The vitamin B-complex constitutes a set of 8 water-soluble vitamins that are essential to the human body for various metabolic functions, specifically cell metabolism. Each member of the vitamin B complex is denoted by a unique number and name. Vitamin B3 is known as niacin and is an important component in converting food, essentially carbohydrates and fat, to energy.
This nutrient offers a variety of health benefits including reducing heart disease risk, improving brain function, controlling high cholesterol in the body, giving protection against sun exposure, and helping treat arthritis and joint pain. The role of the vitamin in preventing erectile dysfunction and offering protection against type 1 diabetes is also well-established through scientific research.
Excess consumption of dietary vitamin B3 is not generally reported to lead to toxicity, although high intake of vitamin B3 supplements may result in adverse side effects including headache, itching and tingling sensation, flushing of skin, and hypotension. Further continuance of the supplements (for months and years) may result in life-threatening symptoms and severe liver damage.
Vitamin B3 deficiencies are not uncommon, but very rare in developed countries. Pellagra is a condition that manifests as four “Ds”, namely dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, and resultant death, primarily due to poor dietary intake of vitamin B3. Chronic alcohol consumption is also a factor for lowered niacin levels in the body. Other groups of individuals at risk for decreased body levels of vitamin B3 are those affected by carcinoid syndrome due to gastrointestinal tumors, individuals with a rare genetic condition called Hartnup disease, malnourishment, and low levels of (other) B vitamins.
There is a wide range of foods that are sufficient natural sources of vitamin B3 including any protein-rich food. Boiling meat or vegetable is known to cause dissolution and leaching of the water-soluble niacin, resulting in vitamin loss from foods. An alternate solution is to steam cook food items or fry them with less oil, depending on the recipe/item being cooked.
Following is a list of foods that are high in vitamin B3 or niacin:
- Animal foods such as beef, pork, chicken, and turkey
- Milk and eggs
- Fish that includes salmon, tuna, etc.
- Seafood such as shrimp
- Spaghetti sauce
- Whole grain bread and enriched breakfast cereals
- Certain types of mushrooms such as Crimini mushrooms
- Corn, barley, and brown rice
- Peanuts and cashew nuts
- Leafy green vegetables
- Potatoes (including sweet potatoes), carrots, and turnips
- Fruits such as peaches, banana, etc.
- Legumes such as lentils
- Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
- Green peas
The Food and Nutrition Board at the National Academy of Sciences outlines the following recommendations for vitamin B3 intake. The recommended dietary allowances (RDA), or the average daily intake, to meet the body’s nutritional needs are as follows:
- 6 months and younger - 2.0 milligrams/day
- Between 7-12 months - 4.0 milligrams/day
- 12 months to 3 years - 6.0 milligrams/day
- From 4 to 8 years - 8.0 milligrams/day
- From 9 to 13 years - 12 milligrams/day
- Adolescents and adults:
- Between 14-18 years - 16 and 14 milligrams/day for males and females respectively
- Over 19 years - 16 and 14 milligrams/day for males and females respectively
- Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers - 18 and 17 milligrams/day respectively
It is evident from the list of various natural food sources of vitamin B3 that incorporating them into one’s daily diet is simple and beneficial. However, it is always recommended to take the advice of a suitable healthcare professional before bringing about any alteration to your regular food habits, such as incorporating more foods high in vitamin B3 and/or prior to taking any multivitamin supplements.