When it comes to the top foods and nutrients that support optimal digestive health, you can look to the letter B. There is a barrage of B vitamins that perform a variety of functions to help your digestive system.
Vitamin B1, otherwise known as thiamine, facilitates the metabolism of carbohydrates by breaking them down so energy is produced and made readily available for the whole body to use.
Thiamine is also important for breaking down and processing glucose—another vital source of energy for the body—as well as regulating your appetite.
When there is a deficiency of vitamin B1, excessive weight loss and anorexia may ensue, as can ulcerative colitis, reduced appetite, and chronic diarrhea.
Foods rich with thiamine include yogurt, rice, seafood, chicken, pork, eggs, salmon, tuna, acorn squash, sunflower seeds, barley, brown rice, and oatmeal.
It is important to remember that because thiamine is water-soluble, as are all the B vitamins, heating, boiling and other forms of cooking reduce the content of this nutrient. Remedy this situation by drinking any remaining water after boiling the food. The water will have absorbed a large amount of the B vitamins.
Next on the B list is vitamin B3, also called niacin, and it is a key player in the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and amino acids. This means it is crucial in meeting the energy requirements of the body.
Niacin metabolizes alcohol and has a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels as well. It has demonstrated the ability to increase the production of high-density lipids (HDL), which many people know as 'good' cholesterol. Current medical thinking maintains that it helps to evict the 'bad' lipids, low-density lipids (LDL), from the bloodstream.
Choose foods with this nutrient over supplements as symptoms such as dizziness, tachycardia, abdominal cramping, facial flushing and nausea/vomit may occur. Options include peas, peanuts, brown rice, tuna, turkey, salmon, potatoes, pork, anchovies, chicken, liver, beef, avocados, whole wheat, and mushrooms.
Another great vitamin for digestive health is vitamin B6, also called pyridoxine. This nutrient is vital for the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Although its functions are wide and varied, it is found to be part of over 100 enzyme reactions that involve the breakdown and assimilation of proteins.
Some food sources high in B6 are chickpeas, beef, tuna, salmon, potatoes, tofu, spinach, watermelon, raisins, onions, squash, banana, turkey, and cottage cheese.
The last B to be mentioned is vitamin B12, also called cobalamin. It too plays a significant role in converting the food we eat into energy. A deficiency of this nutrient causes a medical condition known as pernicious anemia. This autoimmune disease can cause digestive complications such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, heartburn, vomiting, and weight loss.
The only natural sources of vitamin B12 occur in dairy, eggs, and red meat. Some cereals and nutritional yeasts are fortified with this nutrient and may be an option. Supplements are the only other source.
Luckily, the foods rich with B vitamins are prolific. It is best to keep your diet varied to ensure you reach your optimum nutrition levels. The beauty of the B vitamins is that they are difficult to overdose on if you are getting them from food sources and not supplements. This is because they are water-soluble, so any excess will be harmlessly flushed out of the body.
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Ankar A., Kumar A. (2019). Vitamin B12 Deficiency (Cobalamin). StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441923/
Vitamin B6. (2019). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB6-HealthProfessional/
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Niacin to Boost Your HDL, 'Good," Cholesterol. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/niacin/art-20046208
Thiamine: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosing. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-965/thiamine-vitamin-b1
About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.