Vitamins B: Food sources and benefits

8 min readJun 1, 2020


Look over the vitamin alphabet — A-B-C-D-E-K. Did you know that the B entry actually numbers eight different vitamins? Together, these are known as B complex vitamins. To clarify, each has its own function. Further we will briefly outline these.

As a group, the B vitamins help the body derive energy (or rather, glucose) from carbohydrates, proteins, fat, and so on. This is why they are so important for us.(1) Secondarily, the B vitamins are sometimes called the anti-stress vitamins. In other words, this is because they support our immune systems when under threat from stress.

Vitamin B12 and B9 are stored in the liver. B vitamins are water soluble. Therefore, our bodies can store only a limited amount of the other B vitamins. Consequently, it is especially crucial that we keep a steady supply of these vitamins coming via diet. Preferably through whole foods! Boiled vegetables may not carry high amounts of B vitamins. Generally, it is best to eat raw, roasted, or lightly pan fried to obtain B vitamins. However, optimal preparation will differ from food to food.

Vitamin B1 — Thiamin

Electrolytes have a key function within our bodies. That is to say, when we say that we ‘get a charge’ from exercise, the meaning might go deeper than we think. Electrolytes jumpstart a tiny electric charge into our nerves and muscles. Subsequently, this spurs them into action. Among other things, thiamin is important to maintain the stream of electrolytes through our muscles and nerves.(2)

Nutritional yeast is a wonderful source of thiamin, with 63mg per 100g! Handily, it is also a great turn-to for many other B vitamins. These include B2 (riboflavin); B3 (niacin); B6 (pyridoxine) and B9 (folate). Sprinkle it on the top of vegetables or other savoury dishes. You get a flavour as well as nutrient kick! Although some varieties are fortified, unfortified nutritional yeast still contains a healthy amount of B vitamins — naturally!

Sources of thiamin

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

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Vitamin B2 — Riboflavin

Ever wonder why milk isn’t normally stored in glass containers? Well, it’s because milk has riboflavin, or Vitamin B2. Light can do away with riboflavin. This also shows up when newborns with jaundice are treated under light. This often results in riboflavin deficiency.(3) We need riboflavin because it helps us take in and use other nutrients, such as vitamins B1, B3, B6 and B9 as well as iron. It’s also beneficial for liver and digestive health, among a whole host of other functions.

A lovely assortment of foods contain riboflavin. Green leafy vegetables are a no-brainer to include in your diet. But how about romantic rose hips? They contain 0.2 mg of riboflavin per 100g.

Sources of riboflavin

  • Almonds (1.1 mg)
  • Cayenne (0.9 mg)
  • Buckwheat, sunflower seeds (0.4 mg)
  • Kelp seaweed, spinach (0.2 mg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

Vitamin B3 — Niacin

How’s this for a testament? Every single part of your body needs niacin in order to work! Meanwhile, your body mainly gets niacin through food. However, we can also make some niacin ourselves if we get enough of the amino acid called tryptophan. Sesame, chia and pumpkin seeds are all sources of tryptophan. Niacin is essential in cell metabolism.(4) It also helps fix our DNA. Finally, niacin is an antioxidant which helps us fight off harmful oxidative stress. Many nuts and legumes are rich in niacin, including the humble peanut. “Take me out to the ball game, buy me some peanuts,” indeed! 100g of raw peanuts contain 12.1 mg of niacin, nearly 75% of the recommended daily amount. → View Related Products

Sources of niacin

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

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Vitamin B5 — Panothenic acid

Red blood cells are one of the most fundamental building blocks of our beings. They transport oxygen throughout our bodies. Without them, we would literally be fish out of water. That is to say, vitamin B5, or panothenic acid, helps us make these cells.(5) Further, along with the other B vitamins, it also assists us in deriving energy from what we eat. Many varieties of cabbage are rich in panothenic acid, so if you weren’t already trying out different beautifully coloured cabbages in your salads and cooking, here’s a reason to start. For instance, red cabbage contains 0.1 mg of vitamin B5 per 100g serving.

Plant-based foods with an abundance of panothenic acid

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

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Vitamin B6 — Pyridoxine

The science of mood and emotion is fascinating. For instance, vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, helps us make neurotransmitters. These include serotonin, which you may have heard of. To clarify, neurotransmitters help impulses travel between nerves. In turn, this assists our emotions to stay balanced. While there is no suggestion that pyridoxine can help treat depression, there have been several studies linking an inadequacy of pyridoxine to depression.(6)(7) In other words, keeping yourself supplied with pyridoxine through diet may be a natural help in maintaining your emotional equilibrium.

