What is it? The B-vitamin complex is a group of nutrients whose main work is to help the body to turn food into energy, as in the breakdown of proteins and carbohydrates.

Why do we need it? Each of the 7 types of B vitamin helps and works together in various ways:

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin) and vitamin B2 (riboflavin) help with energy production and with enzymes affecting the heart, nerves, and muscles.
  • Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, helps to produce the energy our cells need to maintain healthy skin, digestion, and nervous system function.
  • Vitamins B5 and B12, called pantothenic acid and cobalamin, are both essential to normal growth and development. B12 also helps the body to make use of carbohydrates and other B vitamins, supports the nervous system, and helps produce blood cells.
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) supports the nervous and immune systems and builds blood cells. It also works with other vitamins to break down protein.
  • B7, often called biotin, also lends a hand with breaking down protein and carbohydrates and assists the body's hormone production.
  • Vitamin B9, also known as folic acid - or folate when found in food - aids in blood cell production, but it also plays an important role in making and maintaining DNA. This makes it an especially vital vitamin during pregnancy as a fetus develops.

How much do we need? If you eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and grains, you will likely get most of the B vitamins that your body needs. The B vitamins are water-soluble and thus not stored in the body, so a regular diet containing foods high in B vitamins is important. For those who do not eat a healthful diet and for those over the age of 50, B vitamin supplements may be a good idea. And in addition to eating folate-rich foods, women who are - or who are planning to become - pregnant should boost their folic acid intake to at least 600 µg each day.

Where is it found? The B vitamin complex can be found in a wide variety of foods.

  • B1 (thiamin): cereals, whole grains, potatoes, pork, seafood, liver, kidney beans
  • B2 (riboflavin): cereals, whole grains, enriched bread, dairy, liver, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms
  • B3 (niacin): liver, fish, chicken, lean red meat, nuts, whole grains, dried beans
  • B5 (pantothenic acid): found in nearly all foods
  • B6 (pyridoxine): fish, liver, pork, chicken, potatoes, wheat germ, bananas, dried beans
  • B7 (biotin): peanuts, liver, egg yolks, bananas, mushrooms, watermelon, grapefruit
  • B9 (folate): green leafy vegetables, liver, citrus fruits, mushrooms, nuts, peas, dried beans, wheat bread
  • B12 (cobalamin): eggs, meat, poultry, shellfish, milk

Amy Toffelmire