Healthy Eating

The Essential Energy-Boosting Benefits of B Vitamins

Hint: they provide more than just a quick energy boost!

By: Lexy Parsons

When it comes to energy-boosting nutrients, few nutrients compare to the power of B vitamins! Nicknamed “energy vitamins,” B vitamins play a crucial role in supporting energy production, metabolism, nervous system health, and cell repair. Comprised of eight different B vitamins, each with its own unique role in the body, these vital nutrients are essential for maintaining an active lifestyle and supporting overall well-being. Whether you’re looking to improve mental clarity and cognitive health, streamline your energy levels and combat fatigue, or simply enhance your overall well-being, balancing your B vitamins is a fundamental step in supporting your goals. 

Ahead, learn the top benefits of B vitamins, including what they are and how to incorporate them into your diet!

What are B Vitamins?

We’ve all heard of B vitamins, but what are they, exactly?

Simply put, B vitamins are a group of vitamins that play essential roles in supporting our overall health and well-being. All B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning, unlike fat-soluble vitamins, they dissolve in water and are not stored in the body. Therefore, to prevent deficiencies, they need to be replenished daily through diet or supplements.

These vitamins include:

B1 (Thiamine)

Vitamin B1, also known as Thiamine, was the first B vitamin discovered, and is one of the most important! It plays a vital role in energy metabolism, needed to convert food (carbohydrates, in particular) into usable energy. Beyond its energy-boosting properties, Thiamine also provides crucial support for brain, nerve, and heart health. Not to mention, it strengthens the immune system, and may even lower cortisol, thereby reducing stress.

B1 food sources include: whole grains (such as oats, barley, and quinoa), legumes (such as chickpeas and lentils), sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, liver, beef, and yeast. 

B2 (Riboflavin)

Riboflavin is another essential vitamin involved in energy metabolism, where it plays a crucial role in converting carbs, fats, and proteins into ATP, usable energy. According to research, vitamin B2 contains antioxidant properties, where it may help the body combat oxidative stress. Riboflavin also contributes to healthy nerve function, skin and vision, and may even help to prevent migraines. 

B2 food sources include: eggs, almonds, mushrooms, dark leafy greens (such as spinach and broccoli), dairy (such as yogurt and dairy milk), organ meats, salmon, whole grains, and fortified cereals.

B3 (Niacin)

Vitamin B3, niacin, is a vital nutrient with a multitude of health benefits — energy production, included! When it comes to boosting energy, niacin helps to facilitate the conversion of nutrients into ATP by aiding enzymes involved in cellular metabolism. 

Energy-boosting benefits aside, B3 also plays a vital role in heart health by improving cholesterol levels (increasing “good” HDL cholesterol while decreasing “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides), thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Similar to riboflavin, niacin acts as an antioxidant, shown to regulate blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity, and combat oxidative stress. Niacin is also particularly important for skin health, where it may help to reduce inflammation, promote hydration, and diminish the appearance of skin conditions like acne and rosacea. 

While there are no known side effects of consuming niacin in food, overconsumption of niacin supplements can result in a “niacin flush,” a reddening of the skin that occurs alongside itching, tingling, and burning sensations. While not harmful, it is uncomfortable and may be alarming.

B3 food sources include: organ meats (such as liver), red meat, poultry, fish (such as tuna and salmon), avocado, brown rice, mushrooms, whole grains, and fortified foods.

B5 (Pantothenic Acid)

Another B vitamin needed for energy metabolism is B5, also known as pantothenic acid. It’s needed to synthesize coenzyme A, an essential nutrient involved in numerous metabolic processes, including the production of energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Pantothenic acid is also involved in the synthesis of hormones, including cortisol, and plays a role in cholesterol production, essential for cellular function. It’s needed for skin health and wound healing, and is another essential B vitamin with stress-busting benefits, making it a crucial nutrient for energy and metabolism.

B5 food sources include: liver, sunflower seeds, avocado, lentils, yeast, eggs, sweet potato, and salmon.

B6 (Pyridoxine)

Like all B Vitamins, B6, also known as pyridoxine, is needed to convert food into fuel, where it can then be used for energy. It’s also involved in the metabolism of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, helping to facilitate the conversion of amino acids into neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. Known as our “feel-good hormones,” these chemical messengers are essential for mood regulation, cognitive function, and overall well-being — factors that play a significant role in mental and emotional health. Not to mention, Pyridoxine helps to regulate homocysteine levels for cardiovascular health, bolster immune function, and maintain a healthy nervous system.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended daily amount of vitamin B-6 for adults 50 and younger is 1.3 milligrams. For adults 51 and older, the recommended daily amount is 1.7 milligrams for men and 1.5 milligrams for women. So long as you’re eating a whole-foods diet, it’s unlikely you’ll develop a B6 deficiency.

B6 food sources include: organ meats such as beef liver, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, fish such as tuna and salmon, dark leafy greens, bananas, and fortified cereals.

B7 (Biotin)

Biotin, vitamin B7, is most commonly known for its important role in maintaining healthy hair, skin, and nails. However, it’s also needed for energy and various metabolic processes in the body. Specifically, biotin serves as a coenzyme in several enzymatic reactions that are essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

Food sources include: liver, eggs, sunflower seeds, almonds, fish such as tuna and salmon, sweet potatoes, and avocado.

