.3
bran flakes 5.0 1.6
canned salmon 5.0 3.6
top blade steak 4.4 3.3
mackerel 4.4 2.8
nonfat dry milk powder 4.0 1.1
sea bass fillets 3.8 3.9
chuck roast 3.8 2.1
egg substitute 3.5 0.8
smoked trout 3.5 2.6
swiss cheese 3.3 0.9
beef shank 3.3 2.6
beef shoulder roast 3.3 1.9
smoked salmon 3.3 2.8
powdered milk 3.3 0.7
wheat chex 3.2 0.9
lamb chops 3.2 1.7
salmon fillets 3.2 2.2
boneless chuck 3.1 1.9
langoustines 3.1 3.6
venison shoulder 3.1 1.6
whey 3.0 0.7
red snapper fillets 3.0 3.0
light tuna 3.0 2.6
farm-raised catfish fillets 2.9 2.4
ground beef patty 2.8 1.2
salami 2.8 0.7
porterhouse steaks 2.8 1.3
prime rib 2.8 0.8
hamburger 2.7 1.2
lamb stew meat 2.7 2.0
leg of lamb 2.7 2.1
beef tenderloin 2.6 0.9
beef short ribs 2.6 0.7
tuna in water 2.6 3.0
lamb shanks 2.5 2.0
beef brisket 2.4 1.6
lamb rib chops 2.4 1.4
ground lamb 2.3 0.8
buffalo sirloin 2.3 2.0
whiting 2.3 2.6
mozzarella cheese 2.3 0.8
kraft grated parmesan cheese 2.3 0.5
lean ground beef 2.2 1.6
catfish fillets 2.2 2.3
lamb loin chop 2.2 1.5
tuna 2.2 1.1
bison ribeye 2.2 1.9
turbot 2.2 2.3
lamb cutlets 2.1 0.6
ground beef 2.1 0.8
skirt steak 2.1 1.4
leftover pot roast 2.1 1.5
rack of lamb 2.1 0.6
yellowfin tuna 2.1 1.9
veggie burger 2.0 1.1
black bass 2.0 1.8
chorizo 2.0 0.4
redfish 2.0 1.7
black cod 2.0 2.9
egg yolks 2.0 0.6
round steak 1.9 1.4
ground venison 1.9 1.2
venison steak 1.8 1.2
haddock 1.8 2.5
frozen waffles 1.8 0.6
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  1. University of Maryland Medical Center - Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
  2. Better Health Channel - Vitamin B
  3. Medline Plus - Thiamin
  4. Medline Plus - Riboflavin
  5. Harvard Health Publications - Niacin trial stopped early: Now what?
  6. Medline Plus - Niacin
  7. University of Maryland Medical Center - Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
  8. Medline Plus - Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5)
  9. The Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center - Vitamin B6
  10. Medline Plus - Vitamin B6
  11. Harvard Health Publications - Listing of vitamins
  12. Mayo Clinic - Folate
  13. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements - Folate
  14. Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source - Three of the B Vitamins: Folate, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12
  15. Medline Plus - Vitamin B12


  1. The eight B vitamins are thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), biotin (vitamin B7), folate (vitamin B9), and cobalamin (vitamin B12).
  2. The B vitamins are necessary for the body to convert food into energy. They are also important for healthy skin and hair, as well as for a properly functioning liver and nervous system.
  3. Different foods contain different B vitamins, but they are generally found in leafy greens, dairy products, eggs, meat, and in fortified cereal, pasta, and bread. Vitamin B12 is naturally only found in animal products, which is why vegans should eat foods fortified with B12.
  4. There are different daily requirements for each B vitamin.
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