B Vitamin Lineup
It doesn’t take deep thinking to realize our body is a precisely tuned working miracle. Engaged in this precision are 30 vitamins and minerals known as micronutrients that are essential for multiple chemical messages, building tissue and bones, producing energy, maintaining our immune system, cell repair, and host of other important tasks. Since our bodies can’t synthesize these tiny nutrients, healthy eating habits ensure we don’t shortchange what we need.
The B vitamins are especially interesting. Of the 13 essential vitamins, 9 are water-soluble- eight B vitamins plus vitamin C, meaning they dissolve in water and are in the watery portions of foods we eat and then circulate throughout the watery portions of our body. The kidneys regulate and excrete the excess.
Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K and are stored in the liver and fat tissue and are released as needed.
The discovery of vitamins in the early nineteenth century through to the middle of the twentieth century was a major scientific achievement requiring the diligent inquiry of epidemiologists, physicians, physiologists, and chemists. This slow stepwise progress with many detours ultimately evolved with enough emerging science to understand conditions like scurvy, rickets, beriberi, and pellagra were not diseases or infections, but were caused by something lacking in the diet. Overtime with consistent access to a healthy food, vitamin deficiencies are now rarely diagnosed.
While each of these eight vitamins has distinctive tasks, as a group they are involved in converting food into energy at the cellular level and are critical for brain function. A varied diet across all food groups and fortified foods ensures an adequate intake.
(1) Thiamine (vitamin B1) is involved in basic cell functions including the breakdown of carbohydrate and fat for energy and for brain and heart function. A deficiency can occur with heavy alcohol consumption. It is naturally found in meats, fish, whole grains and is added to breads, cereals, and baby formula.
(2) Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is a key component of coenzymes involved in the growth of cells, the production of energy in cells, and the breakdown of fats, steroids, and medications. B2 is found in dairy products, eggs, meats, poultry, fish, fortified cereal and bread, and almonds.
(3) Niacin (vitamin B3, also known as nicotinic acid or nicotinamide) functions as a coenzyme and is involved in more than 400 enzyme functions helping convert nutrients into energy, create cholesterol and fats. It supports antioxidant effects and DNA repair. Sources include meat, poultry, fish, nuts and seeds, legumes. Actually the body can make niacin from the amino acid tryptophan found in poultry with the help of vitamin B6.
(4) Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) helps enzymes build and breakdown fatty acids including the metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins, neurotransmitters, steroid hormones, and hemoglobin. A deficiency is rare because it is found in a large number of foods.
(5) Pyridoxine (vitamin B6) is a coenzyme that works with more than 100 enzymes to breakdown proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. In conjunction with B12 and folate, it helps to maintain normal levels of homocysteine, an amino acid. High levels of homocysteine can cause heart disease. It is available in plants, especially dark leafy greens, and in meat, poultry, and fish.
(6) Biotin (vitamin B7) assists enzymes to break down fats, carbohydrate, and protein and helps regulate signals between cells. Research does not show that biotin supplementation can improve hair growth and reduce hair loss or strengthen nails. A deficiency is rare since biotin is available in many foods. Deficiency symptoms do include thinning hair, brittle nails, and scaly rashes on the face which may be why supplementation is promoted. Alcohol abuse can block biotin absorption.
(7) Folate (vitamin B9). Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9. Folic acid is the form added to foods and sold as a supplement. It helps form DNA and RNA and is involved in protein metabolism and the breakdown of homocysteine. It supports the development of healthy red blood cells. It is particularly critical during pregnancy and rapid fetal growth. Because processed grain foods have been supplemented with folic acid, there has been a significant drop in babies born with spinal defects. Chronic alcohol consumption increases the need for folic acid. Folate is found in dark green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, fresh fruits, and whole grains.
(8) Cobalamin (vitamin B12) is needed to form red blood cells and DNA and is a key factor in the function and development of brain and nerve cells. B12 binds to protein foods and is available in meat, poultry, fish, dairy product. In the stomach B12 combines with a protein called the intrinsic factor so it can be absorbed when it reaches the small intestine. If the intrinsic factor is missing severe B12 deficiency occurs. In older adults, stomach secretions decline and contribute to the decline of the intrinsic factor. Deficiency symptoms include anemias, fatigue, weakness, nerve damage with numbness and tingling in hands and legs, confusion, memory loss, and depression. Vegetarians may need supplementation.
You might be wondering about B4, B8, B10 and B11. It seems that as research evolved these “might have been vitamins” didn’t prove to be a true vitamin because they didn’t prove essential for body function. Our understanding of vitamins continues to evolve. Most likely we have discovered all there are. Meanwhile we are discovering micronutrients and phytonutrients that aren’t essential but contribute to good health and prevent disease.
Summer Recipe Tips
These quick, refreshing recipes are an ode to summer’s healthy bounty.
Chilled Cream of Zucchini Soup
1 Tbsp. butter or olive oil
1 cup chopped sweet onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
3 zucchini (about 1-3/4 pound), cut into half inch rings
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried dill
1 cup loosely packed fresh baby spinach
1/3 cup cream
In a 2-quart saucepan, melt butter. Stir in onion and garlic cooking 5 to 10 minutes until onion is soft. Stir in chicken broth, zucchini and salt. Cover and simmer until zucchini is soft, about 20 minutes. Stir in dill and spinach. With an emersion blender or blender, puree the soup. Taste for salt. Blend in the cream. Serve soup either hot or chilled. Garnish with coarsely grated parmesan cheese
Peaches and Raspberries
Slice a peach (freestone variety) into wedges. On a plate stack the peach wedges in an irregular manner. Garnish with 5 to 6 whole raspberries. Serve with thin slices of cheese or a scoop of French vanilla ice cream. Garnish with mint leaves. One peach is one serving.
Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator
Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.
On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitment to healthy living and aging.