Unlocking the health-boosting super powers of vitamin B

B-group vitamins help us recharge our batteries – but that’s not the only benefit we get from this essential nutrient.

Vitamin B plays a key role in keeping us healthy, energetic and stress-free. But what is it, and how do you get it?

All about B-group vitamins

There’s no singular vitamin B, but rather eight water-soluble members of the B-group family:

  • Thiamin (B1)
  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin
  • Pantothenic acid
  • Biotin
  • Vitamin B6
  • Folate
  • Vitamin B12

B-group vitamins help our bodies use fuel from the energy we get from nutrients like carbohydrates, fat and protein. So without sufficient vitamin B, we can lack energy.

Also known as B-complex vitamins, they are also important in helping the cells to multiply and make new DNA.

The downside to B-group vitamins is they’re water soluble, which means the body can’t store them.

Drinking alcohol and the cooking process can also dilute how much of the vitamin you get.

This means that you need to consume B-group vitamins regularly to ensure you have enough.

Why folate is the star of the B-group vitamins

Folate is one of the most important members of the vitamin B family, says dietitian Jane Freeman.

“Folate is very important for cell growth and is really important in pregnant women because of its role in helping the development of a healthy foetus,” says Jane, of the Dietitians Association of Australia.

“Folate deficiency is associated with risks of neural tube defects like spina bifida and that’s why it’s really important for pregnant women to supplement.”

Jane says folate is so important that it is added to bread in Australia

Sources of vitamin B

Vitamin B is found in lots of different foods, although some are more common than others.

They can broadly found in meat, chicken, legumes, milk, fish, leafy green vegetables, nuts and wholegrain cereals.

Mushrooms, fruits and seeds are also high in certain B vitamins.

The best source of vitamin B12 is animal products such as beef, chicken, eggs, whole milk, salmon, mussels, crabs and clams.

Jane says vegans may need to take a B12 supplement as they may not get all they need from a plant-based diet.

How to know if you’re low in vitamin B

Community pharmacist and herbalist Gerald Quigley says inability to cope with stress, such as having difficulty sleeping or problems with concentration, is a big clue.

But there are also some other symptoms, including feeling tired and irritable, and even anemia.

“People with diabetes should always ask about their B12 levels because they can become very low and B12 is something that is routinely tested,” Gerald says.

This deficiency is often the result of taking medications such as metformin, which helps how insulin in the body moves glucose into the cells.

How to get more vitamin B in your diet

Because it’s found in so many foods, and added to bread, Jane says it’s rare for people to be low in vitamin B.

But if you do need a boost, one of the best ways is to add more meat, milk, cheese or eggs to your plate.

Another tip is to cut back on alcohol, as drinking too much can impact how much vitamin B the body absorbs.

Written by Alana Schetzer.