There are a whopping eight B-vitamins, but what’s the difference between thiamin and niacin? And why is vitamin B-12 so important in a plant-based diet? For answers, look no further than this article! Here’s a list of each of the B-vitamins, along with information on the specific health benefits of each one, and some delicious recipes to get your taste buds inspired. You’ll “B” feeling fantastic in no time!
On a chemical level, vitamin B1, or thiamin, helps convert carbohydrates into usable energy, and also aids in muscle contraction and nerve conduction. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for thiamin is approximately 1 milligram per day for adults between the ages of 19 and 50. Though thiamin deficiency is relatively rare in the U.S., signs that you may be lacking it include loss of appetite, fatigue, and changes in heart rhythm. Some thiamin-rich plant-based foods include sunflower seeds, flax seeds, navy beans, brown rice, and asparagus.
Vitamin B2, or riboflavin, has a multitude of health benefits: it helps break down carbohydrates, protein and fats; allows oxygen to be used by the body; is crucial for maintaining eye health; and even plays a role in iron absorption. Quite a list of feats for a humble-sounding vitamin! The RDA for riboflavin is approximately 1 milligram per day for adults between the ages of 19 and 50. Riboflavin deficiency can cause symptoms such as a swollen tongue, blurry vision, and anemia. Some riboflavin-rich plant-based foods include mushrooms, leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and soy products.
Vitamin B3, or niacin, just like the other B vitamins, helps convert food into energy, and also plays a key role in DNA construction/repair and and cell signaling–as an additional bonus, it acts as an antioxidant! The RDA for niacin is approximately 14-16 milligrams per day for adults–less for children and more for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. The signs of a niacin deficiency include indigestion, fatigue, canker sores, and, in severe cases (called pellagra) memory loss, vomiting, a swollen tongue, and a thick rash on the skin. Some niacin-rich plant-based foods include brown rice, mushrooms, peanuts, and potatoes.
B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, helps create red blood cells, promote healthy digestion, make stress and sex-related hormones, and synthesize cholesterol–a sort of all-purpose vitamin! It also works in conjunction with the other B vitamins to convert carbohydrates into energy. The RDA for vitamin B5 is approximately 5 milligrams for anyone over the age of 14. B5 deficiency, though rare in the U.S., can cause symptoms such as a headache, fatigue, and digestion. Some B5-rich plant foods include avocados, broccoli, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and lentils.
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is crucial for proper brain development and function, and also helps the body make three important hormones: serotonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin. The RDA for B6 is approximately 1.3 milligrams for adults between the ages of 19 and 50. Symptoms of B6 deficiency can include mood changes, a depressed immune system, fatigue, and skin rashes, depending on how severe the deficiency is. Some B6-rich plant-based foods include pistachios, spinach, sweet potatoes, bananas, beans, and avocados.
Vitamin B7, or biotin, is important for the metabolization of carbohydrates, fats, and amino acids, and also helps increase the health of one’s hair, skin, and nails. This is why you will sometimes see biotin listed as an ingredient on certain shampoos and other hair products. The RDA is approximately 30 micrograms for all adults over the age of 19, regardless of gender. Signs of a biotin deficiency, though rare, can include dry skin, hair loss, fatigue, and seborrheic dermatitis. Some biotin-rich plant based foods include sweet potatoes, walnuts, almonds, avocados, peanuts, and onions.
Vitamin B9, or folate, is crucial for the production of red blood cells and DNA, and also aids in tissue growth and stimulates appetite when necessary. Folate is also called folic acid when referring to the synthetic form of this vitamin that is usually found in fortified food products (as opposed to the natural version). The RDA for adults is approximately 400 micrograms per day, though more is recommended for women who are planning to become pregnant. Symptoms of a folate deficiency can include fatigue, anemia, mouth sores, and growth problems. Some folate-rich plant foods include edamame, legumes, asparagus, leafy greens, bananas, papayas, and broccoli.
For recipe ideas, make some Herbed Edamame Chickpea Burgers, or sample these tasty Chocolate, Banana, and Peanut Butter Overnight Oats.
Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, plays an important role in producing red blood cells (similar to biotin), preventing birth defects, and also in supporting healthy hair, skin, and nails. People who have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 sometimes need to receive B12 injections to ensure they get the proper amount of this vitamin. The RDA for cobalamin is approximately 2.4 micrograms for adults. Signs of a B12 deficiency can include anemia, weakness, a swollen tongue, cognitive issues, and even numbness or tingling in the hands and feet. Though B12 only occurs naturally in animal products (technically it originates from bacteria), some B12-fortified plant based foods can include nutritional yeast, cereal, and non-dairy milk. Check out this article for ideas of B12 supplements to purchase.
For related articles, read more about The Importance of B Vitamins for Your Health and The Best Plant-Based Sources to Eat, or check out The Top 10 Things to Look for When Choosing a Vitamin B12 Supplement.
For more B vitamin-packed recipes, check out the Food Monster App, which is available for Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has thousands of delicious plant-based recipes, and subscribers can gain access to new ones every day! Check it out–your brain and stomach will thank you!
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