Becky Graham – The Healthy Hedonist – Delivers some great learnings around the importance of B Vitamins
The mornings and evenings are getting lighter, which for most of us helps to put a spring in our step, but if you’re struggling to get going or suffering with a dose of the winter blues you might want to consider your intake of B vitamins.
B vitamins are key energy nutrients, essential for converting the food we eat into fuel. They also work closely with our brain chemistry, helping to support the nervous system, balance neurotransmitters and build resilience against stress. So it makes sense that symptoms like low energy or mood, insomnia and a sluggish metabolism may be linked to insufficient supplies.
So how do you know if you’re getting enough? Well low levels are more common than you might think. B vitamins are easily used up under stress, by drinking alcohol or caffeine and through taking medications like antibiotics or birth control pills.
There are a whole host of B vitamins and you’ve probably heard the term ‘B Complex’. This is because the B vitamin family work in tandem and is typically comprised of B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12, with very few foods that contain them all.
B1 (Thiamine) helps the body make new cells, it works to break down carbohydrates, defend our immune system and protect against stress. It’s found in whole grains, peanuts, beans, spinach, kale, and wheat germ.
B2 (Riboflavin) is an antioxidant that helps to protect our cells from free radicals. It is important for red blood cell production and transporting oxygen around the body. Food sources include almonds, wild rice, milk, yogurt, eggs, Brussels sprouts, spinach and soybeans.
B3 (Niacin/Nicotinamide) is important for cardiovascular health, maintaining cholesterol levels, brain function and for healthy skin. You’ll find B3 in meat, fish and dairy as well as wheat, sunflower seeds and peas.
B5 (Pantothenic Acid) is integral for breaking down fats and carbohydrates for energy. It is also involved in the production of sex and stress hormones and helping to reduce the signs of skin aging. It’s found in almost every food group, healthy sources include avocados, yogurt, eggs, meat and legumes.
B6 (Pyridoxine) is involved in over 100 processes in the body including the manufacture of neurotransmitters, such as our ‘feel good’ hormone – serotonin. It also plays a role in the function of T and B cells of the immune system and can help to keep inflammation in check.
Low levels are linked to fatigue, depression, stress and anxiety. Try increasing lean meats and fish, lentils, sunflower seeds, whole grains and root veg.
B7 (Biotin) is also called the ‘beauty vitamin’ due to it’s role in healthy hair, skin and nails. It is implicated in blood glucose control for people with diabetes and in pregnancy encourages normal growth of the baby. Get it from: barley, liver, yeast, pork, chicken, fish, potatoes, cauliflower, egg yolks and nuts.
B12 (Cobalamin) is the largest, most complex and potentially most important member of the vitamin B team. It is crucial for a healthy nervous system, with deficiencies linked to poor memory, concentration, confusion and difficulty coping with stress. It’s also involved in the production of our sleep and mood hormones melatonin and serotonin. Other key roles include dental and digestive health, low levels are linked to bleeding gums, nausea, diarrhea and cramping.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan this is one you need to be aware of as it is mostly found animal products. Low levels can be linked to anaemia as it works closely with B9 to produce red blood cells and utilise iron. Liver is your no.1 food source but is not for everyone! It is also found in beef, pork, fish, shellfish, dairy and eggs and to a lesser extent in nutritional yeast, some whole grains and sea vegetables.
B9 is another member of the family worth note, it is also known as folate (or folic acid) and crucial during pregnancy. Women are usually encouraged to supplement due it’s role in helping to protect against neurological birth defects. If you’re not pregnant, eating plenty of leafy greens should keep levels topped up, along with cruciferous veg like broccoli, beans and pulses.
Because B vitamins are water soluble they are easily excreted from the body, so we need to keep ourselves topped up daily. It’s fairly easy to create a meal that’s balanced in Bs, try a salad using baby spinach as a base, combined with salmon or tuna, a boiled egg, a handful of beans and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds. Or if you’re on the go you can get your B vits in a bottle.