Soy products like tofu, tempeh, or soy beans have an abundance of pyridoxine acid. Some varieties of tofu are fortified, but unfortified tofu is still a good source. 100g of tempeh has 0.2 mg of pyridoxine. → View Related Products

You can also look to these plant-based foods for pyridoxine acid

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

Vitamin B7 — Biotin

Want the vitamin alphabet to get even more quirky? And yes, we know each alphabet is quirky in its own beautiful way. But anyway… did you know that vitamin B7 is also called vitamin H? However, we’ll refer to it as biotin here. Why? Because that’s what the substance itself is called. Biotin is essential for liver health. Moreover, it’s also key to your nervous system. Many people believe that biotin supplements can correct hair loss. However, a review of several studies did not support the claim. Most healthy people get enough biotin from diet. Many nuts contain high stores of biotin.

Look to these whole foods for biotin. Note that for a variety of reasons, scientists still have a tough time producing accurate measurements of how much biotin is in specific foods. However, we do know that certain foods provide us with ample biotin. → View Related Products

  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Pecans, walnuts, and other nuts
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Onions

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

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Vitamin B9 — Folate

You may know about folic acid in the context of pregnancy. Folic acid is the name given to synthetic vitamin B9. It is found in supplements and fortified foods. However, your body may not be very efficient at converting folic acid into vitamin B9 that’s available to use.(9) This is a concern. Why? Because it means your body might not get enough vitamin B9 from supplements or fortified foods. Moreover, it’s also worrying because unused, or un-metabolised, folic acid builds up in your blood. That is to say, this may be quite harmful to your health.(10)

Above all, pregnant women take folic acid because vitamin B9 is important to form red blood cells. Further, it is essential for normal spine development in foetuses.(8) However, all humans need this vitamin. Folic acid does not occur naturally in food; but folate does. That is to say, your body then converts folate into vitamin B9.

Fortunately, many whole foods are rich in folate. This includes everyone’s favourite, the avocado. So if you need more excuses to eat avocados, you’ve got one now! An entire avocado contains 162.8μg of folate, or 42% of your daily recommendation of folate. That’s nearly half!(11) Many other delicious foods are rich in folate, so it is very possible for everyone — even pregnant women — to get adequate vitamin B9 from whole foods. However, pregnant women should be especially vigilant about ensuring that daily targets are met through diet. Popping a pill is easier. However, it’s not always better.

Plant-based sources of folate

  • Edamame beans (311μg)
  • Sunflower seeds (227μg)
  • Lentils (181μg) and beans, such as roman beans (207μg), black eyed peas (118μg) and chickpeas (172μg)
  • Walnuts (98μg)
  • Dark leafy greens, such as spinach (194μg) and turnip greens (194μg)
  • Asparagus (52μg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

Vitamin B12 — Cyanocobalamin

Vitamin B12 is necessary for our nervous systems. Further, it also helps to synthesise DNA and form healthy red blood cells.(12)

People think vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal-derived products. However, there are some great vegetarian sources of vitamin B12. For example, our favourite is dried purple laver. Otherwise known as nori seaweed! Studies have suggested that nori seaweed is the best available plant source for Vitamin B12. In other words, the study found that nori contains 28.5 ± 3.9 and 12.3 ± 1.9 μg of Vitamin B12 per 100g weight. As a bonus, nori is also a great source of iron and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.(13) These may also often be lacking in vegetarian or vegan diets. Moreover, nori is easy to integrate into your diet. For instance, make a brown rice sushi wrap for a quick lunch. Crunch dried nori instead of crisps. Or crumble and sprinkle over your salad for a savoury garnish.

Further, you may not realise that, when healthy, our gut bacteria can indeed synthesise Vitamin B12. (14) That is to say, nourishing the gut may well be another way to make sure that we are supplied with Vitamin B12. However, making sure that our diet is filled with whole food sources of B12 is wise.

Plant-based sources of vitamin B12

  • Rice milk (0.6μg)
  • Unsweetened soy milk (1.2μg)
  • Tempeh (0.1μg)

Note: Values are indicated per 100g. Source: My Food Data.

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