From maintaining energy levels to optimizing heart health, riboflavin — aka vitamin B2 — is an important vitamin that has many different functions in the body. Found in a variety of sources, including meat, dairy and legumes, consuming more riboflavin foods may even help ward off chronic disease, decrease the duration and severity of migraines, and maintain the health of your hair and skin.
Fortunately, getting enough riboflavin in your diet is easy and can be as simple as making a few strategic swaps in your meals. Here’s what you need to know about this important water-soluble vitamin and how you can ensure you’re meeting your needs by consuming some of the top riboflavin foods around.
What Is Riboflavin?
Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, is a water-soluble vitamin that is involved in energy metabolism. It works by helping the body utilize other B vitamins, such as niacin and thiamine, so we can produce energy from the foods that we eat.
In particular, riboflavin functions as a main component of two important coenzymes in the body, flavin mononucleotide (FMN) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD). Each coenzyme is involved in the production of energy, maintaining cell function, and promoting proper growth and development. They are also used for the conversion of tryptophan to niacin and the production of pyridoxal 5-phosphate from vitamin B6 foods. (1)
Riboflavin is also necessary for maintaining normal levels of homocysteine in the blood, which is a type of amino acid that may be involved in the development of heart disease. (2) It’s also used to help treat lactic acidosis, a serious condition characterized by the buildup of lactate in the bloodstream and a decrease in pH levels. (3)
Studies show that riboflavin may help promote heart health, prevent migraines and even protect against cancer. And best of all, this essential vitamin is found in a variety of riboflavin foods, such as meat, dairy, eggs and certain vegetables, making it easy to meet your needs.
Top 15 Riboflavin Foods
So how can you ensure you’re getting enough vitamin B2 foods in your diet? Although it’s primarily found in meat and dairy products, there are plenty of options for vitamin B2 foods, vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. In fact, riboflavin is also found in other sources as well, including legumes, vegetables, nuts and grains.
Here are a few of the top riboflavin foods to add into your diet: (4)
- Beef Liver — 3 ounces: 3 milligrams (168 percent DV)
- Natural Yogurt —1 cup: 0.6 milligram (34 percent DV)
- Milk — 1 cup: 0.4 milligram (26 percent DV)
- Spinach — 1 cup, cooked: 0.4 milligram (25 percent DV)
- Almonds — 1 ounce: 0.3 milligram (17 percent DV)
- Sun-Dried Tomatoes — 1 cup: 0.3 milligram (16 percent DV)
- Eggs — 1 large: 0.2 milligram (14 percent DV)
- Feta Cheese — 1 ounce: 0.2 milligram (14 percent DV)
- Lamb — 3 ounces: 0.2 milligram (13 percent DV)
- Quinoa — 1 cup, cooked: 0.2 milligram (12 percent DV)
- Lentils — 1 cup, cooked: 0.1 milligram (9 percent DV)
- Mushrooms — 1/2 cup: 0.1 milligram (8 percent DV)
- Tahini — 2 tablespoons: 0.1 milligram (8 percent DV)
- Wild-Caught Salmon — 3 ounces: 0.1 milligrams (7 percent DV)
- Kidney Beans — 1 cup, cooked: 0.1 milligrams (6 percent DV)
- May Protect Against Cancer
- Provide Migraine Relief
- Maintain Healthy Hair and Skin
- Promote Heart Health
- Act as Antioxidants
1. May Protect Against Cancer
Cancer is a major problem in the United States and around the world. In fact, it’s estimated that approximately 1.7 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States and over 600,000 people will die from it in 2018 alone. (5) While it’s clear that loading up on the cancer-fighting foods can have a major impact on cutting the risk of cancer, some studies also suggest that getting in a few key riboflavin foods could protect against cancer growth and development as well.
One study, for example, showed that a higher intake of riboflavin was associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, especially among those with the methylenetetrahydrofolate (MTHFR) TT genotype, which is a specific gene involved in the conversion of folate. (6) Meanwhile, another small study analyzed the intakes of people in certain regions of Iran and concluded that riboflavin deficiency could be linked to nearly double the risk of developing esophageal cancer. (7)
2. Provide Migraine Relief
Migraines are a recurring type of headache often accompanied by symptoms like pain, dizziness, irritability, and sensitivity to light or sound. Although usually treated with over-the-counter medications and lifestyle modifications, some research indicates that eating more riboflavin foods could also help provide relief and decrease the duration and severity of symptoms.
One review of 11 articles concluded that supplementing with riboflavin was effective at reducing the duration and frequency of migraine symptoms with minimal risk of side effects. (8) Another study had similar findings, showing that taking a high dosage of riboflavin cut migraine frequency in half and reduced the need for medications after just three months of treatment. (9)
3. Maintain Healthy Hair and Skin
As the most abundant protein in your body, collagen makes up a large portion of your muscles, skin, bones, joints, hair and nails. Because riboflavin plays a role in regulating collagen levels in the body, including plenty of foods rich in riboflavin in your diet could help keep your hair and skin healthy.
Studies show that collagen can help improve skin elasticity and moisture. (10) Research also shows that collagen could benefit hair health as well, with one animal model reporting that collagen was effective at promoting hair growth in mice. (11)
4. Promote Heart Health
One of the most impressive riboflavin benefits is its powerful effect on heart health. Riboflavin works by regulating levels of homocysteine, an amino acid found throughout the body. When homocysteine builds up in the blood, it can cause arteries to narrow and skyrocket the risk of heart disease, making it vital to keep homocysteine levels under control.
