Water soluble vitamins need to be replenished regularly. For most people, the best way to get vitamins is by eating wholesome foods, rather than taking supplements. Growing your own fruits, vegetables, seeds and grains can provide high quality, homegrown nutrition. Buying locally grown produce from a farmers' market is another great option.

Eight B Vitamins

We need the eight, water soluble B vitamins: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), B6, biotin (B7), B-12 (cobalamin) and folate. With the exception of B12, B vitamins are found in plant and animal foods. B12 is not in fruits or vegetables, which is why B12 is a nutrient of concern for some vegetarians. Tempeh, a meat alternative made from fermented soy beans, does contain B12, along with some nutritional yeast products. Fortified breads and breakfast cereals may also contain B12.

About B vitamins

It always amazes me how relatively recent are the many discoveries that affect our health and nutrition. Thiamine was isolated as a vitamin in 1926. Between 1938 and 1943 formulations for the enrichment of flours were developed to aide in prevention of deficiencies of Thiamin (beriberi), Riboflavin, and Niacin (pellagra). By the end of 1942 the majority of white breads contained those nutrients. Folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, was added to grains in 1998. The structure of B12 wasn't determined until 1955.

B vitamins help our bodies to function properly. Their complex functions are too numerous to cover in this short article. Here are a few more interesting facts about certain B vitamins:

  • B1 (thiamine) - important for energy and nerve functions. Eating raw fish like sushi, or drinking excess alcohol, can destroy Thiamine. Other factors can affect absorption too, such as sulphite food additives and how a food is cooked. For example, when foods are boiled, water soluble B vitamins can be lost in the cooking liquid.
  • B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin) - Riboflavin and Niacin function as coenzymes in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism.
  • B5 (pantothenic acid) and Biotin - Pantothenic acid functions as a coenzyme in fatty acid metabolism. Pantothenic acid and biotin have no recommended dietary allowance (RDA) set by the Institute of Medicine. Biotin deficiency is rare as long as you stay away from eating raw egg whites. Many people take biotin for hair, nails and skin health, but few studies show evidence of its effectiveness.
  • B12 is needed in DNA synthesis and red blood cell formation. Deficiencies are more common in older adults and individuals having less stomach acid (weight loss surgery patients and longtime users of antacids). It is always best to get regular physical exams with periodic blood tests, if recommended by your doctor. Blood tests can easily confirm any deficiency. Many people take extra B12 in hopes of increasing their energy, but studies have shown that additional B12 has no beneficial effect if nutritional deficit is not indicated.
  • Folate is critical for cell division and DNA synthesis and works along with B6 and B12 in metabolizing homocysteine (an amino acid associated with heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease). Expectant moms require adequate folate to prevent birth defects like spina bifida.

Some fruits such as bananas, grapefruit and oranges provide B vitamins, but in general, you'll find B vitamins more in meats, dairy products, enriched and fortified flour, breads and cereals, nuts, seeds and vegetables.

Sow Seeds for Seeds

Sunflower seeds contain a variety of B vitamins. Sunflower varieties that yield a bounty of sunflower seeds include: the 'Snack Mix', 'Mammoth Grey Stripe', 'Skyscraper', and 'Humongous'. The flower heads often get heavy with seeds and the flowers may droop, but this doesn't stop birds and wildlife from finding them - that is, if you don't first! Tell us your favorite cultivars for sunflower seeds.

Sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum), which vary in color depending on the cultivar harvested, provide several B vitamins too. Markets seem to sell more of the beige colored seeds, but gold and black seeds are also available.

Burma, India, China, Ethiopia and Sudan are among the top sesame seed producers. Sesame seeds are notorious for bursting open to spread their seeds, hense the phrase "Open sesame!" Since 1943, shatter-resistant (pop-resistant) varieties have been introduced in efforts to minimize harvest losses. Sesame generally grows as a self-pollinating annual.

Go Nuts in the Garden

I've never tried yet, but parents and grandparents have told me that peanuts are fun to grow, especially with kids. Peanuts are another source of essential B vitamins. Nuts, including peanuts, have been associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Peanuts provide heart healthy, monounsaturated fatty acids.

According to the Old Farmer's Almanac you can grow peanuts by planting fresh, unroasted peanuts. Simply, shell the peanuts, and plant one-inch deep. Peanut plants can be started indoors and transplanted outdoors in the spring. Peanuts prefer to be grown in loose soil like you would potatoes.

Check out my Kitchen Garden Guide to plant foods with B Vitamins: posted on GardenCuizine.com.

Happy and Healthy Gardening!

Vitamin Note: It is always best to get your vitamins from whole foods versus dietary supplements unless recommended otherwise by your healthcare providers.

photo credits: sesame pods photo by Anna Frodesiak courtesy of Wikipedia

Related Links

B Vitamins and Folate

The Tiny Seed with BIG Flavor You can Grow at Home: Sesame by Darius Van d'Rhys

Growing Sesame

Best Foods for Specific Vitamins Massachusetts Institute of Technology