So, how important are vitamins? Well, very. And, today’s article is brought to you by the letter B. There are eight B vitamins. Collectively, they help the body to convert carbohydrates into energy, metabolize fats and protein, aid the nervous system, and are essential for healthy skin, hair, eye, and liver function. In a nutshell: “They help your body feel, think, and look its best,” says Dr. Cynthia Li, doctor of internal medicine at UC Berkeley. And, listen up ladies, all of them may be depleted by the birth control pill. Here's a rundown of why we need those Bs:
Which one matters most?
“If I had to vote for one most important, it might be B12. It is critical for neurological health, proper cell formation and growth, detoxification, and energy production,” says Li. “However, vitamin B12 requires many other co-factors, like B6 and folate, to work correctly.”
B12 deserves even more special attention due to the fact that it’s the only B vitamin that can’t be found in plant-based foods, so vegans and vegetarians can easily miss out on this key B.
The B blues
Li notes that while overt B vitamin deficiencies are rare, what’s much more common are imbalances or relative deficiencies, leading to a general "meh" feeling. Signs of a B imbalance: low energy, fatigue, brain fog, acne, reduced immune function, and even depression and anxiety. So, if you’re sneaking naps underneath your desk or have recently been caught staring blankly into space on more than one occasion, it might be time to take a look at what you’re putting into your mouth.
Eat your Bs
“It’s easy to become deficient if you are dieting, fasting, or if you have compromised digestion,” says Diane Sanfilippo, author of Practical Paleo and The 21-Day Sugar Detox . Excess sugar, alcohol, coffee, stress, as well as high refined-carbohydrate diets and some prescription medications are common factors that deplete B vitamins in the body.
Since the B vitamins work “synergistically” — meaning they work best all together — it’s always best to get them from real, whole, unprocessed foods, says Sanfilippo. To ensure you’re getting the full B complex, both Sanfilippo and Li recommend a wide variety of colorful veggies, well-sourced quality meats, eggs, seafood, nuts, and seeds. And, if you really want to go above and beyond, Sanfilippo recommends liver from pastured animals as a downright super-food when it comes to B vitamins.
What if you’re meat-free?
Both Li and Sanfilippo recommend that vegetarians and vegans work with a health care practitioner who is knowledgeable about supplementation to make sure they’re getting adequate B12. Ahead, how all these super-important B vitamins work, and where you can get them.
Thiamine is essential for the functioning of the heart, muscles, and nervous system.
Where you get it: Whole grains, eggs, nuts, liver, and yeast.
Riboflavin works as an antioxidant, fighting free radicals. It’s also needed to help the body use B6 and folate.
Where you get it: Yeast, liver, red meat, eggs, whole grains, asparagus, peas, beets, and peanuts.
Niacin helps the body make sex and stress hormones, inhibits production of cholesterol, and helps break down fats.
Where you get it: Yeast, red meat, liver, fish, whole grains, peas, beans, and nuts.
B5 (Pantothenic acid)
B5 is needed to break down cholesterol, make red blood cells, and create sex and stress hormones. It’s also important for maintaining a healthy digestive tract and helps the body use other vitamins, particularly B2 (Riboflavin).
Where you get it: Liver, yeast, and green veggies.
B6 is required for every amino acid reaction in the body. It also helps the body make serotonin and norepinephrine, which influence mood, and melatonin, which helps regulate sleep cycles. The body needs B6 in order to absorb vitamin B12.
Where you get it: Salmon, tomatoes, spinach, whole grains, and liver.
B7 strengthens hair and nails.
Where you get it: Yeast, liver, and egg yolks.
B9 (Folic acid)
Folic acid is essential for proper brain function. B9 plays an important role in mental and emotional health. It also works with B12 to make red blood cells and help iron work in the body.
Where you get it: Leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, dried beans, and citrus fruits.
B12 is needed to maintain healthy nerve cells and help produce DNA and RNA. It works with B9 to make red blood cells, helps iron work in the body, and produces S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), a compound involved in immune function and mood.
Where you get it: Liver, milk, eggs, cheese, and meat.