The B-complex vitamins are essential for general good health and deficiencies in any of them can cause serious health issues. The trick is to feed your family a balanced diet to ensure everybody gets all the B vitamins they need to stay healthy.
why do we need it?
The B vitamins are a group of eight water-soluble vitamins which work together in the body. Each, however, has its own role to play.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
This essential B vitamin plays a vital role in digestion, which is the pinnacle of our health. For a growing family and tired Mums, B1 also helps with brain function and learning capacity; it helps with energy levels and the growth of our children; it keeps appetites healthy; and plays an important role in looking after our intestines, stomach and heart. It’s well worth drinking a vitamin B-rich hot Milo at the end of a long winter’s day! An excess of B1 isn’t harmful as it is excreted.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavine)
B2 is important for the health of our eyes, and works with vitamin A for healthy digestion and good skin, hair and nails. It is a must for pregnant woman as it helps the developing foetus. Some indicators of a deficiency include cracks at the side of the mouth, hair loss and insomnia. Excess B2 is also excreted so it’s unlikely you will get too much from your diet.
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
As well as being great for healthy circulation and skin, B3 is also good for digestion. An essential vitamin particularly for tired Mums, this B is a memory-enhancer. It also helps to calm nervous anxiety, as well as regulating the brain. An excess of B3 (over 3g per day) can cause liver damage, dilation of the blood vessels and kidney damage.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
Known as the anti-stress vitamin, it is found in small quantities in most foods. Deficiency is very rare and large doses of this vitamin have no reported side effects.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Like other B vitamins, this one has a profound effect on the mind. It is also involved in more bodily functions than any other single nutrient. It is helpful for water retention, digestion (once again), and promotes red blood cell formation. For children, a deficiency may play a part in hyperirritability or hyperactivity, learning difficulties, impaired memory or stunted growth.
Vitamin B7 (biotin)
We need biotin for strong and healthy hair and skin; in fact, this is one of the ingredients in many cosmetics and health products. Cradle cap in infants, which is characterised by a dry, scaly scalp, may occur as a result of biotin deficiency. For Dads, it may help to prevent hair loss. It is available from a wide variety of foods and deficiency is relatively rare.
Folic acid and folate
These are forms of vitamin B9, a vitamin which is necessary for the formation of red blood cells, preventing anemia and maintaining good energy levels. It is routinely given to pregnant women as a supplement to help prevent birth defects, such as spina bifida. B9 is one of the most commonly deficient vitamins in NZ, especially among infants and women. Excess folic acid is excreted from the body, so risk of harm is low.
This is another brain nutrient and is necessary for a sense of well being and relaxation, as well as for the formation of blood cells and nerves. A deficiency can lead to a form of anemia and also to nerve damage. Vegans often take supplements of vitamin B12 as it is only found naturally in animal produce and seaweed. High intakes appear to have no toxic effects.
how much do we need?
B vitamins can’t be stored in the body, so it is important to eat adequate amounts of these vitamins on a regular basis. B vitamins are commonly found in a wide variety of foods, so people normally get enough from their diet, as long as they are eating a varied range of foods.
Some people will need more than others. For example, smoking, alcohol, illness and stress all deplete the body’s levels. B vitamins are also lost through the storage, processing, preparation and cooking of food.
Generally speaking, it is not advisable to take high doses of just one of the B vitamins (unless on medical advice) as they all work together.
Some of the foods that are good sources of vitamin B include:
- Pork (B1)
- Yeast and yeast extract (e.g., Marmite) (B1, B2, B3 & B9)
- Nuts (B1, B3, B7 & B9)
- Whole grains (B1, B5 & B9)
- Offal (B1, B2, B3, B7, B12 & B9)
- Dairy produce (B2 & B12)
- Eggs (B2, B7 & B12)
- Meat (B3, B5, B6 & B12)
- Fish (B3 & B6)
- Fortified breakfast cereals (B2, B3, B6 & B9)
- Leafy green vegetables (B3, B5 & B9)
- Pulses (B9)
Here is a recipe that provides a good balance of the various water-soluble B vitamins, and moreover it tastes delicious! I like wraps – they are just like presents. Whatever is inside is a surprise and tasting them is always exciting. Wrapping veggies and fish is also a good idea if your children are picky, as they may be more inclined to eating them if they are presented in this different way.
fish and spinach wraps
- 2 carrots
- 1 bunch spinach
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 240g fish such as tuna, red cod or salmon
- 55g feta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 8 sheets filo pastry
- 24 straws of fresh chives
If using frozen filo pastry, remove from the freezer and thaw in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Grease a large ovenproof tray. Peel and grate the carrots. Wash and drain the spinach. Place in a wok with half the olive oil and a couple of tablespoons water. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes.
Remove from the wok and set aside. Place the fish with the remaining oil in the wok and cook over high heat until thoroughly cooked. Place on a plate and crumb, making sure to discard any bone. Mix the crumbed fish with the cooked vegetables. Add the diced feta cheese. Beat in one whole egg.
Stack two sheets of filo pastry on a flat surface and cut into three pieces along the smallest side. Place a spoonful of the fish mixture at the smallest end of each piece of filo pastry and roll up. Use two straws of fresh chive to secure each end of the fish and spinach wrap and place on the prepared tray.
Repeat until all the filo pastry sheets and filling have been used up. Mix the egg yolk with the milk and use to lightly spread over the top of the filo wraps. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and crispy. Serve with a side salad.
Christelle Le Ru is a Cookbook author & mum of four www.christelle-leru.com