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Foods For Vitamin B and Folate: Benefits, Recipes and more!

Some of our healthy recipes focus on folate, the natural form of what most people will know as folic acid, but that is also vitamin B9. This crucial vitamin is important for so many different bodily functions including reducing levels of homocysteine and guarding against anaemia, fatigue and insomnia.

In this extract from our Foodies guide to vitamins and minerals e-book, James takes you through all the various B vitamins, what they are used for and what the best natural food sources are. To get the full, fully referenced e-book, click here.

What is folate and why is folate important?

Folate plays a vital role in cell growth, DNA synthesis, and amino acid metabolism. But perhaps its most well-known benefit is its role in preventing neural tube defects during pregnancy. Adequate folate intake can significantly reduce the risk of these birth abnormalities.

Beyond pregnancy, folate offers a range of health benefits:

  • Reduces homocysteine levels: Homocysteine is an amino acid that, in high levels, can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Folate helps break down homocysteine, keeping it within a healthy range.
  • Combats anemia: Folate is essential for red blood cell production. Deficiency can lead to anemia, causing fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.
  • May reduce the risk of certain cancers: Some studies suggest folate may help protect against colon and cervical cancers.
  • Promotes mental well-being: Folate deficiency has been linked to depression. Maintaining adequate folate levels might contribute to improved mood and cognitive function.

Now, let’s delve deeper into the world of B vitamins, exploring their functions, food sources, and incorporating them into delicious meals!

Vitamin B1 (thiamine)

What does it do? If you’re ever in a pub quiz and are asked which was the first water-soluble vitamin discovered, you now know the answer is vitamin B1, also known as thiamine. Like all B vitamins, thiamine acts as what is called a co-enzyme – small compounds that help enzymes trigger reactions that otherwise would not happen. It’s useful for a number of different things in the body: it helps convert nutrients into energy and also plays a role in digestion, the working of the nervous system and good functioning of the immune system.

Vitamin B1 Deficiency – often seen in diabetics and those with alcoholism – can result in diseases such as beriberi which affects the circulatory system and can result in heart failure. Thiamine supplementation has been shown to reduce blood pressure and help with blood sugar levels, as well as preventing HPV infection – the virus that leads to warts.

Vitamin B1 Food sources

Yeast extract spread, watercress, squash, asparagus, mushrooms, peas, lettuce, peppers, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes, beans

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

What does it do? If your pee turns yellow after taking a multivitamin, it’s more than likely that B2 is the culprit – it’s the only water-soluble vitamin that is also used as a food colouring. Like B1, it functions as a co-enzyme and helps turn nutrients into energy. It’s also needed to help convert B6 in the diet into a more active form in the body and to convert the amino acid tryptophan into vitamin B3 (see below).

While most people get adequate amounts from food, supplementation has been shown to potentially reduce blood pressure because it helps reduce high blood levels of a protein called homocysteine that is a risk factor for heart disease.

Vitamin B2 Food sources

Yeast extract spread, liver, mushrooms, watercress, cabbage, asparagus, broccoli, pumpkin, beansprouts, mackerel, milk, meat

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

What does it do? Looking for va-va-voom in the bedroom? Tuck into some B3-containing foods. Aside from helping produce sex hormones, it also improves blood flow and circulation, said to be key for more intense orgasms! On a, perhaps, more prosaic level, it is the only vitamin we can produce from another nutrient, tryptophan, an amino acid found in milk, turkey and tuna. Like other B vitamins it acts as a co-enzyme, helping cells do their job but also acts as an antioxidant. Another important role it plays is in glycolysis, helping the body get energy from glucose. Supplementation studies have shown it can help lower blood lipid (fat) levels and may help improve brain function.
Food sources: yeast extract spread, peanuts, turkey, mushrooms, tuna, chicken, salmon, asparagus, cabbage, lamb, mackerel, tomatoes, dairy, eggs

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)

What does it do? B5 is found in all foods to some degree, which is why there’s no evidence that we are ever deficient in it under normal circumstances. Like all B vitamins, it has a wide range of functions: red blood cell production, the production of sex and stress hormones and immune health to name but a few.
Food sources: liver, yeast extract spread, trout, shiitake mushrooms, caviar, kidneys, chicken, beef and egg yolks

Vitamin B6 (Pyroxidine)

What does it do? B6 consists of a group of nutrients that are required to make pyridoxal phosphate, a co-enzyme that is involved in more than 100 metabolic processes, including red blood cell production, energy, amino acid (protein) metabolism and the release of glucose from stored glycogen. It also reduces homocysteine (see also B2), and is needed to help with immune function and the absorption of B12. A (rare) lack of B6 can cause anaemia, skin rashes, convulsions, confusion and depression and has been associated with increased cancer risk.
Food sources: pistachios, beef and lamb liver, eggs, kale, watercress, soya beans, oily fish

