The B complex vitamins help your body extract energy from food, so they are critical for every process in your body. Because B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning your body cannot store them, it is important to ensure that your diet provides sufficient amounts of these nutrients every day. Many foods contain one or more B complex vitamins.
Whole grain products are good sources of all B complex vitamins except vitamin B-12 and biotin. Options include whole-grain flour, brown and wild rice, whole barley, muesli, oatmeal, millet and wheat germ. Refined grain products such as white bread, white rice and most pasta contain fewer nutrients, including the B vitamins. For more nutrient-rich grain products like bread and pasta, look for the term "whole grains" on the label.
Legumes and leafy green vegetables, along with some fruits and nuts, are rich in biotin and vitamin B-5, or pantothenic acid. Rich sources of vitamin B-2, or riboflavin, include broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, almonds and soybeans. Beets and peanuts are good sources of niacin, or vitamin B-3. Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit contain significant amounts folate. For vitamin B-6, or pyridoxine, eat spinach, carrots, beans, lentils and sunflower seeds.
Eggs and meat, including fish, shellfish and poultry, are good sources of biotin, thiamine, or vitamin B-1, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12. Milk and other dairy products like cheese and butter provide riboflavin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12. Liver, clams and trout are all especially rich in vitamin B-12. Because animal products are the most common sources of vitamin B-12, vegans may be a risk for deficiency. Eating fortified foods or nutritional yeast, or taking dietary supplements, may reduce this risk.
All B vitamins help your body turn carbohydrates into glucose, a sugar that your body requires for energy. Beyond this, though, the B vitamins have various functions in your body. Vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate promote healthy red blood cell formation. Thiamine and vitamin B-12 support the nervous system and niacin helps keep nerves healthy. Riboflavin and niacin promote skin health. Thiamine and niacin are important for normal appetite.
Not eating enough foods rich in B vitamins may lead to deficiency. Because different B vitamins take on different roles in your body, symptoms of deficiency may vary depending on which vitamin you are lacking. A deficiency of riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B-6 can lead to skin problems such as dermatitis. Not enough thiamine and niacin can cause muscle weakness and mental confusion. A vitamin B-12 deficiency may lead to neurological problems, while a deficiency of vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6 or folate can cause anemia.
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