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B Vitamins & Folate
B1 – Thiamin, B2 – Riboflavin, B3 – Niacin, B6 – Pyridoxine, B12 – Cobalamin, Folic acid – Folate
B vitamins have an important role in changing carbohydrates, protein and fat to energy. Vitamin B6 also works together with the mineral iron to stabilise levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that, if raised, can increase the risk of heart disease. Vitamin B6 is assisted by vitamin B12 and folate. Vitamin B12 is also important for healthy blood and nerves. Together, folate and vitamin B12 contribute to the making and functioning of our genetic material (DNA), so they impact every cell in the body.
Most B vitamins have a number and a name. We have used the most common term for each, but you may see either, or both, on food packaging.
How much B vitamins do we need?
B vitamins need to be eaten daily as they are not stored in the body, but used as required. Because any B vitamins we don’t need are flushed out through our urine, it is difficult to consume too much. Deficiencies of most B vitamins are rare in New Zealand as adequate amounts are available in everyday foods, and supplements are rarely necessary. The exceptions to this are folate and vitamin B12 (as detailed below).
Who needs more and why?
Women who are pregnant, or planning a pregnancy, should take a daily supplement of 800ug folic acid. This should be taken for at least one month before, and three months after, becoming pregnant. This is a crucial time in the baby’s development, particularly for what is called the ‘neural tube’, which becomes the brain and spinal cord.
Strict vegetarians (who avoid dairy products and eggs) and vegans are reliant on foods with added vitamin B12 or supplements, as vitamin B12 is only found naturally in foods of animal origin. Fortified foods include some breakfast cereals, soy products and a few yeast extracts*.
Which foods contain B vitamins?
Thiamin: whole grains, nuts, meat (especially pork) and fortified breakfast cereals*.
Riboflavin: milk, eggs, liver, green vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals*.
Niacin: meat, fortified breakfast cereals*.
B6: beef, fish and poultry, eggs, whole-grains and some vegetables.
B12: meat, milk and eggs and some yeast extracts*
Folate: dark leafy green vegetables (asparagus, spinach, Brussels sprouts), liver, peanuts, legumes (dried beans and peas) bananas, strawberries, oranges and orange juice, fortified breakfast cereals*, bread**. (Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, which is used in supplements and added to foods.)
* Not all brands of breakfast cereals and yeast extracts are fortified with B vitamins. Check the ingredients list of the brand you choose.
**Some breads in New Zealand with the exception of organic and non-yeast leavened breads are fortified with folic acid. Check the ingredient list to determine if it is present in your bread of choice.