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From energy production and enzyme support to neurotransmitter production and nerve function, the family of B vitamins is vital to human health.
Although B vitamins are less talked about than nutrients like vitamins C and D, they are absolutely essential for everything we do on a cellular level—and deficiencies in them can lead to many other diseases.
As the B vitamins are water-soluble and don’t get stored in the body (with the exception of B12), you have to continually consume foods high in B vitamins (and/or supplements) to replenish your stores.
If you’ve ever been confused about which foods are high in B vitamins, we’ve got you covered (hint: animal foods are the best source, but some plants like beans and leafy greens will also get you there).
What Are the B Vitamins?
The eight B vitamins are:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine or thiamin)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- Vitamin B7 (biotin)
- Vitamin B9 (folate or folic acid when in synthetic form)
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Some are typically referred to as their “B letter,” like vitamins B6 and B12, while others are usually called their full name (like niacin and folate).
12 Healthy Foods Rich in B Vitamins
Meat is well known for being a great source of vitamin B12—and the other B vitamins are no exception, as beef is rich in six of the eight B vitamins.
You’ll find especially high levels of vitamins B6, B12, and niacin in beef, which have health benefits that include improved cognitive function, red blood cell health, energy production, and DNA repair (among many other things).
In a 3.5-ounce serving of sirloin steak, you’ll find:
- 7% of the Daily Value (DV) for thiamin (vitamin B1)
- 11% of the DV for riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- 49% of the DV for niacin (vitamin B3)
- 12% of the DV for pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
- 36% of the DV for pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
- 72% of the DV for cobalamin (vitamin B12)
Interestingly, the cut of meat and how it’s prepared can influence the vitamin B12 content. For example, lower-fat cuts of meat have higher concentrations of B12, and grilling or roasting it (rather than frying) will help to preserve the nutrient content.
Not all types of beef are created equal—we prefer to choose grass-fed beef, which means that a cow ate its natural diet of grasses and was allowed to roam in pastures.
Although grass-fed beef is becoming easier to find in grocery stores, Crowd Cow is a more straightforward option, as they offer high-quality, mail-order meat and seafood, including 100% grass-fed beef and pasture-raised Wagyu beef.
2. Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are commonly consumed for their plant-based protein and fiber content—but they are also good sources of several B vitamins.
Most notably, they are rich in folate, but beans and legumes also contain smaller amounts of vitamin B6, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid.
Each half-cup cooked serving of these legumes contains the following amount of folate:
- Black beans: 32% of the DV
- Lentils: 45% of the DV
- Pinto beans: 37% of the DV
- Chickpeas (garbanzo beans): 35% of the DV
- Edamame: 60% of the DV
Folate is crucial for fetal development, as it prevents neural tube defects like spina bifida, but non-pregnant people still require it for DNA repair, red blood cell formation, and converting homocysteine to methionine.
Like other red meat, pork contains healthy amounts of several B vitamins—especially thiamin, which beef has much less of.
A 3.5-ounce serving of pork loin chops (a little bigger than the size of a deck of cards) contains:
- 55% of the DV for thiamin
- 22% of the DV for riboflavin
- 55% of the DV for niacin
- 26% of the DV for pantothenic acid
- 35% of the DV for vitamin B6
- 31% of the DV for vitamin B12
A large serving of pork (about 7 ounces) will satisfy your entire daily needs for thiamin and niacin, which are crucial for cellular energy production.
When converted into its active form, thiamine plays a significant role in the Krebs cycle—a series of steps called aerobic respiration by which our cells produce energy from food.
Similarly, niacin is a precursor to NAD+, a coenzyme needed by every one of our cells for energy production, mitochondrial function, and DNA repair.
Therefore, inadequate thiamin and niacin levels can cause altered mitochondrial activity and reduced energy production—and a healthy serving of pork can help to maintain their status.
Eggs are a rare dietary source of biotin, containing 35% of the DV between the white and yolk of one egg.
