vitamin b1 flaxseedThere are a lot of nutrients that fall into the ‘family’ of B vitamins, and it can be confusing to tell the difference. Do we even need to know which one is which? Are they all essential for wellbeing, or are some more important than others? Today we shall be demystifying B vitamins (there are eight in total) and looking at what makes them so important.

Firstly, B vitamins are water-soluble, so they cannot be stored in the human body. This means we need to eat foods or consume supplements that give us a regular supply of these nutrients. While some of these are only needed in very small quantities (just over 1mg per day of thiamine, for example) their importance cannot be overstated. While these vitamins are commonly recognised as a group and they often work together in the body, each vitamin also performs unique functions that makes it essential for wellbeing.

So the first of this family is vitamin B1, also known as thiamine. This nutrient is needed to release energy from our foods and to keep the heart and nervous system healthy. It is also vital for DNA and RNA synthesis, and it’s best sources include flax, sunflower and sesame seeds, pine and pistachio nuts and lean pork.

Next up is B2 or riboflavin, which is needed to release energy, for red blood cell production and growth, and helps the body absorb iron. It also supports antioxidant activity within the body. The best source of this nutrient is yeast extract (marmite) but it’s also found in high quantities in spirulina seaweed, lamb’s liver and kidney, maple syrup and raw almonds.

Vitamin B3 is better known as niacin and plays a vital role in cardiovascular health. It also maintains brain function, regulates cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Like riboflavin, it’s best sources also include yeast extract, as well as instant coffee, lambs liver, peanut butter and anchovies.

The last vitamin we’ll look at today is B5, or pantothenic acid. Less well-known than other B vitamins, it is nicknamed the “anti-stress vitamin” because it is shown to boost the immune system and help our bodies produce the hormones needed to deal with stressful situations. It also helps with the removal of toxins by the liver, so it may be relatively unknown, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important! Luckily, a deficiency of this vitamin is quite rare as it is found in small amounts in many different foods. However, it’s best sources are chicken liver, spirulina seaweed, sunflower seeds.

Next time we shall look at the other B vitamins and their effect on our health.