Foods High in B Vitamins

The group of B vitamins includes eight individual essential vitamins. They're important for providing your body with the energy it needs for metabolic processes involved in your skin, brain, muscles and bones. Since the B vitamins are water soluble, it's important to eat foods containing sufficient amounts to maintain the proper recommended daily intake and prevent a vitamin B deficiency.

Many foods provide vitamin B benefits from a combination of some or all of the essential B vitamins. (Image: villagemoon/iStock/GettyImages)

How Much Do You Need?

Each of the vitamins in the B-vitamin family shares some chemical characteristics and often coexists with other B vitamins. Every individual one has a different role in contributing to vitamin B benefits and each is required in different amounts by your body.

The Institute of Medicine has established how much vitamin B foods you should consume each day. The recommended daily amount depends on the type of B vitamin and your age and gender. As an average, adults should strive for:

Vitamin B Foods

Most foods contain B vitamins in varying amounts. With the exception of B12, you can easily consume many vitamin B fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and grains by eating a balanced diet. Vitamin B12 is found only in animal-based foods, but some foods are fortified with B vitamins to help you achieve your recommended intake.

Meat, poultry, fish, seafood and dairy products, including eggs and cheese, and are B vitamin foods that naturally contain all eight of the B vitamins.

Below is information about all the B vitamin foods, including their role in keeping you healthy and how much is found in the top food sources.

Thiamine-Rich Foods

Thiamine is needed for production of the energy your body requires for the growth, development, and cell function. Thiamine deficiency can cause anorexia, mental impairments, and muscle weakness, and may ultimately lead to a degeneration of your cardiovascular system.

Breads, cereals and infant formulas are often fortified with thiamine. Fortified foods make up about half of the sources of thiamine in the American diet. Unless processed white rice is enriched with thiamine, it has one-tenth as much thiamine as unenriched brown rice.

There are plenty of foods that contain thiamine and the ones that top the list, sorted by serving size, include:

  1. Pork chops (lean) –

    96 percent daily value (DV) per 6-ounce chop

  2. Salmon – 48 percent DV per 6-ounce filet

  3. Flaxseed – 39 percent DV per ounce

  4. Navy beans – 36 percent DV per cup

  5. Green peas (cooked)

    – 35 percent DV per cup

Other foods that contain thiamine include tofu, nuts, brown rice, squash, asparagus and seafood. Some fruits, such as oranges, are a vitamin B fruit that contains thiamine.

Riboflavin-Rich Foods

Riboflavin is required for your body to break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It's important to the health of your skin, eyes, blood cells and digestive tract. A riboflavin deficiency can lead to cracked and reddened lips, inflammation of the mouth, mouth ulcers, sore throat and even iron-deficiency anemia.

Grains and ready-to-eat cereals are fortified with riboflavin. Milk and breads, including bread products are the major source of riboflavin in the American diet. Foods that are an excellent source and highest in riboflavin content, sorted by serving size, are:

  1. Beef (skirt steak) – 112 percent DV per 6-ounce steak

  2. Fortified tofu – 76 percent DV per cup

  3. Low fat milk – 69 percent DV per 16-ounce glass

  4. Salmon – 64 percent DV per 6-ounce fillet

  5. Mushrooms (cooked)

    – 38 percent DV per cup

Other good sources of riboflavin include: meat, especially pork; leafy vegetables, especially spinach; nuts, especially almonds; some fruits, especially avocados; and eggs.

Niacin-Rich Foods

Your body uses niacin for many functions, including maintaining your brain and heart. Niacin is used to treat high cholesterol, skin conditions and mood disorders. A severe deficiency of niacin can result in pellagra, with symptoms of rough skin, bright red tongue, behavior abnormalities, gastrointestinal disorders and depression.

Many breads, cereals and infant formulas are enriched with niacin. Many foods are natural sources of niacin and ones that offer the most per serving size are:

  1. Tuna (yellowfin) – 234 percent DV per 6-ounce fillet

  2. Chicken breast – 100 percent DV per 6-ounce breast

  3. Pork chops (lean) – 85 percent DV in a 6-ounce chop

  4. Beef (skirt steak) – 60 percent DV per 6-ounce serving

  5. Mushrooms –

    47 percent DV per cup, sliced

Niacin is also found in whole grains, such as brown rice; seeds and nuts, including peanuts; some fruits such as avocados; dairy products; and vitamin B vegetables, such as green peas.

Pantothenic Acid-Rich Foods

Pantothenic acid helps your body synthesize hormones in the adrenal glands, which may make it easier for you to cope with stressful situations. That's why it's known as the "anti-stress" vitamin. Although rare, a deficiency of pantothenic acid can cause of irritability, fatigue, apathy, numbness and muscle cramps. In some cases, it can lead to increased sensitivity to insulin or hypoglycemia.

Almost all plant- and animal-based foods contain various amounts of pantothenic acid. Some breakfast cereals and beverages, such as energy drinks, are enriched with pantothenic acid. Your body can absorb only 40 to 61 percent of pantothenic acid from foods.