While eggs contain other B vitamins (like riboflavin, B12, and pantothenic acid), they are in smaller amounts.
Just one large egg provides:
- 20% of the DV for riboflavin
- 14% of the DV for pantothenic acid
- 35% of the DV for biotin
- 23% of the DV for vitamin B12
Biotin is well-known for being the “hair, skin, and nails” vitamin, but it also plays a critical role in gene regulation, cell signaling, and promoting the metabolism of fatty acids, glucose, and amino acids.
Milk is high in riboflavin, and dairy foods are often the top source of riboflavin in the Western diet.
Like many other B vitamins, riboflavin acts as a cofactor to help metabolize carbs, fats, and protein into cellular energy. It also has been found to function as an antioxidant, boosting immune function and supporting healthy skin.
One cup of whole milk contains:
- 9% of the DV for thiamin
- 32% of the DV for riboflavin
- 18% of the DV for pantothenic acid
- 46% of the DV for B12
Studies have also found that the vitamin B12 present in dairy is more bioavailable (able to be absorbed and used by the body) than synthetic forms of B12 (like those found in supplements or added to foods like fortified breakfast cereals).
Clams are small mollusks that are a great source of vitamin B12—in just three ounces of clams, you can get over 2,300% of your daily needs for B12.
They’re also an excellent source of riboflavin, with smaller amounts of thiamin, niacin, and folate.
Clams are also rich in lean protein, omega-3 fats, and minerals like iron, zinc, and selenium.
A 3.5-ounce serving of clams (a hearty portion of about 12-14 of them) will provide you with:
- 13% of the DV for thiamin
- 33% of the DV for riboflavin
- 21% of the DV for niacin
- 4,121% of the DV for vitamin B12 (yep, you read that right!)
You can find similar amounts of most of these B vitamins in other mollusks like mussels and oysters, but clams take the cake when it comes to B12.
Plus, research has found that clam broth or juice is similarly rich in vitamin B12, which can be beneficial to use in soups or stews if you’re not a fan of clams themselves.
Although it’s best known for its beneficial omega-3 content, salmon is also rich in several B vitamins—especially niacin and vitamins B6 and B12.
A 3.5-ounce serving of cooked salmon contains:
- 23% of the DV for thiamin
- 37% of the DV for riboflavin
- 63% of the DV for niacin
- 38% of the DV for vitamin B5
- 56% of the DV for vitamin B6
- 127% of the DV for vitamin B12
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is the B vitamin most involved with brain health, as it helps to lower homocysteine levels—the amino acid linked to higher rates of dementia when elevated.
It may also help prevent cancer—in a systematic review of 130 studies, researchers found that higher intake of B6-rich foods and greater blood levels of vitamin B6 were associated with a lower risk of cancer, especially gastrointestinal cancers.
Like clams, salmon is also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and minerals like zinc and selenium.
Chicken and turkey contain beneficial levels of B vitamins, especially niacin and vitamin B6.
Although chicken contains some B12, it’s not nearly as much as what you’d find in seafood and red meat—and turkey has more than chicken.
Plus, the vitamin content varies depending on whether you choose light or dark meat—for example, chicken and turkey breast contains more niacin and B6 than dark meat but less riboflavin and B5.
A 3.5-ounce portion of chicken breast provides:
- 9% of the DV for riboflavin
- 86% of the DV for niacin
- 19% of the DV for vitamin B5
- 35% of the DV for vitamin B6
- 14% of the DV for vitamin B12
Conversely, the same amount of dark meat turkey contains 69% of the DV for vitamin B12, making that poultry a better choice if you’re looking for B12.
Although not a highly popular food in the United States, liver is an incredibly rich source of B vitamins—and many other nutrients.
Beef liver (3.5 ounces) contains:
- 263% of the DV for riboflavin
- 109% of the DV for niacin
- 139% of the DV for vitamin B5
- 61% of the DV for vitamin B6
- 139% of the DV for biotin
- 63% of the DV for folate
- 2,917% of the DV for vitamin B12
Liver is one of the only other sources of dietary biotin (with the other being eggs), and it’s loaded with riboflavin and vitamin B12.
