Vitamin B1 – Thiamine

Did you know that the true Vitamin B complex actually has about 20 different parts to it? We know these as the B Vitamin Family. There is no B1 or B2 tree in nature, so to speak. One of the main foods that have the B family is whole grains. Let’s use wheat as the example. There are three parts – the germ, the bran, and the endosperm. The germ and bran have the B vitamins as well as some healthy fats. The endosperm is the carbohydrate. When they make refined flour, the main ingredient in white bread and cookies, all that gets used is the carbohydrate. But the food manufacturers are nice to us and they “enrich” the flour with up to 8-12 synthetic B vitamins. Doesn’t really sound like enriching to me – take away 20 and give back 8! Sounds a bit more like stealing!

B1 is a required cofactor for some very important enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism. This supports mental alertness and cognitive ability. It also maintains appetite and normal digestion. It aids the cardiovascular, digestive, integumentary (skin), and nervous systems along with the eyes.

You can find B1 in black beans, brown rice (not white), green and split peas, lentils, lima beans, mushrooms, navy beans, nutritional yeast, organ meats, pinto beans, sunflower seeds, tuna, wheat germ, and whole grains.

Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin

Vitamin B2, better known as Riboflavin, is an integral part of enzymes involved in oxidation reduction reactions that drive cell respiration. What does that mean? It is critical in our cell making energy for our body. It also supports the function of antioxidant enzymes and interacts with the other B vitamins. It promotes a healthy immune system and regulates the activity of 50 of our enzymes. Wow! Remember enzymes are what make things happen in our body. They drive everything we do. This is why Riboflavin is often one of the B Vitamins added back into our “enriched” wheat flour, but as you remember from the B1 discussion, this is synthetic and our bodies need the real stuff.

We get the “real stuff” in lean beef, milk, mushrooms, nutritional yeast, organ meats, spinach, wheat germ, and yogurt.

Vitamin B2 supports the cardiovascular, blood, digestive, endocrine, integumentary, and nervous systems as well as our soft tissue.

Vitamin B3 – Niacin

Vitamin B3, also called Niacin, is one of the most important of the B vitamins. We often hear it recommended for cardiovascular health, but it is also important for digestive health as it promotes hydrochloric acid production. Did you know that most people who suffer from acid reflux actually do not produce enough hydrochloric acid? The “acid” of acid reflux is usually organic acids produced by foods rotting and fermenting in the stomach due to poor digestion.

Here’s the technical detail: Niacin is converted to the cofactor NAD which is an important part of how our body processes carbohydrates, fats, and protein (amino acids). It promotes a healthy heart, skin, digestion, cellular respiration, and enhances metabolism and circulation.

You can get too much Niacin, particularly from synthetic sources. How do you know? You get what is called the “niacin flush” – your face and ears become red and hot. I recently experienced this myself and was able to trace it back to this very source.

Niacin supports the cardiovascular, digestive, hepatic (liver), integumentary, and nervous systems. It also supports the soft tissue and the tongue.

The best food sources of Niacin are: fish (salmon, tuna, and halibut), lean beef, liver, mushrooms, nutritional yeast, organ meats, poultry, and wheat germ.

Vitamin B6

Like all the other B family vitamins B6 plays an important role in our metabolic reactions, specifically amino acid metabolism (making proteins for your body to use in building itself) and glycogen utilization (blood sugar control). It is also involved in supporting the production of hormones and neurotransmitters – the chemicals that are directing all your body’s activities.

B6 supports the blood, central nervous, digestive, immune, integumentary, and musculoskeletal systems.

It is found in bananas, fish (cod, halibut, snapper, salmon, and tuna), lean beef, mushrooms, nutritional yeast, organ meats, poultry, and wheat germ.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 may be one of the most important of all the B vitamins, particularly because only true humanly usable B12 comes from animal sources. Yes, to all my vegetarian and particularly vegan friends, watch your B12 levels. There is no such thing as “vegan” or “vegetarian” B12 as far as your body goes. It needs along with it what is known as “intrinsic factor” which comes from animals. Fortunately B12 (as other B vitamins) will store in the body, but over time you can become deficient. In fact, a good friend of mine, after years of being a vegetarian has reintroduced more animal product into her diet after seeing a live blood analysis showing a lack of B12 and a move towards anemia.

So what does B12 do? It is a cofactor for two, yet very important enzymes. One is used for methionine metabolism. Methionine is an essential amino acid. The other enzyme aids in producing energy from proteins and fats. Overall B12 supports the nervous system, promotes the maturation of red blood cells (hence the tie to anemia when deficient in B12) and other cells, and supports bone and joint health.

B12 is available from animal products such as fish (halibut, salmon, scallops, shrimp, and snapper are best sources), lamb, beef, organ meats, and yogurt. It is important for the blood, digestive, hepatic, and nervous systems.

Folic Acid (Folate)

Folic Acid, is also known as Folate. But, once again (as we’ve seen with other vitamins), while portrayed to the public as identical, they are not. Humans are not able to make their own folate, so it is something we need to eat. Natural sources of folate include leafy greens (collard greens, spinach), citrus fruits, legumes (black beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, pinto beans), liver, eggs, dairy products, asparagus, and nutritional yeast.

Folate is critical to the metabolism of nucleic acids and amino acids. Because of this, it supports overall growth and development and blood cell formation and supports normal growth of the fetus. Folic acid was added to many foods to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects, in fact there was a mandate to add folic acid to all cereal grain to products in the US.

So, what was discovered? Well, you guessed it. From the good intentions of the food police we now have several studies suggesting that over consumption of folic acid to colon, lung, and prostate cancers. If you are taking folic acid as a supplement you may want to revisit that and look for companies that use natural folate in their products.

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Thiensville. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at, call (262) 389-9907 or go to