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Animal-based products are a source of B vitamins.

Animal-based products are a source of B vitamins.
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Vitamin B

2-minute read

The B vitamins are a group of vitamins needed for good health. Your body can’t store B vitamins for long, so you must obtain them each day through what you eat and drink.

What do B vitamins do?

The B vitamins are:

  • thiamin (vitamin B1)
  • riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • niacin (vitamin B3)
  • pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
  • pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
  • biotin (vitamin B7)
  • folic acid (vitamin B9)
  • cobalamin (vitamin B12)

They all have different roles in the body. But overall, they help:

  • release energy from food
  • keep the nervous system healthy
  • make red blood cells
  • keep your skin and eyes healthy

What foods have B vitamins?

B vitamins are found in a variety of foods such as:

  • animal-based foods, including fish, meat, eggs and dairy products
  • leafy green vegetables, beans and peas
  • cereals and breads that have B vitamins added to them

Vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal-based foods, so vegans and vegetarians might find it hard to get enough.

Vitamin B deficiency symptoms

People with low levels of B vitamins might have:

  • anaemia (low red blood cell count)
  • skin problems
  • hair problems
  • tiredness (fatigue) and irritability

Who might get B vitamin deficiencies?

Certain groups of people are more at risk of B vitamin deficiencies, such as those who:

  • are on vegetarian or vegan diets
  • have diets that include large amounts of high-sugar and processed foods
  • drink too much alcohol

Vitamin B deficiency diagnosis

If your doctor suspects you have a B vitamin deficiency because of your diet or symptoms, they may ask you to have some blood tests to check your B vitamin levels.

Do I need vitamin B supplements?

Lots of people take vitamin supplements, but there is no good evidence that they help unless you have a vitamin deficiency, which is very unlikely in a healthy person. Australia’s best guide to how to eat healthily – the Australian Dietary Guidelines – doesn’t recommend them.

Vitamin supplements are expensive. They are best taken only on a doctor’s advice.

Most people get the vitamins they need from a healthy diet, which has a wide variety of foods, including:

  • plenty of vegetables, of different types and colours, and legumes/beans
  • fruit
  • grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain, and/or high cereal fibre varieties such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
  • lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat

Vitamin B deficiency treatment

If you are found to have a B vitamin deficiency, you might be able to change your diet to eat more foods rich in B vitamins. Your doctor might suggest you take B vitamin supplements. A mixed supplement is often recommended as B vitamins work better in combination.

Last reviewed: February 2018

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