Looking for the best vitamin B complex food sources?
The vitamin B complex is a group of vitamins that are important for several different processes in the body. They are grouped based on their effect on these processes. They allow your body to get its energy from the carbohydrates you consume.
They also help your brain and nervous system to function, create haemoglobin (the protein inside red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body), maintain your skin and eye health, and support your immune system.
The vitamin B complex consists of:
- Thiamine (vitamin B1)
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- Niacin (vitamin B3)
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
- Pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
- Biotin (vitamin B7)
- Folate and folic acid (vitamin B9)
- Cobalamin (vitamin B12)
What are the health benefits of vitamin B complex?
In women, B vitamins can help with pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia. Folic acid is particularly important in preventing spina bifida in the developing foetus.
In men, the vitamin B complex can increase testosterone levels and help build muscle and strength.
Together, B vitamins can:
- reduce your risk of migraines and cataracts
- protect against beriberi
- lower your cholesterol
- protect against heart disease
- protect against anaemia
- keep your skin and hair healthy
- and lower your blood sugar
Most of the B vitamins are water soluble and can’t be stored in the body, so you need to eat them regularly as part of your diet. The exception to this is biotin. The bacteria in your bowel can make this vitamin, and there is very little of it available in food in any case.
Most vitamin B complex food sources are animal products. That’s why those on a vegan diet may find it difficult to hit their daily RDA. There are, however, plant foods that provide all of the B vitamins. Even vitamin B12 can be obtained on a vegan diet (contrary to popular belief).
The government requires that many foods are fortified with vitamins, including the B vitamins. For example, fortified breakfast cereals, dairy alternatives and flour. Making these fortified products a part of your diet can help you to get all of the B vitamins you need.
What are the best (or healthiest) vitamin B complex food sources?
Animal products that are vitamin B complex food sources
Meat is the best of the vitamin B complex foods in terms of the percentage it contains. Some of the B vitamins are created in the stomachs of cows, which makes beef one of the richest vitamin B complex food sources. In fact, beef can provide as much as 533% of your daily value for vitamin B12.
Skirt steak, 170g:
- Thiamine (B1) – 0.2mg – 17% DV (Daily Value)
- Riboflavin (B2) – 1.5mg – 112% DV
- Niacin (B3) – 9.5mg – 60% DV
- Vitamin B5 (PA) – 2.3mg – 45% DV
- Vitamin B6 – 0.8mg – 48% DV
- Folate (B9) – 11.9mcg – 3% DV
- Vitamin B-12 (12.8mcg – 533% DV
Eggs have high nutritional value for plenty of reasons. They are an excellent source of protein, and they are considered a ‘complete’ protein source because they contain all the essential amino acids that you need. In addition, eggs provide good amounts of vitamins B1, B2, B5, B9 and B12.
Eggs, one large:
- Riboflavin (B2) – 0.2mg – 18% DV
- Vitamin B5 – 0.8mg – 15% DV
- Vitamin B12 – 0.4mg – 19% DV
- Thiamine (B1) – 0mg – 2% DV
- Folate (B9) – 23.5mcg – 6% DV
Whether you like them boiled, fried or in an omelette, eggs are one of the most nutritionally rich vitamin B complex food sources.
Salmon is one of the healthiest animal-based vitamin B complex food sources. It’s high in omega-3 fatty acids, low in calories and low in saturated fat. This makes it an excellent choice of meat if you’re looking to lower your risk of heart disease or to lose weight.
It’s also particularly high in vitamin B12, which helps to protect against anaemia. It’s also important for making sure that your nerves and blood cells can to function properly.
Wild Atlantic salmon, cooked, 170g:
- Thiamine (B1) – 0.6mg – 48% DV
- Riboflavin (B2) – 0.2mg – 18% DV
- Niacin (B3) – 13.7mg – 85% DV
- Vitamin B5 (PA) – 2.5mg – 50% DV
- Vitamin B12 – 4.8 mcg – 198% DV
- Folate (B9) – 57.8mcg – 14% DV
Pork is another red meat that is a good source of B vitamins. Unlike beef, pork provides a higher amount of thiamine (vitamin B1). This may be because the pigs need more thiamine to convert carbohydrates into energy. Pork is also high in saturated fat, so it’s important to limit how much you eat.
- Pork chops, lean, 170g:
- Thiamine (B1) – 1.1mg – 96% DV
- Riboflavin (B2) – 0.5mg – 35% DV
- Niacin (B3) – 13.6mg – 85% DV
- Vitamin B5 (PA) – 1.7mg – 34% DV
- Vitamin B6 – 0.9mg – 54% DV
- Vitamin B12 – 1.1 mcg – 45% DV
Meat and animal products are a very good source of B vitamins, which poses a dilemma for vegetarians and vegans. But contrary to popular belief, you can get optimal amounts of B vitamins from plant-based sources (yes, even vitamin B12).
