Vitamins are a surprisingly recent concept. The discovery and naming of vitamins didn’t begin until nearly the 1920s. It was soon discovered that what was thought to be vitamin B was, in fact, not one vitamin but several.
B vitamins are often thought of as the energy vitamins.
Research has shown the B vitamins are necessary for:
- DNA/RNA synthesis and repair
- Proper immune function
- Neurotransmitter synthesis
- Healthy DNA methylation
Adults with a low B vitamin status are at increased risk for developing age-related disorders, particularly cognitive and cardiovascular disease.
The first B vitamin identified was vitamin B1. B1, or thiamine, is an important cofactor in the production of energy in the body, making it especially important for the brain.
Research over the past century has shown that vitamin B1 deficiency known as beriberi, is associated with several neurological problems.
There are similarities between the memory deficits seen in thiamine deficiencies and Alzheimer’s. In studies done on mice, the fat-soluble vitamin B1 (called benfotiamine) was given and the researchers found:
- Decreased numbers of neurofibrillary tangles
- Significant preservation of motor neurons
- Less inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction
- Significally increased lifespan and improved behavior
One common early symptom of thiamine deficiency is a loss of appetite, or anorexia. Scientists believe that thiamine plays an important role in the regulation of the “satiety center” located in the hypothalamus of the brain. When deficiency occurs, normal action of the “satiety center” is altered, causing the body to feel satiated or full, even when it may not be, resulting in a lack of appetite.
Many studies and cases have linked fatigue to thiamine deficiency. Fatigue may occur gradually or suddenly. It can range from a slight decrease in energy to extreme exhaustion, depending on the severity of deficiency. Since fatigue is such a vague symptom with numerous possible causes, it can be commonly overlooked as a sign of thiamine deficiency. However, considering the vital role thiamine plays in converting food into fuel, it’s no surprise that fatigue and lack of energy is a common symptom of not getting enough vitamin B1.
Other signs of getting too little thiamine are irritability, reduced reflexes and tingling sensatioin in your arms and legs. B1 deficiency has lead to peripheral nerve damage. Severe thiamine deficiency can cause swelling of the optic nerve, inducing optic neuropathy. This can result in blurry or even loss of vision.
Foods high in thiamin include seeds, nuts, beans, green peas, tofu, brown rice, squash, and asparagus. The current daily value (DV) for vitamin B1 is 1.2mg.
- 39% DV in 1oz of flax seeds
- 35% DV in 1oz of sunflower seeds
- 28% DV in 1oz of macadamia nuts
- 21% DV in 1oz of pistachios
Niacin, otherwise known as vitamin B3, is used to produce energy, fatty acids, cholesterol, and more. It also aids in proper digestion and healthy appetite, and is important for cell development.
A lack of niacin can cause digestive issues, such as nausea and abdominal cramps. Severe deficiency may also cause mental confusion. Vitamin B3 deficiency is very rare in the United States. Severe deficiency can result in a condition called pellagra, with symptoms such as:
- rough skin that turns red or brown in the sun
- a bright red tongue
- constipation or diarrhea
- aggressive, paranoid, or suicidal behavior
There are two forms of niacin: nicotinic acid and nicotinamide, both of which are found in food. The amino acid tryptophan (a component of some proteins) is also converted by our bodies to nicotinamide.
Studies have shown that vitamin B3 in the form of nicotinamide has the potential to treat a variety of dermatological conditions, including skin cancer.
For adults, the recommended daily amount of niacin is 16 mg for men, and 14 mg for women. There’s also an upper limit of 35 mg. Since it’s water-soluble, your body doesn’t store this vitamin, which is why you need to eat nicotinic acid or niacinamide daily.
Vitamin B3 is usually in B-complex supplements, which contain all eight B vitamins. Some supplements that contain vitamin B3 only list niacin, but most supplements specify the form of niacin as either nicotinic acid or niacinamide.
Niacinamide is often included in pre-workout supplements. Nicotinic acid causes flushing of the skin for a short period of time. For skin care, niacinamide is often included in facial moisturizing lotions or in products marketed for treating acne or rosacea.
- Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain 4.3 mg of niacin, roughly 25% of the RDA for men and 30% for women
- One medium avocado contains 3.5 mg of niacin, or 21% and 25% of the RDA for men and women, respectively.
- One cup of cooked brown rice contains 18% of the RDA for niacin for men and 21% for women.
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is also a water-soluble vitamin. It is significant to protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism and the creation of red blood cells and neurotransmitters.
Your body cannot produce vitamin B6, so you must obtain it from foods or supplements.
Vitamin B6 is necessary for creating neurotransmitters that regulate emotions, including serotonin, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Several studies have shown that depressive symptoms are associated with low blood levels and intakes of vitamin B6, especially in older adults who are at high risk for B vitamin deficiency.
Vitamin B6 is important to properly metabolize homocysteine and prevent its danger out buildup in the body. High level of homocysteine are linked to depression and other psychiatric issues.
Studies have tested the effect of dietary intake of vitamin B6 in Parkinson’s disease. The main reason for this interest is the association between Parkinson’s and elevated homocysteine.
In a large study, the group with the highest levels of vitamin B6 at the time of a kidney cancer diagnosis had a three-fold reduction in mortality compared to the group with the lowest levels of vitamin B6.
You can get vitamin B6 from food or supplements.
The current recommended daily amount (RDA) for B6 is 1.3–1.7 mg for adults over 19. Most healthy adults can get this amount through a balanced diet that includes vitamin-B6-rich foods like, chickpeas, potatoes and bananas.
Doses of 30-250 mg of vitamin B6 per day have been used in research on PMS, morning sickness and heart disease.
It is always best to source your vitamins from fresh, organic food:
- Pistachios – 1/4 cup: 0.5 milligrams (38 percent DV)
- Pinto Beans – 1 cup cooked: 0.4 milligrams (30 percent DV)
- Avocado – 1 raw: 0.4 milligrams (30 percent DV)
- Blackstrap Molasses – 2 tablespoons: 0.26 milligrams (20 percent DV)
- Sunflower Seeds – 1/4 cup: 0.25 milligrams (19 percent DV)
- Sesame Seeds – 1/4 cup: .25 milligrams (19 percent DV)
Sesame seed is the seed of the sesame plant (Sesamum indicum). The plant is an annual herb with foxglove-like flowers that produce pods containing the edible sesame seeds. The pods burst open with a pop when the seeds are mature.
The hulls are usually removed because they contain oxalic acid, which gives a bitter flavor. The seeds can also be pressed for sesame oil. Besides use as a condiment, in Asia, the toasted seeds are used to make sesame paste, which is often used as a peanut butter substitute. In Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine, the untoasted seeds are used to make tahini paste.
Sesame seeds are considered the oldest oilseed crop in the world and have been cultivated for more than 3,500 years. These seeds have a nutty flavor and they can be purchased either shelled or unshelled.
The seeds themselves are very small, only 3-4mm long and 2mm wide. 3.85 million metric tons are produced every year. The seeds are initially found in a black hull inside a pod. Once they are removed, they are stripped of their shells. They come in a wide variety of colors, depending on the variety or strain of the sesame plant.
Sesame seeds contain lignans and phytosterols, which are plant compounds that can help lower cholesterol. Phytosterols are also believed to enhance your immune response and decrease your risk of certain cancers.
Researchers found that out of all the nuts and seeds commonly eaten in the United States, sesame seeds had the highest total phytosterol content with 400 to 413 milligrams per 100 grams.
The sesamin and sesamolin in sesame seeds are known for their antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Antioxidants are important to your health because they protect your body against various diseases by slowing down damage to cells.
The antibacterial activity of sesame seeds is proven to fight against staph infections and strep throat as well as common skin fungi, such as athlete’s foot.
- Anti-mutagenic (stops the mutation of cells)
- Anti-hepatotoxic (prevents liver damage)
- Anti-inflammatory (fights inflammation)
- Chemopreventive (prevents disease and infection)
Each of these properties plays a role in cancer prevention and therapy. Sesamol may also have the ability to regulate apoptosis (cell death), which means that it contains the potential to target cells at various stages of the cell cycle.