B9 (Folate)

Folate is crucial for DNA synthesis and cell division, and is particularly important during pregnancy, where it’s needed to prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus (the tube that eventually forms our brain and spinal cord). In fact, because it plays a vital role in the growth and development of tissues, it’s important during any period of rapid cell division, including infancy and childhood. It’s also needed for red blood cell formation and synthesis of neurotransmitters, providing insight into its role in energy, mood regulation, and brain health. There’s even data to suggest that adequate folate intake is linked to a reduced risk of depression and cognitive decline in older adults.

Food sources include: dark leafy greens, legumes such as lentils, liver, eggs, whole grains, vegetables, avocado, and citrus.

B12 (Cobalamin)

Similar to other B vitamins, vitamin B12 is essential for red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. However, its standout feature is that it’s the only B vitamin solely found in animal-based products (unless products are fortified with B12). Thus, it’s important for vegetarians and vegans to supplement their diet with this nutrient!

Vitamin B12 exists in several forms, but the two primary forms found in food and supplements are cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is the most commonly used and stable form of vitamin B12, while methylcobalamin is the biologically active form (i.e. it is more easily absorbed and utilized by the body). Fatigue aside, deficiency of this essential nutrient can result in serious consequences, including anemia, neurological disorders, and impaired cognitive function.

Food sources include: animal-based products such as liver and other organ meats, eggs, dairy products, fish, poultry, and fortified plant-based products.

The Benefits of B Vitamins

Doctor holding a sign that says Vitamin B

Some of the key benefits of B vitamins include: 

How to Get More B Vitamins in Your Diet

Foods rich in B vitamins

To ensure you’re getting an adequate intake of various B vitamins, consider including the following foods into your diet:

Boost Your Intake of Whole Grains

Whole grains in their most natural form, including brown rice, oats, and quinoa, are excellent sources of B vitamins, particularly B1, B2, and B3. Not to mention, these foods are great sources of complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber. 

How to include whole grains in your diet:

  • Add a serving of rolled oats to your smoothie
  • Mix cooked quinoa into a warm or cold salad
  • Use brown rice as the base for a nourish bowl
  • Opt for oat flour as an alternative to white flour in baked goods

Optimize Your Intake of Lean Proteins

Lean proteins such as poultry, fish, eggs, and organ meats are rich sources of several B vitamins, including B3, B6, B12, and biotin. These protein sources not only provide essential amino acids for muscle repair and growth but also contribute to overall B vitamin intake. This is particularly important when it comes to vitamin B12, considering it’s only found in animal-based sources!

How to include lean proteins in your diet:

  • Sneak organ meats into your taco filling if using lean beef
  • Meal prep a carton of hard-boiled eggs for easy snacking
  • Try new methods of cooking salmon, such as air-frying into crunchy salmon bites
  • Boost the protein content of any dish (such as salads or pasta) with the addition of shredded or grilled chicken

Include a Variety of Dark Leafy Greens

Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, not to mention packed with various B vitamins, including B9, B2, and other vital nutrients like iron, calcium, and antioxidants.

How to include leafy greens in your diet:

  • Add a handful of spinach or baby kale to your morning smoothie
  • Use mixed greens as the base for salads or nourish bowls
  • Bake kale into crunchy kale chips
  • Saute dark leafy greens like Bok choy or Swiss chard with garlic and olive oil

Load Up On Beans & Legumes

Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are packed with various B vitamins, including B1, B2, B3, and B6. Plus, they are inexpensive, bland, and available in many different forms (canned or raw), making them easy to include in your diet. As a great source of fiber and plant-based protein, legumes provide so many benefits for overall health, beyond just boosting energy!

How to include legumes in your diet:

  • Make a mixed bean soup with black beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans
  • Blend up a homemade chickpea and white bean-based hummus
  • Sneak black beans or chickpeas into baked goods like brownies or cookie dough
  • Add them to salads, tacos, and stir-fries

Include Various Nuts and Seeds In Your Meals

While best known for their healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidant content, nuts and seeds provide a wide range of B vitamins, including thiamine B1, B2, B3, B7, and B9. With so many dairy-free alternatives on the market, there are endless ways to boost your intake of nuts and seeds.

How to include nuts and seeds in your diet:

  • Blend up a homemade almond, cashew, or dairy-free milk
  • Make homemade nut or seed butter
  • Add a spoonful of almond or cashew butter to your smoothie 
  • Top your breakfast bowl with a sprinkle of hemp seeds and walnuts
  • Make a raw trail mix or simple granola using nuts and seeds as the base

Consider Reaching For Fortified Foods

While whole food sources are ideal, fortified products can be convenient sources of B vitamins, especially for individuals following vegetarian or vegan diets or those with limited access to certain foods. From plant-based milk to cereals, there are many nutritious options to choose from. However, while shopping, remember to always read the ingredient label and opt for minimally-processed options, when possible!

Fortified B Vitamin Options Include:

  • Plant-based milk alternatives
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Nutritional yeast 
  • Grains (including pasta and bread)
  • Energy or protein bars 
  • Boosted beverages

B Vitamins for Boosted Energy

Whether you’re feeling run-down and fatigued from a busy schedule or lack of sleep, consider reaching for nature’s energizer: B vitamins! From converting food into fuel to supporting the function of your nervous system and metabolic health, B vitamins play a crucial role in supporting optimal energy levels and overall well-being. To ensure you get a wide range of these vital nutrients, prioritize foods like beans and legumes, dark leafy greens, and lean proteins. Who knows, maybe these delicious and nutritious foods will provide you with a better burst of (jitter-free) energy, compared to your afternoon coffee!