B vitamins often take a back seat in the needs of importance on a plant-based diet (outside of the popular Vitamin B12 of course). However, alongside calcium and protein, B vitamins are extremely important for everyone to obtain enough of since they have a direct impact on everything from your heart, mood, your weight, and even your digestion. B vitamins also help you focus, aid in providing your body with energy for a healthy metabolism, and lucky for plant-based eaters, they’re found abundantly in the plant-based kingdom of foods.
B Vitamins: Why You Need Them
The human body needs 13 different vitamins to survive and thrive, and the B-group vitamins account for eight of those 13 vitamins. B vitamins are essential to life and wellness, especially when it comes to nervous, brain, and cardiovascular system function. They are vital for energy production and healthy red blood cell formation and function. B vitamins don’t directly give you energy,but instead, they help your body use protein, fats, and carbohydrates efficiently as fuel, which occurs during digestion and absorption. Though they’re naturally found in food, because they’re water-soluble, most B vitamins are excreted more quickly from the body than vitamins that are fat-soluble (Vitamins A, D, E, and K) are. The only exceptions to this rule are Vitamin B-12 and folate, which are stored in the liver.
B vitamins are also easily destroyed during the cooking process, or when combined with alcohol, which denatures their structure. Highly-processed foods are also lower in natural B vitamins because of the intense production methods, which deplete the natural stores found in the foods directly. This is one reason B vitamins are often added back into foods (such as in fortified cereals) to make products more nutritious for consumers, or to market them as healthy choices.
The Importance of B Vitamins and Why Your Food Matters:
A poor diet will quickly lead to a B vitamin deficiency unless a supplement is taken, therefore eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet is the easiest and most healthy way to obtain enough of this critical group of nutrients. The only exception is Vitamin B-12, in which supplement is recommended to everyone. Since it is obtained from a bacteria in the soil, Vitamin B12 is often depleted due to the conditions of our soil today which is the result of our intense agricultural system.
A B vitamin deficiency can include many serious health issues such as: anemia, fatigue, depression, constipation, poor digestion, heart problems, confusion, poor memory and concentration, poor skin, hair and nails, irregular heartbeat, moodiness, lack of appetite, and anxiety.
Though many vegan foods provide the body with B vitamins, some sources are better than others. Here are the top five group of foods that are bursting with the B’s to keep you healthy!
All seeds, including hemp, chia, flax, sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, and grain-like seeds such as quinoa, millet, teff, amaranth, and buckwheat are packed with B vitamins. Though none contain Vitamin B-12, they all have at least some of the other B vitamins included, namely Vitamin B6. Ancient grain-like seeds also have high levels of Vitamin B1 (thiamin), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), and Vitamin B9 (folate). Chia seeds are also a great source of biotin, which is the B vitamin associated with clear skin, healthy hair, and strong nails. Make these yummy Raw Hemp Chia Seed Bars which will give you a burst of energy from B vitamins, magnesium, and even a little plant protein thrown in there too!
Yes, plain old veggies are some of the most awesome sources of B vitamins to include in your diet. Asparagus, broccoli, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and onions are all excellent sources of Vitamin B6. Leafy greens, lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, artichokes, leaks, cauliflower, and green beans are also a great source of folate.
Avocados, tomatoes, bananas, dates, figs, and squash are all excellent sources of Vitamin B6, which assists in nervous system function. These fruits are also rich in Vitamin B5, which plays a crucial role in converting food to energy (primarily carbohydrates). For a simple snack, try these Banana Hemp Seed “Sushi” Slices.
Green peas, chickpeas, lentils, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and edamame are all bursting with almost every B vitamin (except Vitamin B12). They’re also a good source of fiber, so they will digest more slowly, which could help the B vitamins be absorbed a little easier.
Grains are also some of the best sources of all B vitamins except Vitamin B12. They’re also a good source of fiber, potassium, and magnesium. Oats, barley, wheat germ, and wild rice boast some of the best sources of B vitamins, though all of them contain larger amounts of B’s than many other foods.
Other Good Sources:
Nutritional yeast, spirulina, almonds, cashews, peanuts, fortified non-dairy milks, fortified soy products, and fortified cereals are all other great sources of most of the B vitamins. For Vitamin B12, most health advisers still suggest you take a Vitamin B12 supplement just to be safe. Always speak to a health professional before adding any supplements to your diet.
Try out the foods above in some of the recipes below and let us know if you have your own favorite B vitamin-rich entrée you enjoy!
- Cheesy, Citrusy Quinoa (with tofu and avocado)
- Soft, Chewy, Chunky Peanut Butter Cookies
- Sweet Potato and Kale Patties
- Wild Rice Pilaf with Butternut Squash, Cranberries, and Pecans
- Banana Oatmeal with Hazelnut Butter, Raisins, and Baobab Powder
- Sunflower Seed Vegan Oatmeal Cookies
- Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Noodles
- The Ultimate Spirulina Smoothie
For on what foods are the best sources of B vitamins in a plant-based diet and to discover specific actions of each B vitamin, check out: B Vitamins: How to Get Them in a Vegan Diet.
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Image Source: Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Noodles