Vegan sources of vitamin B complex:
1. Black Beans
Black beans are one of the healthiest vitamin B complex food sources for vegans. They’re full of protein, antioxidants, fibre and carbohydrates. This makes them a great nutritional vitamin B complex food source that can help protect you against cancer and heart disease. Not to mention that black beans contain a carbohydrate type that doesn’t cause blood sugar levels to spike, which means it can be useful in managing type 2 diabetes.
Black beans are high in folate (B9), which helps to protect against spina bifida and other pregnancy complications.
Black beans, 172g:
- Thiamine (B1) – 0.4mg – 35% DV
- Riboflavin (B2) – 0.1mg – 8% DV
- Niacin (B3) – 0.9mg – 5% DV
- Vitamin B5 (PA) – 0.4mg – 8% DV
- Vitamin B6 – 0.1mg – 7% DV
- Folate (B9) – 256.3mg – 64% DV
Bananas are often considered a superfood. They contain flavonoids that protect against aging and are high in the amino acid tryptophan, which the body converts to serotonin (the happy-mood brain neurotransmitter). As such, eating bananas can help to stabilise your mood and improve your cognition. They also lower cholesterol, boost the immune system and prevent coronary heart disease.
They are also a good source of vitamins and minerals, such as B complex vitamins.
Bananas, 150g, sliced:
- Thiamine (B1) – 0mg – 4% DV
- Riboflavin (B2) – 0.1mg – 8% DV
- Niacin (B3) – 9.5mg – 1mg – 6% DV
- Vitamin B5 (PA) – 0.5mg – 10% DV
- Vitamin B6 – 0.6mg – 32% DV
- Folate (B9) 30 mcg – 8% DV
No doubt they’re considered one of the healthiest vitamin B complex food sources for vegans and vegetarians.
3. Portobello Mushrooms
These mushrooms are one of the best vitamin B complex food sources. They contain a small amount of vitamin B12, along with B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (nicotinic acid). They also contain iron and vitamin D2, which are also often lacking in vegan diets.
Portobello mushrooms, 86g, diced:
- Thiamine (B1) – 0.1mg – 4% DV
- Riboflavin (B2) – 0.1 mg – 9% DV
- Niacin (B3) – 3.9mg – 24% DV
- Vitamin B5 (PA) – 1mg – 20% DV
- Pyridoxine (B6) – 0.1mg – 7% DV
- Folate (B9) – 24.1mcg – 6% DV
- Vitamin B12 – 0mcg – 2% DV
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans, which are a great choice for those on a vegan diet because they are 60% protein. They’re also a popular choice as a meat alternative both for vegans and for cultures that eat less meat in their diet.
Fermenting soybeans to make tempeh is what makes this food a good source of vitamin B12. This is because the fermentation processes utilises fungi and bacteria, and vitamin B12 can only be found in microorganisms.
- Thiamine (B1) – 0.1mg – 11% DV
- Riboflavin (B2) – 0.6mg – 46% DV
- Niacin (B3) – 4.4mg – 27% DV
- Vitamin B5 (PA) – 0.5mg – 9% DV
- Vitamin B6 – 0.4mg – 21% DV
- Folate (B9) – 38.8mcg – 10% DV
- Vitamin B12 – 0.1mcg – 6% DV
5. Nutritional Yeast
If you really want to boost your intake of B vitamins, nutritional yeast is one of the richest vitamin B complex food sources. It contains nearly all B vitamins, except for biotin, folate and vitamin B5.
If you’re especially concerned with getting enough vitamin B12, just one tablespoon of nutritional yeast can provide you with 1407% of your RDA. Because of this, nutritional yeast is one of the best food sources of vitamin B complex for vegans.
- Thiamine (B1) – 7mg – 585% DV
- Riboflavin (B2) – 7.4mg – 570% DV
- Niacin (B3) – 39.4mg – 246% DV
- Vitamin B6 – 7mg – 448% DV
- Vitamin B12 – 33.8mcg – 1407% DV
The vitamin B complex is important for the proper functioning of the nervous system, circulatory system, skin and hair, muscles and eyes. Folic acid is important to have during pregnancy to protect against spina bifida.
There are many vitamin B complex food sources you can add to your diet right away. These include meat-based sources, such as beef, pork, salmon and eggs. You can also get your B vitamins from plant sources, such as black beans, bananas, portobello mushrooms and tempeh.
However, you might need to eat a larger amount of plant-based sources of B vitamins to hit your daily RDA. Nutritional yeast is heavily fortified with most of the B vitamins, which makes it a good choice for those on a vegan diet.
What if you don’t want to eat vitamin B complex food sources? Taking a vitamin B complex supplement is another effective way to prevent vitamin B deficiency and hit your daily RDA. Always seek medical advice from your GP before adding a new food supplement to your diet.