Vitamin B is actually a group of vitamins - B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B12 and, er, folate, which sound a bit like a series of bus routes (or characters from Bananas in Pyjamas). They have different roles to play in your baby's development.
Vitamins B1 (thiamin) and B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B1, real name thiamin, helps to break down and release energy from food, and keeps nerves and muscle tissue healthy.
- Vitamin B2, real name riboflavin, is important to keep your baby's skin and nervous system functioning well and helps with the absorption of iron. It's also useful for energy release because it helps to process protein and fat in the food we take in. A lack of B2 can cause ill health in a child's eyes, or make a child more prone to mouth infections.
How much B1 and B2 should a child have daily?
The amounts needed to make a difference to a child's health are quite small: less than 1mg a day even by the age of six. Happily, these vitamins are not dangerous in large amounts because the body just gets rid of any excess that it doesn't need.
Good sources of Vitamins B1 and B2
You probably recognise the words thiamin and riboflavin from the sides of cereal packets. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with various vitamins and minerals, including these two. Be careful however, not to give prepared breakfast cereals to babies under one, because many contain salt and sugar, and to limit the amount of salty, sugary cereals you give to toddlers.
Oats are a great source of both B1 and B2, so try giving oatcakes and porridge. Vitamin B1 can also be found in fish, sunflower seeds, brown rice (although this may have too much fibre for young babies), chicken and turkey.
Vitamin B2 can also be found in offal (though this is usually too strong a taste for most small children), yoghurt, egg, fish, lamb and the other meats above. When cooking food that is rich in B vitamins, take care not to overcook, as the goodness tends to get lost with long cooking processes.
Vitamins B3, B5, B6, B7, B12 and Folate
Vitamin B3 helps produce energy from food and keeps the nervous and digestive systems healthy.
Vitamin B5 works with the other B group vitamins in the body to release energy from food and can also help build immunity.
Vitamin B6 helps the body use and store energy from protein and carbohydrates in food. It also helps form haemoglobin (the substance that carries oxygen around the body).
Vitamin B7 helps the body turn food into energy.
Vitamin B12 helps make red blood cells, keeps the nervous system healthy, helps process folic acid.
Folate works with vitamin B12, helping to form healthy red blood cells.
Good sources of Vitamins B3, B5, B6, B7, B12 and Folate
Meat and fish are good sources of B3, B5, B6 and B12. Chicken, lamb and turkey are good meats to include in the diet for these.
If your child is vegetarian or vegan, you need to make sure your baby is geting enough B12 as often we get it from meat in our diet. Vegetarian babies can get B12 from eggs and yoghurt. With a vegan baby vitamin, it's advised to give vitamin drops to help compensate.
Other good courses of B3, B5 and B6 include soya, lentils and beans. These may sound very 'worthy', but soya is in a lot of foods now and available in 'veggie' snacks which many meat-eating children enjoy too. Lentils can be cooked and reduced so that they thicken a stew, soup or casserole without your kids knowing they're there!
B3 is referred to as niacin and as such you will spot it as an added ingredient in cereals. It is also in yeast extract (Marmite, for example).
Oats are very good sources of B5, B6 and Folate, so porridge and oatcakes are a great way to get small children into the oaty habit. Folate is also to be found in fruit, lentils, soya, and spinach. Try getting some wholegrains into your children as these B vitamins are essential for building healthy hearts and tissue from the start.
Because of the sources of these B vitamins, it's unlikely that your child will ingest too much, but B3, B6 and Folate should be consumed in moderation.