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No matter how healthy your diet, stress, sleepless nights, sugary foods, and alcohol can deplete nutrients, especially B vitamins, which are crucial for energy, metabolism, and brain function. Here’s what you need to know about these crucial nutrients.
Navigating your way around the B vitamins can be confusing because Bs are both named and numbered, from 1 to 12—gaps in the sequence of numbering occurred because some vitamins, like B4, were later dropped when researchers discovered they didn’t meet the criteria of a “vitamin.”
Four other substances—choline, PABA, inositol, and lipoic acid—are also included in the B-complex group, since they have similar properties, though they’re not technically vitamins. And some, like folate and thiamine, are better known by their names, while others by their numbers, like B12. The “official” eight B vitamins are:
- B2— riboflavin
- B5—pantothenic acid
Why You Need Your Bs
As a group, the eight B vitamins are critical for a variety of physiological functions. B vitamins play a role in cell growth and division, metabolism, red blood cell formation, neurotransmitter production, immune function, and DNA repair. And some B vitamins are crucial for nervous system function, brain health, and mood.
Low levels or deficiencies of certain B vitamins have been linked with an increased risk of depression, irritability, and mood problems, and several studies suggest that optimum levels of B vitamins—especially folate, B12, and B6—enhance mood, lower stress, and improve quality of life.
Most B vitamins are abundant in food, but some groups of people are at higher risk for deficiencies. Because B12 is found only in animal foods, vegans may not get sufficient amounts. Pregnant women need more B vitamins—especially B6, B12, and folate—for proper fetal development and minimized risk of birth defects. Deficiencies in B vitamins, especially B6, B12, and folate, are common in the elderly, and in people with certain health conditions such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease. Common genetic mutations can also impact B vitamin absorption and may lead to deficiencies. And some medications, including birth control pills, may deplete your body of B vitamins, including B6, B12, and folate.
Protect your mood by filling your plate with these seven foods high in Bs for a happier, healthier outlook on life.
7 Best B-vitamin Foods
Eat it for: Folate and vitamin B6. Other leafy greens, such as collards, kale, chard, and turnip greens, have similar levels. Because some folate may be lost during cooking, focus on lightly steamed greens, or eat them raw in salads.
Recipe Tips: Toss baby spinach with chickpeas, red onions, radishes, and a creamy yogurt dressing; stir shredded spinach leaves into kidney bean soup after cooking to preserve nutrients; purée spinach with sunflower seeds, garlic, and olive oil for a twist on pesto.
Eat them for: folate and other Bs. Edamame, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans are also great sources of folate and B6.
Recipe Tips: Toss black lentils with cubed turkey breast, diced red peppers, shredded greens, and olive oil; simmer lentils, potatoes, and leeks in broth and add chopped chard during the last few minutes of cooking; combine lentils, quinoa, spinach, cherry tomatoes, and parsley with lemon juice and olive oil for a twist on tabouli.
Eat them for: B12. Clams clock in with 84 mcg—the daily value is 2.4 mcg—in a 3-ounce serving. Oysters and mussels are also excellent sources of B12, with smaller amounts of folate and B6.
Recipe Tips: Steam clams and serve with garlic-paprika butter; heat canned clams with garlic, red pepper flakes, shallots, and olive oil, and toss with cooked pasta; add canned clams and shrimp to brown rice cooked with red peppers, tomatoes, and saffron for an easy side dish.
4. Sunflower seeds
Eat them for: B6 and folate, as well as other B vitamins. Other seeds and nuts, including sesame seeds, peanuts, and walnuts, are also great sources.
Recipe Tips: Grind raw sunflower seeds, dates, cacao nibs, and vanilla extract in a food processor, and form into raw energy balls; combine sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes, and honey, and bake for a grain-free twist on granola; lightly toast sunflower seeds in olive oil with cumin, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder, and use as a topping for salads or grains.
5. Swiss cheese
Eat it for: B12. One slice has about a third of the daily value. Other good cheese and dairy sources of B12 include cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and whey protein.
Recipe Tips: Bake eggs, shredded Swiss cheese, minced kale, and red onions in muffin tins for on-the-go frittatas; layer sliced Swiss cheese, sliced turkey, and baby spinach, spread with mustard and roll up; load baked white sweet potatoes with shredded Swiss cheese, sour cream or Greek yogurt, and minced chives.
Eat it for: B12 and B6. White meat portions, such as the breast, are slightly higher in Bs than dark meat. Chicken, beef, and lamb are also rich in B12.
Recipe Tips: Make meatballs with ground turkey and minced onions and garlic, and simmer in tomato sauce; toss cooked turkey breast with shredded chard, diced tomatoes, black olives, and red onions; combine shredded turkey, black beans, cilantro, and salsa, and roll up in whole-wheat tortillas for breakfast burritos.
7. Nutritional yeast
Eat it for: B vitamins, especially B6. Most brands of nutritional yeast are also fortified with B12, so they’re an outstanding vegan source of the complete spectrum of Bs.
Recipe Tips: Toss popcorn with olive oil, garlic salt, rosemary, and nutritional yeast; grind nutritional yeast, sunflower seeds, and coconut oil in a food processor for vegan cheese; roast cauliflower florets and onions in olive oil, then toss with paprika and nutritional yeast.
Creamy Mashed Cauliflower & Potatoes—This mashed cauliflower dish is heaven in a bowl. Cauliflower and potatoes combine with coconut milk to create a rich and creamy gluten- and dairy-free side.