Food & Fitness

A Crash Course in B Vitamins: Part One

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Yesterday, on Day 21 of the Raw Food Challenge, I ate:

– About a cup of frozen-then-thawed carrots/peas/corn/green beans, 1/2 an apple with cinnamon, and 1 probiotic capsule followed by a glass of lemon water with 1/2 scoop calcium/magnesium powder

– 2 glasses lemon water with 1 scoop calcium/magnesium powder and some juice pulp cracker

– 1 romaine lettuce wrap with lentil sprouts and juice pulp cracker

– 2 mugs mint tea plus fruit salad: 1 banana and 1/2 apple with cinnamon

– 1/2 banana with some chocolate brownie and 3 romaine lettuce wraps filled with clover/radish/alfalfa/mustard sprouts, crumbled juice pulp cracker, and tomato slices

– 1 apple, 1 mug mint tea, and about a cup of the frozen-then-thawed veggie medley (chopped carrots, green beans, corn, and peas)

– A few walnuts and sunflower seeds, plus some chocolate banana ice cream (1 frozen banana with 1 teaspoon cacao powder and lots of cinnamon in the food processor)

– 1/2 banana plus a small amount dehydrated squash “rice” and 1 mug mint tea

– 1 apple with cinnamon and a little bit of walnut butter, plus 1 carrot

A Crash Course in B Vitamins

B vitamins are essential for everyone, but some people may find it more difficult to include them in their diet than others. Although B vitamins are abundant in animal products, some kinds are not so easily found in plant-based foods, making it more difficult for vegetarians, vegans, and raw foodists to include these important nutrients into their diets. But just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean it’s impossible! My nutritionist sent me some information regarding B vitamins and it inspired me to do a bit more research on my own to share with all of you Living Healthy in the Real World readers. Most of my information is from The World’s Healthiest Foods.

There are eight different kinds of B vitamins which are essential for our bodies to function and each of them are found in different food sources. B vitamins are all water-soluble, which means that they get flushed out of our system if we consume too many of them. Fat-soluble vitamins are the ones that stay in our bodies, so it is easier to reach toxicity levels with those vitamins. For water-soluble vitamins, the main issue is combating deficiency: we need to make sure that we’re consuming enough of them.

Vitamin B1: Also known as thiamine, Vitamin B1 converts carbohydrates and fats into fuel for our body. Without it, we may feel sluggish, anxious, and have pain or numbing in our muscles. Vitamin B1 is an energy nutrient that strengthens and supports our nervous system. It also helps with growth and development.

I was interested to learn- being on the raw food challenge- that Vitamin B1 is easily destroyed by the heating process of food! Some of the best food sources of Vitamin B1 include green peas, raw sunflower seeds, raw crimini mushrooms, romaine lettuce, boiled asparagus, boiled spinach, and baked yellowfin tuna.

Just because a food is high in a nutrient, doesn’t mean that our body necessarily absorbs it (the calcium in spinach is my classic example: calcium is abundant in spinach, but our bodies can’t absorb it, so spinach is a poor source of calcium). Foods with Vitamin B6, B9, and B12 enhance the absorption of Vitamin B1.

Vitamin B2: Also known as riboflavin, Vitamin B2 protects our cells, produces energy, helps to digest fats, and tries to maintain the amount of other B vitamins in our bodies. We need Vitamin B2 to be able to properly absorb many other kinds of nutrients, including iron and zinc. Our skin becomes sensitive and we may experience burning or itching sensations when we’re deficient in Vitamin B2.

Cooking doesn’t affect the potency of Vitamin B2, but light exposure can, so this nutrient is best preserved when it isn’t exposed to too much light. We can increase our absorption of Vitamin B2 by making sure that we are consuming enough foods which contain Vitamin B1 in them. Raw crimini mushrooms, asparagus, boiled spinach, romaine lettuce and steamed broccoli are all where you will find high amounts of Vitamin B2.