Other vitamins and minerals found in sesame seeds include:
- Vitamin B1
A quarter-cup serving of dried sesame seeds contains:
- Calories: 206
- Protein: 6 grams
- Fat: 18 grams
- Carbohydrates: 8 grams
- Sodium: 4 milligrams
- Fiber: 4 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
Natural oil-soluble plant lignans in sesame seeds may help in the reduction of, according to several research studies. A research study published in the journal Nutrition Review states that these bioactive phenolic plant compounds are may also be in the highest in flax seeds and sesame seeds
Sesame seeds have a significant amount of fiber, important for a healthy digestion. Fiber also works beneficially for your heart, by scraping out dangerous LDL cholesterol from arteries and blood vessels, thereby acting as a protecting agent against atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.
The magnesium in sesame seeds can aid in reducing the chances of developiing type-2 diabetes. The magnesium regulates blood pressure and helps improve insulin sensitivity. Sesame seed oil might positively affect the impact of various medications like glibenclamide in patients suffering from type-2 diabetes. It can also be used to improve the medication’s efficacy and regulate the insulin and glucose levels in the body.
Sesame seeds are the richest source of most of the inorganic nutrients, says a report published in the Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society. The levels of essential minerals like zinc, calcium, and phosphorus can be a major boost for your bone health. These minerals are integral parts in creating new bone matter and strengthening and repairing bones weakened by injury or the onset of debilitating bone conditions like osteoporosis.
How to Buy
White and black varieties of sesame seed are available in most grocery stores or co-ops. The white has a delicate flavor and can be used in all dishes calling for sesame seeds. The black seeds have a richer flavor and stronger aroma and are best used alongside other bold ingredients so as not to overwhelm the dish.
Sesame seeds are available packaged in the spice section of grocery stores, as well as in bulk quantity in health food stores and Middle Eastern markets. Due to their high oil content, the seeds will quickly become rancid. It is best to purchase them in small amounts and use them quickly.
How to Store
Sesame seeds should be stored in an airtight container. Unrefrigerated seeds can be kept in a cool, dry place for up to three months. If you refrigerate the seeds, they will last up to six months; frozen ones will be good for up to one year. Sesame oil, on the other hand, is remarkably stable and will keep for years without turning rancid, even in hot climates.
How to Cook
Toast sesame seeds to bring out their nutlike flavor. There are two methods: dry toasting on the stovetop and baking in the oven. The stovetop method is quicker; simply place an even layer of sesame seeds in a dry skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat until the seeds are golden and fragrant – about three to five minutes. Alternatively, you can spread the seeds on a cookie sheet and toast them in a 350 F oven for eight to 15 minutes, stirring often, until golden brown and fragrant.
Add sesame seeds to salads, smoothies, into bake goods and sprinkle onto both savory and sweet dishes.
Japanese Sesame Salad Dressing
Setsuko Yoshizuka/ Photo Credit: The Spruce
- 3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
- 2 to 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon tamari sauce
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar, or granulated
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Put the sesame seeds in a frying pan and toast them over low heat. When 2 to 3 sesame seeds start popping, remove the pan from the heat.
- Grind the toasted sesame seeds with a mortar and pestle, food processor, or clean coffee grinder until a fine powder forms. Transfer to a bowl.
- Mix in the rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil.
- The vinegar in this dressing may make it too sour for some. To play it safe, start with 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar and then taste the dressing before adding any more.
- Instead of toasting and grinding your own sesame seeds, you can also use store-bought ground sesame seeds, but the dressing may not have as rich of a sesame flavor.
- Enhance the taste of this dressing by using a 1/2 cup of virgin olive oil. Or sweeten it up with 2 tablespoons of mirin.
- If you prefer a creamier dressing, add 2 tablespoons of Follow Your Heart, soy-free veganaise. Or, pulse the mixture in a blender for 15 to 30 seconds until it’s thick and emulsified.
- Garlic and ginger can be added to spice up this recipe (add about a 1/2 teaspoon of each).