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Understanding Riboflavin: Why the Body Needs It and Good Natural Sources of This Vitamin

There are so many different vitamins and minerals in the foods we eat every day that it can be hard to keep them all straight or really understand why they’re important. One vitamin that we don’t hear about all that often is riboflavin, which is also known as vitamin B2. So, today we’re focusing exclusively on the topic of riboflavin to get a better understanding of what it is, why the human body needs it, and which foods contain healthy amounts of this vitamin.

Photo credit Chris Davis via Dreamstime.com

What Is Riboflavin?

There are eight B vitamins that the human body uses to convert carbohydrates into glucose for energy and to metabolize protein and fat. The role of riboflavin is to help maintain energy in the body by breaking down carbs, fats, and proteins so that food can be used for essential functions. Also referred to as vitamin B2, it is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that you need to eat an adequate amount of it daily since the body can’t store large amounts of it for long periods of time.

Healthy Benefits of Riboflavin

Riboflavin is essential for brain and nerve functioning, and it also plays a role in maintaining healthy hair, skin, and eyes. It is possible that people who don’t get enough of this vitamin suffer from more migraines due to a nutritional deficiency. Studies have shown that a healthy supply of riboflavin in the body can actually make migraines and other types of headaches less common and less severe. Riboflavin is connected to the body’s ability to produce red blood cells and help the body absorb iron. This is an important function because without good iron absorption, anemia can result and cause a wide array of symptoms. Studies have also shown that riboflavin may reduce the risk of developing cataracts in the eyes.

People who have a riboflavin deficiency may feel fatigued, have swelling in the throat and tongue, experience digestive problems, and notice eye issues like sensitivity to light and tired eyes. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a vitamin B deficiency in some people.

How Much Riboflavin Do You Need?

Nutritionists say that the recommended daily allowance for riboflavin for men is about 1.3 milligrams per day and for women is 1.1 milligrams per day. It is especially important that pregnant women get enough riboflavin in their diets because this vitamin has shown promise in reducing the risk of preeclampsia and congenital heart disease in babies. Therefore, the recommendation for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding is more like 1.4 or 1.6 milligrams per day.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart via Flickr

Natural Sources of Riboflavin

Fortunately, there are many healthy ways to get riboflavin in your diet and enjoy all of the health benefits noted above. These are some of the best food sources of riboflavin:

  • Spinach
  • Cow milk
  • Yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Broccoli
  • Almonds
  • Wild rice
  • Beef liver
  • Avocados
  • Artichokes
  • Lima beans

Photo credit: Jennifer C. via Flickr

Try to eat as many raw foods as possible because cooking foods, especially by boiling, can cause this water-soluble vitamin to be lost in the process. If you don’t get enough riboflavin in your diet, B-complex vitamins typically have the riboflavin you need to stay healthy. You can also supplement your diet with fruit and vegetable concentrates to get more of specific vegetables that aren’t in season, aren’t available in your area, or that you simply don’t like the taste of. Riboflavin is just one piece in the puzzle of eating a healthy diet, but it’s an important one that we hope you’ve learned a little more about today!

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