Vitamin B3: Also known as niacin, Vitamin B3 is needed to lower cholesterol levels and stabilize blood sugar levels; it also metabolizes fats and plays a role in manufacturing DNA. We may experience digestive problems and muscle weakness if we don’t consume enough of it.

Vitamin B3 can be cooked and exposed to light without any negative impacts. To increase absorption of this vitamin, consume foods with tryptophan, Vitamin B1, and Vitamin B6. Good sources of this vitamin are green peas, raw crimini mushrooms, baked yellowfin tuna, and roasted chicken breast. Other plant-based sources which aren’t quite as high in Vitamin B3 but are still good sources include boiled asparagus, romaine lettuce, peanuts, tomatoes, and boiled mustard greens.

Vitamin B5: Also known as pantothenic acid, Vitamin B5 is involved in energy production and breaks down proteins. It changes the macronutrients (fats, carbs, and proteins) into usable energy sources and is required for manufacturing vitamin B12. Without it, we will feel weak and fatigued.

Cooking, commercial processing, and even freezing can all reduce the quality of Vitamin B5 in our food, so it’s best to consume it in its raw form or only very lightly heated. Perhaps the best source for Vitamin B5 is raw crimini mushrooms. Boiled cauliflower, steamed broccoli, raw sunflower seeds, and tomatoes also contain fairly high amounts of Vitamin B5. Other sources include sweet potatoes, avocado, and lentils.

Conclusion: If you’re a vegan raw foodist, keep munching away on romaine lettuce and crimini mushrooms! The B complex vitamins all play similar roles and work together, which is likely why we see many of them in the same foods, but we also find them in the same kinds of foods because these foods are overall rich in nutrients. We benefit the most when we eat a variety of different foods, as each of them offer different vitamins and minerals to keep our bodies running; we also benefit from eating these foods in different forms because our ability to absorb the nutrient content- and even the kinds of nutrients themselves- will change, depending on if the food is cooked and how it is cooked.

Coming up next, we’ll take a look at Vitamin B6, Vitamin B7, Vitamin B9, and Vitamin B12!


  1. Crabby McSlacker

    Great info!

    I’ll be curious about the next round, as I’m starting to get all confused about folate, which I think is B-9. Or maybe not so benign. First I heard there was a huge problem with deficiencies, now I’m hearing all the folic acid they’re throwing in everything may be raising cancer rates. I’ll be curious to hear your take!

    And I’m totally with you on the importance of eating a VARIETY of healthy whole foods.

  2. Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman

    Thanks for this great, comprehensive guide. I just read a study the other day about B3. It found that in people with type 2 diabetes HDL (good) cholesterol isn’t as protective, but taking a niacin (B3) supplement helped raise their HDL and make it work better. I found it pretty interesting.

  3. Sagan Morrow

    Crabby- Yes, folate is the same thing as vitamin B9; it’s also called folic acid. When I was doing my research I was very confused about that at first, too. I’ll look into that cancer info for sure!

    Tracey- Ooh thanks for sharing that study! Whenever I learn more about the nutrients in the food we eat, it perplexes me as to why the pharmacy industry is booming. There’s all this glorious food out there that regulates our cholesterol and blood sugar levels etc; why have we gotten to the point where we require medication to do the exact same thing that nature can do for us? Besides, food tastes better than medication 😀

  4. The Candid RD

    Fantastic post! I love the review.

    Actually, Tryptophan is a precursor to Niacin. I think there MAY be some type of mechanism where if you don’t get enough niacin, more of your tryptophan (a feel good neurotransmitter) gets converted to niacin to make up for it. That’s my guess as to why low levels of niacin have been correlated with depression.

    Be sure to include wheat germ as an excellent source of folic acid in your next post 🙂 It’s also a good source of vitamin E, and may be helpful during PMS.

  5. Pingback: Living Healthy in the Real World » Blog Archive » A Crash Course in B Vitamins: Part Two

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