As many people can’t get past the taste of liver, you can try mixing it with other cuts of meat or taking a liver supplement, like these grass-fed liver capsules from Ancient Nutrition.
10. Leafy Green Vegetables
Many leafy greens are particularly high in folate, especially cooked spinach, cooked collard greens, and cooked turnip greens.
Folate is a vitamin that can be destroyed during the cooking process or can leach into cooking water—rather, gently steaming the greens can help minimize folate loss.
Raw forms of these leafy green veggies also contain folate, but lesser amounts.
For example, you’ll find:
- 12% of the DV for folate in 1 cup of raw spinach
- 66% of the DV in 1 cup of cooked spinach
- 34% of the DV in 1 cup of cooked collard greens
- 42% of the DV in 1 cup of cooked turnip greens
However, while packed with antioxidants and other beneficial compounds, leafy greens are not great sources of B vitamins other than folate.
11. Sunflower Seeds
Although plant foods do not contain as many B vitamins as animal foods—and they do not naturally have any B12—sunflower seeds are a great source of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5).
Like other B vitamins, pantothenic acid is involved with cellular energy metabolism, as well as the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is involved with muscle contraction, memory, motivation, and learning.
Small amounts of vitamin B5 are found in many foods—in fact, its name is derived from the Greek word “pantos,” meaning “everywhere”—but sunflower seeds are particularly high in the vitamin.
One ounce of sunflower seeds provides:
- 13% of the DV for niacin
- 40% of the DV for vitamin B5
- 13% of the DV for vitamin B6
- 17% of the DV for folate
Sunflower seed butter also contains good amounts of these B vitamins but in smaller amounts.
12. Nutritional Yeast
Although it doesn’t sound too appetizing, nutritional yeast (affectionately called “nooch”) is a powder with a cheese-like flavor beloved by vegans and dairy-eaters alike.
It’s not the same type of yeast used to bake bread or brew beer—nutritional yeast is a species of yeast specially grown to be consumed as food rich in protein and many vitamins and minerals.
Nutritional yeast does not naturally contain B12, but it’s commonly fortified because vegans are heavy users of it, ensuring they don’t become deficient in the vitamin.
Some other B vitamins are naturally found in nutritional yeast but are also fortified to boost their levels.
Two tablespoons of nooch provides:
- 492% of the DV for thiamin
- 373% of the DV for riboflavin
- 144% of the DV for niacin
- 176% of the DV for vitamin B5
- 135% of the DV for folate
- 363% of the DV for vitamin B12
If you’re unsure what to do with nutritional yeast, use it anywhere you would add a sprinkle of cheese—a topping for popcorn, mixed into salad dressings, and in pasta sauces are popular choices.
B Vitamins FAQs
What Do B Vitamins Do?
B vitamins are essential for hundreds of cellular processes, including the breakdown of carbs, fat, and protein into energy, DNA repair, formation of red blood cells, neurotransmitter production, nerve function, and supporting brain function and cardiovascular health.
What Foods Have the Most B Vitamins?
Red meat, organ meats, and seafood have the most B vitamins, including beef, liver, clams, and salmon.
Does Meat Have More B Vitamins Than Plants?
Yes, meat has more B vitamins than plants. Plant foods do not naturally contain B12, although some may be fortified (like non-dairy milk, nutritional yeast, and fortified breakfast cereals).
What Vegetable Has the Most B Vitamins?
Beans and legumes naturally contain the most B vitamins out of the plant foods, providing folate, vitamin B6, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid (B5). Leafy greens contain a good amount of folate, and sunflower seeds have moderate amounts of vitamin B5. When considering fortified foods, nutritional yeast has the most B vitamins out of any plant food.
What Fruit Has the Most B Vitamins?
Fruit is not known for being high in B vitamins, although bananas and citrus fruits contain small amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B5, B6, and folate.