B vitamins are a group of water soluble vitamins that help our body make energy from the food we eat and also form red blood cells. You may see them written out as something like vitamin B1 or as a name like thiamine.
Because they are water soluble, our bodies don’t store them very well. When we eat too much, we tend to get rid of it in our urine. This is actually why you may have extremely bright yellow pee after taking a vitamin B complex or even a multivitamin containing B vitamins (it’s the riboflavin that does it).
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B1 – Thiamine
Thiamine helps our body convert food into energy and is crucial for growth and development. Whole grains, meat, and fish are good sources of it. Many breakfast cereals and breads are fortified with thiamine as well. Because the body excretes excess thiamine, there is no upper limit established. Those at greatest risk for thiamine deficiency include people with excess alcohol intake, people with alzheimer’s or other dementia, and people who have undergone bariatric surgery.
|Age||RDA Thiamine (mg)|
B2 – Riboflavin
Riboflavin helps our body tur our food into energy and is necessary for cell growth and development. In addition to the riboflavin we eat, the bacteria in our gut can also produce some riboflavin that we can absorb. Good sources of riboflavin include eggs, meat, and milk. Grains and cereals are also fortified with riboflavin. Riboflavin deficiency is rare, however those at the greatest risk include vegetarian athletes, pregnant and lactating individuals, breastfed infants of vegetarian/vegan parents, and vegans or those who consume little milk. There is no upper limit established for riboflavin.
|Age||RDA Riboflavin (mg)|
B3 – Niacin
Like the other B vitamins, niacin helps your body turn the food you eat into energy. Niacin can be found in meat, poultry, fish, nuts, beans, and legumes. Many breads and cereals are also fortified with niacin. Excess tryptophan (like in turkey) can be converted into niacin as well. Niacin deficiency is uncommon in the US, but the groups at the highest risk are those that are undernourished and those with inadequate riboflavin, pyridoxine, and/or iron intakes (as those nutrients are used to help convert tryptophan to niacin). There are upper limits established for niacin, however toxicity does not occur from food intake, but from supplement use.
|Age||RDA/AI Niacin (mg)|
|0-6 months||2 mg (AI)|
|7-12 months||4 mg NE (AI)|
|1-3 years||6 mg NE (RDA)|
|4-8 years||8 mg NE (RDA)|
B5 – Pantothenic Acid
In addition to helping your body convert the food you eat to energy, pantothenic acid also helps the body break down fats. Almost all foods have some pantothenic acid with the best sources being beef, chicken, whole grains, and some vegetables. Some breakfast cereals and energy drinks are fortified with pantothenic acid. Deficiency is rare except in those with severe malnutrition and a genetic condition affecting a specific enzyme. There is no upper limit established.
|Age||AI Pantothenic Acid (mg)|
Vitamin B6 is involved in many enzymatic pathways throughout the body, immunity, and brain development during pregnancy and infancy. Good sources of vitamin B6 include fish, liver, potatoes, starchy vegetables, and fruits. Deficiency is rare, but the groups at the highest risk include those with renal problems, alcohol use, and certain autoimmune disorders. There is an upper limit established with most side effects reported from supplement use, not dietary intake.
|Age||RDA/AI vitamin B6 (mg)|
|0-6 months||0.1 (AI)|
|7-12 months||0.3 (AI)|
|1-3 years||0.5 (RDA)|
|4-8 years||0.6 (RDA)|
B7 – Biotin
Biotin helps your body turn the food you eat into energy that your body can use. Good sources of biotin include eggs, fish, meat, nuts, seeds, and some veggies (like sweet potatoes). Biotin deficiency is rare, but the groups at the highest risk include those with certain genetic conditions affecting biotin use in the body, those with excessive alcohol intake, and those that are pregnant or lactating. There is no upper limit established for biotin, however it was noted that excess biotin intake can alter lab values, so if you are supplementing with biotin it is important to let your physician know before doing bloodwork.
|Age||AI Biotin (mcg)|
B9 – Folate
Folate is the name of the vitamin naturally occurring in food whereas folic acid is the term we use when it’s the synthetic form added as a supplement. It helps to make DNA and other genetic material as well as helping your cells divide. Folate is found in vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, seafood, eggs, dairy, meat, poultry, and grains. Companies add it to breads, cereals, pastas and other grains to help prevent neural tube defects (as many people aren’t aware they are pregnant until several weeks into pregnancy and therefore do not supplement in time). Groups at risk for deficiency include people with excess alcohol intake, people capable of getting pregnant, pregnant people, people with malabsorptive disorders, and people with a MTHFR polymorphism. There is an upper limit for folic acid from supplements as high intake may mask a vitamin B12 deficiency.
|Age||RDA/AI Folate (mcg DFE)|
|0-6 months||65 (AI)|
|7-12 months||80 (AI)|
|1-3 years||150 (RDA)|
|4-8 years||200 (RDA)|
Vitamin B12 helps keep nerve cells healthy, helps to make DNA, and helps to prevent megaloblastic anemia. It is found in animal products such as eggs, milk, meat and fish. Also, it has been added to foods such as breakfast cereals and nutritional yeasts. Groups at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency include older adults, those with GI disorders or surgeries, vegetarians and breastfed infants of vegan parents. There is no upper limit established for vitamin B12.
|Age||RDA/AI vitamin B12 (mcg)|
|0-6 months||0.4 (AI)|
|7-12 months||0.5 (AI)|
|1-3 years||0.9 (RDA)|
|4-8 years||1.2 (RDA)|
Following the balanced plate method will provide your child with the B vitamins they need without having to go out of your way.
Examples of iron-containing foods include meats, fish, and eggs. These are also good sources of all of the B vitamins. For plant-based families, iron containing foods include beans, peas, and nuts. These are also good sources of vitamins B3, B7, and B9.
High Energy Foods
Many breakfast cereals and grains are fortified with B vitamins. Full fat dairy is a good source of vitamins B2, 9, and 12.
Fruits and veggies are good sources of vitamins B 5, 6, 7, and 9.
Because vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, you will need to focus on fortified foods and likely supplement. Speak with your doctor prior to starting any supplement.
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.