Vitamin B

Because of the increasing popularity of a vegan diet, vitamin B has been a topic of interest for the past few months. The general opinion is that it is difficult to cover your vitamin B needs with a vegan diet. But what exactly is vitamin B? What does this vitamin do in our body and which foods contain large amounts of it? Read on to learn about everything you need to know about vitamin B!

Busy? Then I’ve summarized the most important information of this blogpost for you.
  • The B-vitamins consist of 8 different vitamins.
  • The B vitamins are important for numerous metabolic processes (= energy production) and for our nervous system.
  • Meat (especially liver) as well as legumes and various green leafy vegetables contain various B-vitamins.
  • Vitamin B12 can actually become critical in a vegan diet and should be supplemented if necessary.

If you want to know more about another vitamin, you can find the related articles here:
Vitamin A

What?

Basically, vitamin B includes a number of different vitamins, all of which are water-soluble. The B group vitamins include vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (nicotinic acid, niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin, vitamin H), folic acid and vitamin B12 (cobalamin).

Since these vitamins are water-soluble, the body cannot store them (apart from vitamins B2 and B12). That is why the vitamins have to be consumed through your diet.

Effects?

Almost every B-vitamin is important for many metabolic processes. They enable the body to use carbohydrates, proteins and fats for energy. They also have an impact on our nervous system and are responsible, for example, for the transmission of excitation from the nerve to the muscle (B1). They also support the nervous system in recovery after an illness (B1).

Vitamin B2 is said to be able to prevent the risk of cataracts and migraines.

Vitamin B3 supports the body when recovering and aids, for example, muscle regeneration and the renewal of the skin and nerves.

Vitamin B5 helps the body to produce numerous substances such as cholesterol, provitamin D, bile acids and certain amino acids. Vitamin B5 plays an important role in the production of non-essential amino acids and thus supports an optimal protein supply for your body.

Vitamin B6 strengthens the immune system and supports a high enrichment of the red blood cells with oxygen (thus vitamin B6 has an indirect effect on our performance). B6 also helps in the production of serotin, dopamine and histamine.

Vitamin B7 strengthens our hair and ensures healthy skin. It also strengthens our finger- and toenails.

Folic acid is important important for the formation of red and white blood cells and thus prevents anemia. Folic acid also prevents neural tube effects.

Vitamin B12 helps the body absorb folic acid. Vitamin B12 is also necessary for the formation of red blood cells and very important for the functioning of the brain and the formation of new nerve cells.

The symptoms of a deficiency of individual B vitamins are pretty similar. These range from fatigue, loss of appetite, bad skin, rashes, hair loss and acne to nausea and diarrhea.

A vitamin B5 deficiency is extremely rare and usually only occurs in combination with severe alcoholics or acute malnutrition. It manifests in a tingling sensation, painful burning sensation or numbness in the feet.

A lack of vitamin B12 can even lead to nerve damage, memory loss, confusion, cramps and dementia.

Occurence

The different B vitamins are found in different foods. Below you will find a list of the foods that contain the various B vitamins in large quantities:

VitaminFoods
B1 (thiamine)Meat (liver), whole grains, oatmeal, various seeds, legumes
B2 (riboflavin)Meat (liver), fish, legumes, nuts, kale, sesame seeds
B3 (nicotinic acid, niacin)Meat (liver), fish, whole grains, legumes, nuts, potatoes
B5 (pantothenic acid)Meat (liver), yeast, fish, oatmeal, nuts, avocado, cauliflower
B6 (pyridoxine)Meat (liver), fish, legumes, green leafy vegetables and some fruits (bananas, oranges)
B7 (biotin, vitamin H) Meat (liver), eggs, salmon, avocados, sweet potato, nuts and seeds
Folic acid Meat (liver), eggs, whole grains, legumes, nuts, green leafy vegetables
B12 (cobalamin)Meat (liver), eggs, fish, dairy products

As you can see in the table, there are numerous foods that are rich in B vitamins. Especially the liver of various animals but also a lot of legumes and nuts contain many of the 8 B vitamins.

However, as you have probably realized, vitamin B12 is only contained in animal products. Because of that vitamin B12 is of particular importance for every vegan, which is why I will cover this vitamin separately.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 can only be produced by microorganisms. The bacteria in the human intestinal tract can produce B12, but we cannot absorb the body’s own B12 in sufficient quantities. Animals ingest B12 through their food and we consequently ingest this vitamin through animal products. Since such animal products are no longer available with a vegan diet, it is difficult to cover your vitamin B12 needs.

Although some algae and specially fortified foods contain B12, there are no official recommendations as to the extent to which such foods are suitable for covering your need for B12 (especially since the B12 values ​​are also subject to strong fluctuations). The best way to ensure an adequate supply of B12 with a vegan (and sometimes also with a vegetarian) diet is to take a supplement.

Many animals can produce B12 themselves, but for example, pig feed is supplemented with B12 (along with other vitamins and minerals). Pigs therefore receive a B12 supplement, which we subsequently consume through our diet. Considering this information, many of us are already covering their B12 needs with a supplement (at least indirectly).

For our body it doesn’t matter from which source it obtains B12. A study even shows that people who supplement B12 are generally better supplied with this vitamin than those who only take B12 through their diet (including meat).

Important: The human body can often store vitamin B12 for several years. If your B12 needs are no longer covered (for example, by switching to a vegan diet), there are no immediate symptoms of deficiency. To prevent any negative effects on your body, it should be considered to start supplementing B12 at an early stage if there is reason to believe that insufficient amounts of B12 are being consumed through your diet.

Daily requirement

The daily requirement for the individual B vitamins is different for men and women and also depends on the age group. A summarized recommendation of the daily requirement of vitamin B from the WHO and the DGE can be found in the following table:

VitaminMenWomen
B1 (thiamin) 1.1 -1.3 mg1.0-1.1 mg
B2 (riboflavin) 1.3 – 1.4 mg1.0-1.1 mg
B3 (nicotinic acid, niacin) 14 – 16 mg11-16 mg
B5 (pantothenic acid) 5 – 6 mg5 – 6 mg
B6 (pyridoxine) 1.3 – 1.7 mg1.2 – 1.5 mg
B7 (biotin, vitamin H) 25 – 60 μg25 – 60 μg
Folic acid 300 – 400 μg 300-550 μg
B12 (cobalamin) 2 – 4 μg2 – 4 μg

Conclusion

The various B vitamins are important for many processes in our body, such as numerous metabolic processes and thus also for our energy supply. With a balanced diet, a lack of vitamin B is unlikely. Only vitamin B12 can be critical in a vegetarian or vegan diet. With this type of diet, a doctor should be regularly consulted to check your B12 values and, if necessary, an adequate supply should be ensured with a supplement.

References:
Harvard T.H. Chan
Netdoktor
healthline.com
nhs.uk
vital.de
WHO – Vitamin an Mineral requirements im human nutrition
ncbi – Plasma vitamin B-12 concentrations relate to intake source in the Framingham Offspring study
lflBayern – Grundsätze der Schweinefütterung
vegan.at (additional references can be found here)
DGE

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