Some foods highest in pantothenic acid that meet most of your DV per serving include:

  1. Shiitake mushrooms (cooked)

    – 104 percent DV per cup

  2. Salmon – 65 percent DV in a 6-ounce filet

  3. Avocados – 56 percent DV per avocado

  4. Chicken breast – 54 percent DV in a 6-ounce breast

  5. Beef (skirt steak) – 45 percent DV per 6-ounce steak

Other good sources of pantothenic acid are sunflower seeds; dairy, especially milk; meat, especially lean pork chops; vegetables, especially sweet potatoes; and pulses such as lentils.

Vitamin B6-Rich Foods

Your body needs vitamin B6 for the production and maintenance of red blood cells and for healthy nervous and immune systems. A long-term deficiency can result in a range of symptoms, including itchy rashes, scaly skin on the lips, cracks at the corners of the mouth, a swollen tongue and anemia.

Meat is the best source of vitamin B6, and some of the foods highest in the vitamin include:

  1. Salmon – 94 percent DV per 6-ounce cooked fillet
  2. Chicken breast – 92 percent DV
  3. Fortified tofu – 66 percent DV per cup
  4. Pork chops (lean) – 54 percent DV per 6-ounce chop
  5. Beef (skirt steak) – 48 percent DV per 6-ounce steak

Other good sources of vitamin B6 that occur naturally in foods are vegetables, especially sweet potatoes; fruit, especially bananas and avocados; and nuts, such as pistachios.

Folate-Rich Foods

Folate is best known for its prevention of neural tube defects in infants, so it's important for pregnant women to get 600 micrograms a day. Your body needs folate to produce genetic material, such as DNA, and to help cells divide. A deficiency of folate can cause low birth weight in babies. It can also cause sores on the tongue and inside your mouth and change the color of your skin, hair or fingernails.

Food and Drug Administration requires the addition of folic acid to enrich breads, cereals, flours, cornmeal, pastas, rice and other grain products to help meet minimum requirements for folate.

The best sources of folate are from vitamin B vegetables. Some of the foods highest in folate, sorted by serving size, include:

  1. Edamame (green soybeans) –

    121 percent per cup

  2. Asparagus

    (cooked) –

    67 percent DV per cup

  3. Spinach

    (cooked) –

    66 percent DV per cup

  4. Broccoli

    (cooked) –

    42 percent DV per cup

  5. Avocado –

    41 percent DV per avocado

Other good sources of folate include fruits, especially mangos and oranges; leafy greens; and other vegetables, especially sweet corn.

Vitamin B12-Rich Foods

Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is vital for making red blood cells, synthesizing DNA and maintaining proper neurological functioning. A deficiency of vitamin B12 can result in anemia, fatigue and depression. A long-term deficiency, or excessive amounts of folic acid with vitamin B12, can lead to permanent damage to the brain and central nervous system.

Vitamin B12 is not present in plant foods, but nutritional yeast products do contain it. Fortified breakfast cereals are the best source of vitamin B12 if you don't eat meat.

Some of the top foods sources containing the highest amounts of vitamin B12, sorted by serving size. are:

  1. Clams –

    7,829 percent DV per 3-ounce serving

  2. Liver –

    3,035 percent DV per 3-ounce serving

  3. Fish (mackerel) –

    1,346 percent DV per 6-ounce fillet

  4. Crab (King) –

    642 percent DV in one crab leg

  5. Beef (skirt steak) –

    533 percent DV per 6-ounce steak

Other foods rich in vitamin B12 include fortified cereals, fortified tofu, low-fat milk, Swiss cheese, dairy products and eggs.

Biotin-Rich Foods

Biotin helps your body convert carbohydrates, fats and protein into energy. It is also important for the health of your skin, hair and nails. A biotin deficiency may result in thinning hair, skin rashes and infections, brittle nails, neurological abnormalities and a condition that causes unusual distribution of facial fat, known as "biotin deficiency facies."

Raw egg whites contain dietary avidin, a glycoprotein that binds tightly to biotin and prevents the absorption of biotin in your intestines. Cooking neutralizes avidin, so cooking your eggs is the best option.

The top foods that are especially rich in biotin include:

  1. Beef liver

    103 percent per serving

  2. Eggs –

    67 percent DV per two-egg serving

  3. Salmon –

    34 percent DV per 6-ounce serving

  4. Pork chop –

    26 percent DV per 6-ounce chop

  5. Sunflower seeds

    17 percent DV per 1/4 cup

Other good sources of biotin are sweet potato, almonds, tuna, spinach, cheddar cheese and a few fruits, such as bananas.

Does Heating Affect B Vitamins?

Processing food or cooking it for extended periods of time can destroy or reduce the availability of many of the B vitamins. The vitamins most prone to damage by heat are thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, B12 and pantothenic acid.

For example, pasteurization reduces thiamine content in milk by up to 20 percent, and bread has 20 to 30 percent less thiamine than its raw ingredients.

Because B vitamins dissolve in water, a significant amount of the nutrient is lost by boiling the food. The National Institutes of Health says about twice as much riboflavin content is lost in cooking water when foods are boiled as when they are prepared by steaming or microwaving.

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