Get Your B Vitamins Straight: A Guide To What’s What

Everyone needs B vitamins in their diet and, for the most part, a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, protein, and dairy will provide you with enough, says Susan Stalte, registered dietitian and nutrition consultant. However, many of us aren’t keeping balanced diets on a day-to-day basis. Vegetarians or vegans, for instance, might struggle to get enough B12, since that is a nutrient most present in animal products, Stalte says.

“Additionally, some medical conditions, like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, can even impact the absorption of vitamin B,” says Stalte, who advises that individuals with these or similar conditions talk to their medical providers about strategies for meeting the daily recommended dietary allowance.

The B-Vitamin Group

First things first: There are 13 vitamins—and eight of them are in the B family (also called the B complex). They include B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, and B12, and B9.

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From creating red blood cells to helping to convert the food we eat into energy, the Bs do it all. They support metabolism, energy levels, and physical and immune health—but the benefits don’t stop there. According to a study published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology, taking B vitamins can also help support your mental health. For the study, a group of people took a B-complex and reported feeling less stressed over a six-week period. And research in Nutrients found that the whole range of B vits can help significantly improve cognitive function.

Here, we break down the specific functions of each B vitamin to help inform your shopping list.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): Supports cellular function, and promotes healthy skin, muscles, hair, and brain function. You can find B1 in whole grains, rice, pork, fish, and legumes.

Recommended for: People who have metabolic disorders and brain disorders due to Thiamine deficiency.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Supports cellular growth and function, and promotes healthy skin, muscles, hair, and brain function. You can find B2 in lean meats, organ meats, asparagus, and grain products.

Recommended for: People who have eye disorders (like cataracts), headaches, and high homocysteine levels.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Helps the digestive system work properly, and promotes healthy nerve function. Like its cohorts Thiamin and Riboflavin, it also encourages hair and skin health. It’s found in milk, eggs, rice, fish, mushrooms, and potatoes.

Recommended for: People who have high cholesterol, or disorders (like pellagra) related to niacin deficiency.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid): Helps make lipids, neurotransmitters, and hemoglobin. You’ll find it in chicken, whole grains, broccoli, avocados, and tomatoes.

Recommended for: People who have antothenic acid deficiency.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Helps fuel metabolism, develops the brain, and boosts immune function. You’ll find it in bananas, watermelons, tofu, and chicken.

Recommended for: People who have anemia or seizures.

Vitamin B7 (Biotin): Helps to synthesize glucose, break down some fatty acids, and promote healthy skin and bones. Get it from chocolate (yes!), egg yolk, nuts, and legumes.

Recommended for: People who want to support their hair, skin, and cognitive health.

Vitamin B9 (Folate or Folic Acid): Helps cells divide, and makes DNA and other genetic material. Get it in spinach, mustard greens, grains, beans, and nuts.

Recommended for: Pregnant women or people who want to support mood and blood health.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): B12 promotes healthy nerve cells, breaks down fatty acids, and supports general health. It is found in beef liver, clams, eggs, milk, and fish.

Recommended for: People who want to support their metabolic health.

Dosage Recommendations

For overall wellness, most adults should follow the recommended daily allowances. For the B-vitamin group, Stalte recommends:

  • B1: 1.1. mcg for females and 1.2 mcg for males
  • B2: 1.1 mcg for females and 1.3 mcg for males
  • B3: between 14 and 16 mg for both males and females
  • B5: 5 mg for females and males above the age of 14
  • B6: 1.3 mg for females and males above the age of 19
  • B7: 50 mcg for females and males above age 11
  • B12: 2.4 mcg for both males and females
  • Folic Acid: 400 to 600 mcg for females above the age of 13 and 400 mcg for males above the age of 13.

There are exceptions, however, to the dosages recommended above. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may require different dosages, just as individuals with liver disease, kidney disease, low blood pressure, or diabetes might respond differently to B vitamins. Chat with a medical professional before adding supplements to your diet.

When To Take Them

“B-vitamins are also water-soluble, meaning that you don’t have to take the supplements with food,” says Stalte. “Anything that the body doesn’t need will be excreted in urine, which makes the risk of overdosing generally fairly low.”

Related: Get your B vitamins here.