Vitamin B7 (Biotin)

What does it do? Vitamin B7 was originally called vitamin H from the German word haut or skin, as many people supplement it to make sure they are silky smooth (though the evidence for this is sketchy). Again, it acts as a co-enzyme for a number of functions, including metabolism of nutrients such as carbs, fats and protein.
Food sources: organ meats, egg yolk, meat, legumes, cauliflower, mushrooms and nut

Vitamin B9 (Folate)

What does it do? Most people will know B9 in its manmade form: folic acid, most commonly associated with pregnancy to reduce the incidence of birth abnormalities such as neural tube defects. While folate (the food form) may be more bioavailable (the body uses it better), folic acid is more stable which is why it is often chosen to fortify foods and in supplements. Aside from birth defects it is thought to reduce homocysteine levels, which are associated with stroke and heart disease and have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Reduced levels of B9 may also be associated with anaemia, fatigue and insomnia. Little wonder then that in some countries such as the USA and Canada, fortifying some foods with B9 is mandatory.
Food sources: liver, edamame, leafy greens, legumes, sunflower seeds and asparagus.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)

What does it do? B12 is such an important vitamin. It is essential for healthy nerve cells, red blood cell production, iron function and DNA. Low levels can result in anaemia, fatigue, constipation, depression and poor memory. There are no plant sources of vitamin B12, which is why vegetarians and vegans need to supplement it. Absorption of it takes place in the stomach – and those taking acid suppressants may also be low in B12.
Food sources: clams and oysters, liver, sardines and other oily fish, turkey, chicken

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Chicken Supreme With Mushroom Duxelles

Chicken is a good source of B vitamins, particularly B3, B6, and B12. Mushrooms can add some B vitamins, especially B1, B2, and B3, depending on the variety.
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Broccoli is a good source of vitamin B6 and folate. Salmon is rich in B12 and B6. Butter beans are a source of B1 and folate.
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Spiced salmon, spinach and lentils

Lentils are a good source of several B vitamins, including B1, B6, and folate. Salmon is rich in B12 and B6.
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Elevated Fish Pie

Discover our high protein, low calorie Elevated take on the classic fish pie.
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Vitamin B Common Questions
1. Can I get enough B vitamins from my diet alone?

Most healthy adults can get enough B vitamins through a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods. However, certain groups may be at higher risk for deficiency and may benefit from supplementation. These groups include:

  • Pregnant and lactating women: B vitamins are crucial for fetal development and healthy breast milk production.
  • Older adults: Absorption of B vitamins can decrease with age.
  • People with digestive disorders: Conditions like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease can hinder nutrient absorption.
  • Vegetarians and vegans: Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal products, so supplementation might be necessary.
2. What are the symptoms of a B vitamin deficiency?

Symptoms of a B vitamin deficiency can vary depending on the specific vitamin lacking. However, some general signs include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Anemia
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • Skin problems
  • Hair loss
3. Are there any risks associated with taking B vitamin supplements?

B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning excess amounts are generally excreted in the urine. However, taking very high doses of certain B vitamins can lead to side effects. It’s always best to consult with a doctor before taking any supplements, especially if you are pregnant, lactating, or have any underlying health conditions.

4. Which B vitamins are most important for energy production?

Several B vitamins play a role in energy production, including:

  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Helps convert food into energy.
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Assists in breaking down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for energy.
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Plays a role in converting food into usable energy.
  • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid): Essential for converting food into energy and fat metabolism.
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Contributes to energy production by aiding in protein metabolism.
5. Can B vitamins improve my mood or cognitive function?

Some research suggests that B vitamins, particularly B6, B9 (folate), and B12, may play a role in mood regulation and cognitive function. Deficiencies in these vitamins have been linked to depression and anxiety. However, more research is needed to determine the exact impact of B vitamins on mood and cognitive function in healthy individuals.

6. Are there any interactions between B vitamins and medications?

Certain medications can interfere with the absorption of B vitamins. If you are taking any medications, it’s important to talk to your doctor about potential interactions with B vitamin supplements.

7. What are some good food sources of B vitamins?

Here’s a quick guide to some B vitamin rich foods:

  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Fortified cereals, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meats, pork.
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, mushrooms, leafy greens, fortified cereals.
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Chicken breast, salmon, tuna, peanuts, lentils, avocados.
  • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid): Avocados, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, broccoli, yogurt, eggs.
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Chicken, fish, chickpeas, pistachios, bananas, potatoes.
  • Vitamin B7 (Biotin): Eggs, almonds, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower.
  • Vitamin B9 (Folate): Liver, leafy greens, legumes, sunflower seeds, asparagus.
  • Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products.

By incorporating these foods into your diet and consulting with a healthcare professional if needed, you can ensure you’re getting enough B vitamins for optimal health.

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