Vitamin B Health Benefits

Vitamins and minerals can be confusing. You probably know you need them, but you may not be sure how much you need every day and if you are getting enough from the food you eat. The B vitamins include eight vitamins that work together to help your body make energy from the food you consume. In addition, B vitamins help form red blood cells, the cells responsible for carrying oxygen to your body’s tissues.

Meet the B Vitamins:
Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, folic acid and cobalamin
Vitamins are substances necessary for growth. The B vitamins work together and have related roles in the body including their involvement in the metabolism of carbohydrate, fat and protein and energy production.

Most of the B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins, meaning they aren’t stored in the body but instead any extra consumed is excreted through the urine. Therefore, we need a continuous supply in our diet.

B vitamins are found in a variety of foods and deficiencies are not common. However, water-soluble vitamins can be destroyed during food preparation, processing and storage. But, you can do your best to prevent vitamins from being lost:

  • Avoid soaking produce in water.
  • Cut produce in larger pieces – less exposed service area means fewer vitamins are lost.
  • Leave the skin on fruits and vegetables when possible, as most of the vitamins and minerals are found just under the skin.
  • Avoid overcooking vegetables.
  • Steam or use the microwave vs. boiling vegetables in water.
  • Keep milk in an opaque container when possible. If milk in a clear container is left out, it will lose some of its riboflavin.
  • Avoid rinsing grains before cooking – you’ll end up washing some of the nutrients right down the sink.

How can you make sure you are getting enough of each B vitamin every day?
Eat a wide variety of foods rich in nutrients. If you want to pay close attention to certain B vitamins, check out the chart below for some of the best food choices:


Action in the body

Good Food sources



Vitamin B1 (thiamin)

Helps convert carbohydrates into energy; essential for functioning of the heart, muscles and nervous system.

Dried milk, Egg, Enriched bread and flour, Lean meats, Legumes, Nuts and seeds, Organ meats, Peas, Whole grains

Rare except in people who abuse alcohol.

Excess vitamin B1 is excreted through the urine.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

Growth, red blood cell production and releasing energy from carbohydrates.

Dairy, Eggs, Green leafy vegetables, Lean meats, Legumes, Milk, Nuts, Fortified breads and cereals

Rare except in those who are severely malnourished.

Excess vitamin B2 is excreted through the urine.

Vitamin B3 (niacin)

Helps the digestive system, skin and nerves to function; helps convert food to energy.

Dairy, Eggs, Enriched breads and cereals, Fish, Lean meats, Legumes, Nuts, Poultry

Rare; niacin is found in protein rich foods.

Excess niacin can result in flushed skin, rashes, liver damage.

Vitamin B4 (biotin)

Essential for growth and a omponent of enzymes that break down fats & carbohydrate.

Cereal, Chocolate, Egg yolk, Legumes, Milk, Nuts, Organ meats (liver, kidney), Pork, Yeast

Rare unless a person is eating raw egg whites frequently (a protein in raw egg whites binds biotin and prevents absorption).

Excess biotin is excreted through the urine.

Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)

Essential for growth and metabolism; plays a role in the production of hormones and cholesterol.

Avocado, Broccoli, kale, other cabbage family veggies, Eggs, Legumes and lentils, Milk, Mushrooms ,Organ meats, Poultry ,White and sweet potatoes, Whole-grain cereals, Yeast


Large doses of pantothenic acid may cause diarrhea.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

Works as a coenzyme involved in over 100 enzymatic reactions, particularly those concerned with protein metabolism. Plays a role in cognitive development, immune functioning, hemoglobin formation and metabolism.

Chickpeas, Beef liver, Yellowfin tuna, Salmon, Chicken breast, Fortified breakfast cereals, Potatoes and other starchy vegetables, Turkey (meat only), Fruits (other than citrus)


Large doses of vitamin B6 over time can cause nerve damage.

Vitamin B9 (folic acid/ folate)

Helps the body make and maintain new cells. Pregnant women need folic acid to help prevent birth defects in babies.

Found in supplements as folic acid. In food, it is found as folate.

Fortified breakfast cereal, Beef liver, Black-eyed peas, Spinach, Asparagus, Enriched rice, Baked beans, Broccoli, Green peas, Enriched egg noodles

Though deficiency is rare, women of child-bearing age have an increased need for folate/ folic acid.

Excess folic acid may mask a vitamin B12 deficiency. Some medications may interfere with the body’s absorption of folate.

Vitamin B12

Red blood cell formation, neurological function, DNA synthesis.

Animal products & some fortified foods: Beef liver, Clams, Fortified breakfast cereals, Trout, Salmon, Haddock Yogurt, Beef, Tuna, Milk

Strict vegetarians and the elderly are at risk for deficiency. Vegetarians may not get it from their food and the elderly may not be able to break natural B12 from the protein it is bound to be able to use it.

Excess vitamin B12 is excreted through the urine.

1 RBC Count. Medline Plus, NIH. Website:

2B Vitamins. Medline Plus, NIH. Website:

3 Biotin. Medline Plus, NIH. Website:

4 Folic Acid. Medline Plus, NIH. Website:

5 Folate. Office of Dietary Supplements, NIH. Website:

6 Niacin. www.gMedline Plus, NIH. Website:

7 Pantothenic Acid and Biotin. Medline Plus, NIH. Website:

8 Thiamin. Medline Plus, NIH. Website:

9 Riboflavin. Medline Plus, NIH. Website:

10 Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin B6. Office of Dietary Supplements, NIH.

11 Vitamins. National Library of Medicine, NIH.

12 Duyff RL. Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. American Dietetic Association. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New Jersey, 2006.

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