Vitamin B3 was the third B vitamin to be discovered – hence the name! It is also known as niacin and there are two forms: nicotinic acid and nicotinamide and both are found in food.
Why do we need it?
Vitamin B3 helps to release energy from the foods we eat, is essential for many basic reactions in the body and helps to maintain the nervous system and keep our skin healthy.
How much do we need?
Men need around 17 milligrams a day and women, around 13 milligrams per day.
Are we getting enough?
The 2014 UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that average daily intakes from food were 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.
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 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 include nutritional yeast, peanuts, fortified vegan breakfast cereals, quinoa, muesli, yeast extract (Marmite/Vegemite), wild rice, wholemeal spaghetti, sweetcorn, brown rice and acorn squash.
Nutritional yeast is a food additive that can be used as a condiment or ingredient and 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 five gram teaspoon of nutritional yeast provides 100-130 per cent of your daily requirement of niacin. It’s best to 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 and, in extreme cases, loss of mental capacity. The disease caused by severe niacin deficiency and characterised by these symptoms is called pellagra – which means rough or raw skin.
A healthy, varied, vegan diet, with a generous sprinkle of nooch now and again, should provide all the vitamin B3 you need.
Go to Viva! Health's A-Z of Nutrients to find out more about the B vitamins!