Ever wonder why cereal and flour are often "enriched"? I recall my 8th grade home-economics teacher reminding us to use "enriched" flour so we would get the B vitamins we needed. Good point! White flour, on its own, is missing the B vitamins naturally present in whole wheat. While I prefer using whole grain flour whenever possible, the B vitamins that go missing from the refined stuff are critical! In general, they promote health by playing a vital role in how food is converted to energy. They are important for our immune system, blood as well as our nerves, and may help cut our risk of stroke and heart disease.
B vitamins are found in a variety of plant-based and animal-based foods. Here's a rundown on the variety of B vitamins along with food sources and recipe ideas using those foods.
- B1 is Thiamine. It affects enzymes that influence our muscles, nerves and heart, so it is critical to the health of our nervous system. Sources include wheat germ, legumes, fish, whole grains and meat. Try these Tuna Kabobs along with whole wheat couscous.
- B2 is Riboflavin. It helps us metabolize fats and carbohydrates, and performs many of the same functions as Thiamine. Sources include dairy products, eggs and meat, and, to a lesser extent, leafy greens and whole grains. Enjoy Greek Yogurt with Honey Thyme Walnut Crumble.
- B3 is Niacin. It is important for the health of our skin as well as our nervous and digestive systems. It helps to modulate cholesterol and fat in the blood. For many people, taking large amounts of niacin can causes a "niacin flush" - a harmless, hot flushing feeling. Sources include peanuts, brewer's yeast, fish and meat. You'll also find some in whole grains. These Curry Turkey Burgers are great served on whole wheat buns.
- B5 is Pantothenic Acid. It is important for growth and development, and is critical for generating energy from carbohydrates and fats. It is helpful in supporting the health of the adrenal glands. Sources include liver, yeast and salmon. Veggies, dairy, eggs, whole grains and meat all have a bit too.
- B6 is called Pyridoxine. It helps us break down proteins, helps maintain healthy red blood cells, and promotes a healthy nervous and immune system. Almost every system in the body relies on B6 for healthy function. Sources include potatoes, bananas, lentils, liver, turkey and tuna. Try Red Lentils with Garlic and Onions.
- Vitamin B12 is called Cobalamin. It helps in the production of DNA as well as healthy red blood cells and is critical for proper immune function. B12 also assists in keeping nerve cells healthy and protecting against pernicious anemia. Experts have determined that low levels of B12 are more likely in older people and can cause weakness, fatigue, memory loss and other nervous system problems. It is found in all animal-based foods such as dairy, eggs, meat, fish and poultry. It may also be added to packaged, fortified cereals. Vegans can be at risk for B12 deficiency and may wish to consider supplementation.
- Biotin. This vitamin helps make hormones and supports the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Getting enough biotin can help your fingernails stay strong! Sources include egg yolks, organ meats, brewer's yeast, oatmeal, soy, mushrooms, bananas and peanuts. Make some Cherry Orange Oatmeal Outdoors Bars.
- Folic Acid. This vitamin helps us make and maintain our DNA. It is necessary for the production of red blood cells and can help maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. Getting enough folic acid while young and during childbearing years is imperative for young women as this reduces the risk of having a baby born with a neural tube defect. Folic acid is found in beans, dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, beets, wheat germ and meat. These days most cereals, breads and pastas are fortified with folic acid. Enjoy a Roasted Baby Beet and Spinach Salad.
Eating a balanced diet that includes whole grains, fresh fruit, vegetables, proteins and dairy products helps ensure that you get the B vitamins your body needs; however, there are times when supplements may be helpful:
- When you don't eat a balanced diet
- When you are under stress
- When you are older and your body may need a supplement of B12 or other B vitamins
- When recommended by your health care practitioner
Always remember to take B vitamins in a balanced complex form unless otherwise indicated. This is because they work synergistically, depending on one another for greatest benefit, and taking one exclusively can cause imbalance in others.
Got some thoughts about B vitamins? I would love to hear your comments.