What are the B group vitamins and what do they do?
Vitamins are naturally present in food and are necessary for our bodies to function properly. There are thirteen vitamins, eight of which belong to a group called the B vitamins. These vitamins perform many vital tasks throughout the body, making them extremely important. B vitamins play an essential role in releasing energy from the food we eat, as well as in the formation of healthy red blood cells and nerve function. The B vitamin family includes:
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
Important for healthy muscles and nerves, as well as for breaking down carbohydrates (such as rice, bread, pasta, fruit and vegetables) so they can be used as energy for active bodies.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Involved in red blood cell formation, energy production, growth, digestion, vitamin B6 activation and the creation of Vitamin B3. Red blood cells have the important job of carrying oxygen to all parts of our bodies.
Vitamin B3 (niacin or niacinamide)
Needed by the body to convert carbohydrates and fats into energy. It also helps maintain healthy skin, nervous system function and the health of little tummies.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
Necessary for the body to metabolise proteins (such as meat, fish, lentils, eggs), carbohydrates and fats, as well as for the production of red blood cells and certain hormones.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Essential for the healthy functioning of the nervous system. Vitamin B6 is necessary for the production of some brain chemicals including serotonin and is therefore an essential nutrient in the balance of mental processes and may possibly have an effect on mood.
Vitamin B7 (biotin)
Plays a role in the metabolism of some amino acids, cholesterol and certain fatty acids. It also helps to maintain healthy hair, skin and nails.
Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
Folic acid is the manufactured form of folate that occurs naturally in our food. It is needed to form red blood cells and is especially important in pregnancy, when it helps to ensure proper development of a baby’s nervous system, as well as healthy DNA production and cell growth.
Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin)
Necessary for brain and nervous system function, red blood cell formation and energy production. It has a close relationship with folate, as both vitamins depend on each other to work properly.
Where can my child get their intake of B group vitamins?
Fortunately, the B group vitamins are found in a large variety of foods. This means that if your child is eating a well balanced diet, full of fresh fruit and vegetables, it is likely that they are getting adequate amounts of these vitamins. For parents who are concerned their child may not be getting enough B vitamins, here is a list of foods that will help to boost their daily intake:
- meat, including red meat, poultry and fish
- dairy products such as milk and cheese
- fortified breads, pasta and cereals
- beans, seeds and nuts
- green leafy vegetables, broccoli and asparagus
- fortified orange juice
Sometimes, ensuring that your kids are getting adequate nutrition can be quite a challenge. This may be because they are going through a fussy eating phase, have a poor appetite due to illness, or simply because they are too ‘busy’ and distracted to sit down and eat a proper meal. B vitamins also get used up quickly by active kids and should be replenished daily. In these cases, a multivitamin supplement can help to bridge any nutritional gaps.
Are vitamin supplements suitable for my child?
Many vitamin and mineral supplements are specifically formulated for growing kids and are usually available in kid‐friendly formats such as tasty, chewable tablets or fizzy drinks to make it easier for your kids to take them. If your child has a medical condition or a history of allergies, speak with your healthcare professional before giving them any dietary supplements. Importantly, always ensure that vitamin supplements are kept out of reach of toddlers and young children, make sure to explain that they are not to be eaten as treats or lollies, and always choose a supplement that is designed for your child’s age group. Also look for supplements with no artificial colours and flavours to ensure your little ones are only getting what they need.