The B vitamins are indispensable. They help your cells produce energy and talk to each other. They help your body “read” genetic code so you function at your best. They’re also involved in the formation of healthy red blood cells.
“They’re especially valuable to your brain and nervous system, helping make the neurotransmitters that pass signals between nerves,” says Brenda Powell, MD.
But because B vitamins are water-soluble, your body can’t store them. So you have to absorb them each day from your food.
“You can get B vitamins even when you’re vegan or vegetarian,” says Dr. Powell. “Beans (legumes), whole grains, fruits and vegetables – especially leafy greens – are really good sources of B vitamins.” However vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, so strict vegans must take a supplement.
One of her favorite sources of B vitamins is legumes. She recommends one small serving every day, especially if they are your only protein.
“Legumes are not a major part of the American diet, but they’re good for you in so many ways,” says Dr. Powell. “They help you maintain good health but can also provide more fiber if you need it, and can lower your blood sugar and cholesterol.”
If you’re not a fan of beans because they produce gas, give lentils a try. Dr. Powell says they’re the easiest bean to tolerate. For beginners, she also recommends trying split pea soup and adding beans to salad.
But the legume product she’s most excited about these days are pastas made with soybeans, lentils or black beans. “They turn your pasta dish into a source of protein with fiber and vitamins,” says Dr. Powell.
Other ideas for adding legumes:
For most of us, simply eating a well-rounded diet will provide plenty of B, notes Dr. Powell. “Devote one-third of your plate to a protein and/or whole (not ground) grain. Devote the other two-thirds of your plate to fruits and veggies. And you’ll probably be fine,” she says.
Many foods are fortified with B vitamins, so deficiencies are rare. The one exception: B12 deficiency. As you get older, your intestines can lose their ability to absorb B12. Also, if you have a chronic condition like diabetes or reflux, your medications can interfere with B12 absorption.
If this is true for you, the answer is to take a B12 supplement or to add organic, healthy sources of meat, poultry and dairy. Animal products are the only food sources of B12.
Don’t think you’re getting enough B from your diet? “It’s fine to take a multivitamin with B in it, but don’t take mega-doses of B vitamins unless your physician tells you to,” says Dr. Powell.
Some people aren’t able to eliminate B vitamins fast enough, and a buildup can cause overstimulation or anxiety.
|B Vitamins: The big six||Where they play a role||What’s noteworthy||Signs of deficiency|
|B1 (Thiamine )
|Carbohydrate metabolism, brain and motor function
|Caused by poor nutrition, alcoholism, excessive vomiting in pregnancy||Dementia, motor problems|
|B2 (Riboflavin)||Energy production||Found in most fortified foods||Cracks in the top corners of the lips|
|Energy for cells, lowering LDL and raising HDL cholesterol||Dilates blood vessels; can trigger a massive, red, itchy flush||Skin rash (pellagra)|
|Amino acid metabolism, neurotransmitter communication, nerve function||Sometimes recommended for depression, mood disorders||Muscle weakness, nervousness, irritability, confusion
|B9 (Folic acid or folate)||Red blood cell production, brain function||Vital prior to pregnancy; when on Coumadin® (warfarin), avoiding folate-rich foods raises risk of deficiency||Neural tube defects in newborns, anemia|
|B12 (Cobalamin)||Carbohydrate and protein metabolism, DNA and red blood cell function||Age, Metformin or proton pump inhibitor increase risk||Numbness, tingling in hands and feet (like diabetic neuropathy)|