The B vitamins are indispensable. They help your cells produce energy and talk to each other and help your body “read” genetic code so you function at your best. They’re also involved in the formation of healthy red blood cells.
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“They’re especially valuable to your brain and nervous system, helping make the neurotransmitters that pass signals between nerves,” says integrative medicine physician Irina Todorov, MD.
Since B vitamins are water-soluble, your body can’t store them. That’s why it’s important that you eat food packed with B vitamins on a daily basis.
1. How to get more vitamin B
“You can get B vitamins even if you’re vegan or vegetarian,” says Dr. Todorov. “Beans (legumes), whole grains, fruits and vegetables – especially leafy greens – are really good sources of B vitamins.”
Packed with B vitamins, one small serving of legumes every day is a great place to start, especially if they’re your only protein.
“Unfortunately, legumes are not major part of the American diet, but they’re good for you in so many ways,” says Dr. Todorov. “Legumes, also known as pulses, are a food group that consists of beans, lentils and garbanzo beans. They help you maintain good health because they’re packed with plant-based protein and fiber and can lower your blood sugar and cholesterol.”
One study suggests that frequent consumption of legumes, particularly lentils, in the context of a Mediterranean diet, may provide benefits on type 2 diabetes prevention in older adults who are have a high cardiovascular risk. Moreover, the inclusion of dietary legumes in a diet may be a beneficial weight-loss strategy because it leads to a modest weight-loss effect even when diets are not intended to be calorically restricted.
2. Add beans into your diet
If you shy away from eating beans because they produce gas, give lentils a try because they’re the easiest to cook and tolerate.
To add even more beans into your diet, try lentil soup, chili, bean salad, hummus, or just add beans to your green salad. If you’re a pasta lover, there is a variety of pasta made from soybeans, lentils or black beans available on the market.
“Compared to regular white flour pasta, bean-based pasta is packed with protein, dietary fiber and vitamins,” says Dr. Todorov.
Dr. Todorov suggests adding legumes to:
- Salads. Toss two or more tablespoons of black beans, chickpeas or green peas (also legumes) into green salads.
- Soups. Make your own chili using kidney, pinto, black or white beans. Make black bean soup or add any variety of white beans to soups.
- Snacks. Throw black beans into salsa or dip baby carrots and celery into hummus made with traditional chickpeas or other legumes.
- Meals. Eat soy foods like tofu or tempeh. Soybeans are legumes and eating soy products mimics beans.
3. A balanced diet is key
For most of us, simply eating a well-rounded diet will provide plenty of vitamin B.
“Devote one-third of your plate to whole grains and legumes and the other two-thirds of your plate to fruits and veggies,” says Dr. Todorov.
Vitamin B12 is an exception from the other B’s. The vast majority of vitamin B12 are found in animal products like fish, meat, eggs, dairy and foods fortified with B vitamins. Although there is very small amount of vitamin B12 in shitake mushrooms and seaweed, vegans are recommended to take vitamin B12 as a supplement.
“Other instances where I look for vitamin B12 deficiency is in patients who had bariatric surgery, take metformin for diabetes management or use antacid medications like ranitidine or omeprazole daily,” says Dr. Todorov.
Older adults are also at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency because as we with age, our intestines lose their ability to absorb B12. Vitamin B12 deficiency can present itself with nonspecific symptoms like weakness, irritability, fatigue, cognitive decline and neuropathic pain.
Use caution with supplements
Don’t think you’re getting enough B vitamins from your diet?
“It’s fine to take a multivitamin with vitamin B in it, but don’t take megadoses of B vitamins unless your doctor tells you to,” says Dr. Todorov.
Some people aren’t able to eliminate B vitamins fast enough and a buildup can cause overstimulation or anxiety.