Vitamin B3 (niacin)

How much do you need daily?

Men need around 17 milligrams a day and women, around 13 milligrams of vitamin B3 (niacin) per day. 

Are we getting enough?

The 2014 UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that for vitamin B3 (niacin), average daily intakes from food were well above the recommended level for most people with less than 0.5 per cent failing to meet targets. Cereals and cereal products were the largest contributor of niacin for younger children. 

Why do we need it?

Vitamin B3 (niacin) helps to release energy from the foods we eat, it is essential for many basic reactions in the body and helps to maintain the nervous system and keep skin healthy.

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.

Taking high doses of nicotinic acid supplements (over 200 milligrams daily) can cause skin flushes and taking extremely high doses (3-6 grams daily) can be toxic to the liver and lead to liver damage. Government guidelines say that taking 17 milligrams or less of nicotinic acid supplements a day or 500 milligrams or less of nicotinamide supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm.

Do I need a supplement?

No, a healthy vegan diet containing the foods below on a daily basis will cover your needs.

The best plant sources

The best plant sources of vitamin B3 (niacin) include nutritional yeast, peanuts, fortified vegan breakfast cereals, quinoa, muesli, yeast extract (Marmite/Vegemite), wild rice, wholemeal spaghetti, corn on the cob, brown rice and acorn squash.

Nutritional yeast is a food additive that can be used as a condiment or ingredient. It is made from yeast grown on molasses and then harvested, washed and heated to kill or ‘deactivate’ it. It doesn’t froth or grow like baking yeast as it is inactive. It is sold in tubs of flakes that can be sprinkled on dishes or added to sauces. Very popular with vegans, it even has its own nickname – nooch! A 5g teaspoon of nutritional yeast provides 100-130 per cent of your daily requirement of niacin. Buy one that’s fortified with vitamin B12 to cover all bases!

You should be able to get all the niacin you need from your daily diet but it can't be stored in the body, so you need it in your diet every day.

Signs of deficiency

skin lesions on skin exposed to sunlight and/or pressure, diarrhoea, in extreme cases also loss of mental capacity. The disease caused by severe niacin deficiency and characterises by these symptoms is called pellagra.