Several studies have demonstrated the direct impact that riboflavin may have on heart health. One animal model published in Heart International, for instance, showed that riboflavin treatment helped improve heart function in rats with heart failure caused by diabetes. (12) Meanwhile, other studies have also found that riboflavin deficiencies are more prevalent in people with heart disease, and a deficiency could be linked to a higher risk of congenital heart defects. (13, 14, 15)
5. Act as Antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that help neutralize free radicals and protect against cell damage to keep your body healthy. Research also suggests that antioxidants may play a key role in disease prevention and decrease the risk of chronic conditions, such as cancer and heart disease. (16)
Although micronutrients like vitamin C are more well-known for their antioxidant properties, riboflavin can also act as an antioxidant to help reduce oxidative stress and promote better health. (17) In particular, studies show that B2 riboflavin prevents lipid peroxidation and reperfusion oxidative injury, both of which can damage your cells and contribute to chronic disease. (18)
Signs of Vitamin B2 Deficiency
A deficiency in this key vitamin can take a serious toll on many aspects of health. However, riboflavin deficiencies alone are very rare. Instead, riboflavin deficiencies are often coupled with deficiencies in other water-soluble vitamins, such as thiamine and niacin.
Alcoholics are at a greater risk of deficiency due to both a decreased intake and impaired vitamin absorption. Additionally, individuals who don’t consume meat or dairy and those with dietary restrictions may be at an increased risk.
Some of the most common riboflavin deficiency symptoms include: (19)
- Sore throat
- Cracks in the lips and corners of the mouth
- Swollen tongue
- Scaly skin
- Redness of the lining of the mouth and throat
Riboflavin levels are not typically included in routine blood tests, so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you notice any symptoms or are at an increased risk of riboflavin deficiency. Together you can determine the best course of treatment to ensure you’re getting enough riboflavin to meet your needs.
How to Get More Riboflavin Foods in Your Diet
The easiest and most effective way to increase your riboflavin intake is by simply including more riboflavin sources and riboflavin foods in your diet. Incorporating a good source of nutrient-rich protein, such as meat, eggs or legumes, for example, can help supply a good amount of vitamin B2 to help you meet your needs.
You can also try switching up your side dishes to get in more riboflavin. Spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and quinoa are all nutritious and flavorful ingredients that can easily complement just about any meal.
Meanwhile, starting your day with a nutrient-rich breakfast is another way to ramp up riboflavin intake. Sprinkle a handful of almonds over a cup of probiotic yogurt, whip up a veggie omelette or wash down your breakfast with a refreshing glass of raw milk to get a head start in meeting your nutritional needs first thing in the morning.
Although eating plenty of foods high in riboflavin is the best way to get in your daily dose, riboflavin supplements are another option if you’re having trouble meeting your riboflavin requirements. Most multivitamins contain about 1.7 milligrams of riboflavin, which is 100 percent of the recommended daily intake for riboflavin. You can also consider taking riboflavin in a B-complex, which includes other important B vitamins, such as niacin, thiamine and pantothenic acid.
Need a few creative ideas for how to up your intake of riboflavin without skimping on flavor? Here are a few delicious recipes using foods high in riboflavin to get you started:
- Palak Paneer
- Lemon, Sun-Dried Tomato and Almond Quinoa Salad
- Vegetarian Egg Casserole
- Moroccan Lamb Stew
- Almond Berry Cereal
The term riboflavin is derived from the words “ribose,” which is a sugar that forms part of the structure of riboflavin, and “flavin,” a type of pigment that gives riboflavin a characteristic bright yellow color when oxidized.
English biochemist Alexander Wynter Blyth was the first to observe riboflavin in 1872 when he noticed a green-yellow pigment found in milk. However, it wasn’t until the early 1930s that riboflavin was actually identified by Paul Gyorgy, the same biochemist credited with the discovery of other B vitamins like biotin and vitamin B6.
Riboflavin is only the second vitamin to be isolated and the first to be extracted from the vitamin B2 complex. However, it wasn’t until 1939 that scientists were able to demonstrate the significance of consuming riboflavin foods on health. (20)
Researchers are still continuing to learn about the importance of incorporating plenty of foods high in vitamin B into the diet, showing that it could have an impact on everything from energy levels to disease prevention and beyond. These days, many foods are now fortified with B vitamins to help prevent deficiencies and improve nutritional status at the population level.
Risks and Side Effects
Because riboflavin is a water-soluble vitamin, there is minimal risk of toxicity as excess amounts are excreted through the urine. In fact, one study even showed that administering 400 milligrams of riboflavin per day to participants, which is over 200 times the recommended daily value, resulted in no negative side effects. (21)
While riboflavin supplementation is available, including more foods high in vitamin B in your diet is typically a better option. Not only do these foods with vitamin B contain a good amount of riboflavin, but they also provide a host of other important vitamins and minerals as well to help improve your health.
If you suspect you may have a riboflavin deficiency, it’s best to talk to your doctor to determine the best course of treatment. Because riboflavin deficiencies typically occur alongside other micronutrient deficiencies, you may require supplementation with other B vitamins as well.
- Riboflavin, or vitamin B2, is an important water-soluble vitamin that plays a role in many aspects of health, especially when it comes to energy production.
- Potential vitamin B2 benefits include improvements in heart health, relief from migraine symptoms, healthier hair and skin, and protection against certain types of cancer.
- Some of the top vitamin B2 foods include meat, fish, dairy and legumes. Riboflavin is also found in nuts, seeds and certain vegetables as well.
- Although meeting your needs through food sources is preferable, supplementation is also available. Riboflavin is also generally present in both multivitamins and B-complex capsules, making it simple to meet your daily needs.
- Getting enough of this essential vitamin can help optimize your health and may have a powerful effect on energy levels and disease prevention.