Know Your Nutrient: The B Vitamins

There are eight B vitamins­ that make up the vitamin B complex, which together play important roles in our health. These vitamins assist the body’s cells in releasing energy from carbohydrates and fat, breaking down amino acids, and transporting oxygen and energy-containing nutrients around the body.1 Although the B vitamins work together in the body, they also carry out their own unique functions.2 Meats and eggs are good sources for the B vitamins, but consuming a wholesome diet comprising a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts generally provides all you need. Those who struggle to meet their daily intake values or have a B-vitamin deficiency might consider using supplements, but should check with their doctor first. See Table on the following page to learn more about each B vitamin.

Thiamin (vitamin B-1) Enables the body to convert carbohydrates to energy; essential for glucose metabolism; plays a key role in nerve, muscle, and heart functions3 Helps prevent complications in the nervous system, brain, muscles, heart, stomach, and intestines; also involved in keeping the body hydrated and regulating the flow of electrolytes in and out of muscle and nerve cells3 Beef, nuts, whole grains, cauliflower, liver, oranges, eggs, potatoes, asparagus2
Riboflavin (vitamin B-2) Breaks down food components and assists in the absorption of nutrients; helps maintain the body’s energy supplies4 Possibly effective for treating and preventing migraines and lowering the risk of developing cataracts6 Fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, artichokes, avocado, cayenne, mushrooms7
Niacin (vitamin B-3) Plays a role in converting proteins and fats into energy5 Potentially lowers cholesterol; has antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties; keeps hair, skin, and nails healthy5 Beef, fish, poultry, cooked brown rice, dry roasted peanuts5
Pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5) Converts food into glucose; helps the body create sex and stress-related hormones and red blood cells7 Promotes healthy hair, skin, eyes, and liver7 Beef, fish, poultry, whole grains, legumes, dairy products, sweet potatoes, corn7
Pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) Plays a role in forming neurotransmitters and myelin and producing serotonin and norepinephrine8 May help boost brain performance; can reduce the severity of nausea during early pregnancy; may help reduce the negative effects of air pollution on the epigenome8 chickpeas, tuna, potatoes, fortified cereals1
Biotin (vitamin B-7) Assists enzymes in breaking down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins; helps regulate cell signaling and genetic activity9 Might assist in strengthening skin, nails, and hair; may help with psoriasis2 Organ meats, eggs, salmon, sunflower seeds2
Folate (vitamin B-9) Helps form DNA and RNA; involved in protein metabolism; critical during periods of rapid growth, such as during fetal development during pregancy10 Can lower risk of certain neurological birth defects2 Dark-green, leafy vegetables; beans; sunflower seeds; eggs
Cobalamin (vitamin B-12) Helps form red blood cells; helps with DNA synthesis; involved in fat and protein metabolism2 Improves brain and neurological functioning; lowers risk for cardiovascular disease11 Clams, beef liver, milk and yogurt, salmon2


1. B Vitamins. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website. Accessed May 20, 2020.

2. A complete guide to B vitamins. Medical News Today website. Accessed May 20, 2020.

3. Brazier Y. What is thiamin, or vitamin B1? Updated November 22, 2017. Accessed May 21, 2020.

4. Brazier Y. Benefits and sources of vitamin B2. Updated March 7, 2017. Accessed May 21, 2020.

5. Brazier Y. Why do we need vitamin B-3, or niacin? . Updated February 21, 2019. Accessed May 21, 2020.

6. Riboflavin: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements website. Updated March 6, 2020. Accessed May 21, 2020.

7. Felman A. What to know about vitamin B5. Updated April 24, 2017. Accessed May 21, 2020.

8. Brazier Y. The benefits and food sources of vitamin B-6. Updated March 27, 2017. Accessed May 21, 2020.

9. Biotin – Vitamin B7. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website. Accessed May 21, 2020.

10. Folate (Folic Acid) – Vitamin B9. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website. Accessed May 21, 2020.

11. Vitamin B12. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website. Accessed May 21, 2020.

12. Klemm S. What Are B-Vitamins? Updated January 4, 2019. Accessed May 20, 2020.  

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