Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About B Vitamins

By Published On: 27 March 2015Last Updated: 23 January 2017

Here's the most common B vitamins, their role in your body, and where you can find them in plant-based foods and supplements.

B vitamins

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By Bridgette Leeson, Guest Contributor

Some things are just better together. Just like almond butter and chia jam or Beyoncé & Jay Z, B vitamins are better as a pair! In order to metabolize macronutrients (fats, proteins, carbohydrates), B vitamins have to work synergistically. Working together, B vitamins help our bodies with stress management, give us energy, and support our brain function. Often B vitamins are referred to as the “B complex,” and are usually found together in nature. Take a look at the most common B vitamins, their role in your body, and where you can find them in plant-based foods and supplements, below.

B1 (Thiamine or Thiamin)

This little spark plug is a catalyst for many reactions in the body, including supporting optimal conduction of nerve impulses in your peripheral nervous system. (1) Let the sparks fly by enjoying foods including black beans, which offer more than 1/2 of your RDI in 1/2 cup, lentils and spirulina. (2)

B2 (Riboflavin)

Working synergistically with other B vitamins, riboflavin plays a role in providing energy through the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. (3) Portabello mushrooms, spinach, kale and almonds are sources of riboflavin. If you enjoy 1/2 cups almonds, you’ll also enjoy more than 1/2 of your RDI. (4)

B3 (Niacin)

Niacin synthesizes carbohydrates for storage in muscle to be used for energy when you need it. (5) No need to get flushed with food-based niacin from foods like beans and leafy green vegetables. It’s true, some people may experience a warm sensation, redness and even itching know as a “niacin flush” when taking a high dose of B supplements, but it is not common to have this reaction when eating foods containing niacin.

B5 (Pantothenic Acid)

Pantothenic acid plays a role in stress management by supporting adrenal glands in the production of stress-related hormones. (6) Don’t stress — you can easily find pantothenic acid in a wide variety of foods, including whole grains, mushrooms, avocados and sweet potatoes.

B6 (Pyridoxine)

Pyridoxine plays an important role in stress and hormone balance because it plays a role in the synthesis of many neurotransmitters, including adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. (1) You can find pyridoxine in whole grains, leafy greens and avocado. Avocado is a source of many B vitamins and it sure does make a creamy smoothie!

B7 (Biotin)

Biotin plays a role in providing energy through the efficient metabolism of macronutrients. (7) Biotin can be produced by your intestinal bacteria and you can also find it in almonds, carrots and cabbage.

B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)

Many metabolic reactions, including the metabolism of protein, require folate (folic acid in supplemental form). Folate also aids in the production of red blood cells, making it important for optimal energy. (8) Enjoy more foods including broccoli, asparagus and lemons to incorporate folate into your diet.

B12 (Cobalamin)

This vitamin is necessary for optimal nervous system function; it plays a role in the formation of healthy nerve cells. (9) Vitamin B12 is often found in animal proteins, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get it from plant-based foods. You can find this vitamin in nutritional yeast and nutritional supplements. My favorite way to add more to my day is by putting nutritional yeast on popcorn.

Since all B vitamins are water-soluble, you’ll want to enjoy a variety of nutrient dense, whole, plant-based foods daily. That’s the best way to cover your B complex bases.

RELATED READING: Do Vegans Need to Take a B12 Supplement?

How do you get your daily dose of B vitamins? Let me know in the comments below.


All references retrieved October 17, 2014

1. E Huskisson, S Maggini, M Ruf. (2007). The Influence of Micronutrients on Cognitive Function and Performance. Journal of International Medical Research 35 (1): 1-19.
2. United States Department of Agriculture. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Thiamin.
3. Health Canada (2007). Monograph: Riboflavin.
4. United States Department of Agriculture. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Almonds.
5. Health Canada (2007). Monograph: Niacin.
6. University of Maryland Medical Center. (2013). Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid).
7. Health Canada (2007). Monograph: Biotin.
8. Health Canada (2009). Monograph: Folate.
9. Health Canada. (2007). Monograph: Vitamin B12.

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HELLO! I'm KD Angle-Traegner.

Writer, activist, and founder of Four Urban Paws Sanctuary. I’m on a mission to help people live a vegan life. Read more about KD…