Eating a variety of thiamine foods has many benefits, both for physical and mental health. The human body does not produce its own thiamine; therefore it must be ingested from foods in the diet.
Unlike other nutrients that can sometimes be hard to get enough of, such as vitamin D or magnesium, thiamine is usually pretty easy to acquire from foods, assuming you eat enough calories overall — making thiamine deficiency relatively uncommon.
What is the best source of thiamine? Some of the healthiest thiamine-rich foods include yeasts (like nutritional yeast), sea vegetables, certain whole grains, green veggies like asparagus and peas, seeds, beans, and fish. Benefits of eating thiamine foods include gaining more energy, staying focused and alert, protecting your memory, lifting your mood, and protecting your heart. Learn more below.
What Is Thiamine?
Thiamine (sometimes spelled as thiamin) is also known as vitamin B1 and is a water-soluble vitamin that’s commonly found in many plant and animal-derived foods. As a water-soluble vitamin, thiamine rapidly breaks down once it’s consumed and is flushed from the body more easily than fat-soluble vitamins, which can accumulate.
Thiamine is stored primarily in the liver, but storage only lasts at most 18 days — which is why you need to consume thiamine foods regularly.
How is thiamine used in the body? It is involved in many of the most important metabolic processes of the body. Like most of the B vitamins, thiamine helps our bodies use energy from foods and is vital for cellular functions. When you eat thiamine-rich foods, they help the body convert carbohydrates to energy, which is important for your metabolism, focus and overall strength. It also plays a role in healthy liver function and is needed for healthy skin, eyes, hair and nails.
The absorption of thiamine occurs in the duodenum, a part of the digestive system, by an active process that converts to its active form called thiamine pyrophosphate. Some of the reasons you might need higher amounts of thiamine are if don’t get typically get enough thiamine from your diet, if your body eliminates too much or if you absorb too little.
Recommended Daily Intake
How much thiamine/vitamin B1 do you need per day? Most foods are a good source of thiamine. The recommended daily intake for thiamine is as follows:
- Birth to 6 months — 0.2 mg
- 7–12 months — 0.3 mg
- 1–3 years — 0.5 mg
- 4–8 years — 0.6 mg
- 9–13 years — 0.9 mg
- 14–18 years — 1.2 mg for males; 1.0 mg for females; 1.4 mg for females who are pregnant or lactating
- 19–50 years — 1.2 mg for males; 1.1 mg for females; 1.4 mg for females who are pregnant or lactating
- 51+ years — 1.2 mg for males; 1.1 mg for females
In other words, 1.2 milligrams a day for men and 1.1 milligrams a day for women. Breastfeeding and pregnant women need more, about 1.4–1.5 milligrams per day.
For adults with low levels of thiamine, the usual dose of thiamine is five to 30 milligrams daily in either a single dose or divided doses for one month. The amount that you need depends on your sex, age and level of activity. Factors like stress, exercise, illness and pregnancy all increase your need for thiamine foods.
Most adults can meet the daily thiamine requirement by eating a variety of whole foods, including vegetables, sea veggies, seeds, nuts, sources of protein like fish or meat, and soaked/sprouted legumes. Most fruits and vegetables do not provide very high amounts of thiamine, although there are some exceptions, like peas, asparagus and tomatoes.
What foods contain thiamine? Here is a list of the top thiamine-rich foods to include in your diet:
- Nutritional yeast: 2 tablespoons — 9.6 mg (640 percent DV*)
- Seaweed (such as spirulina): 1 cup seaweed — 2.66 mg (216 percent DV*)
- Durian Fruit: 1 cup — 0.9 mg (61 percent DV*)
- Black beans: 1/3 cup dried, or about 1 cup cooked — 0.58 mg (48 percent DV*)
- Lentils: 1/3 cup dried, or about 1 cup cooked — 0.53 mg (44 percent DV*)
- Organic edamame/soybeans: 1/3 cup dried, or about 1 cup cooked — 0.53 mg (44 percent DV*)
- Navy beans: 1/3 cup dried, or about 1 cup cooked — 0.53 mg (44 percent DV*)
- White beans: 1/3 cup dried, or about 1 cup cooked — 0.53 mg (44 percent DV*)
- Green split peas: 1/3 cup dried, or about 1 cup cooked — 0.48 millmgigram (40 percent DV*)
- Pinto beans: 1/3 cup dried, or about 1 cup cooked — 0.46 mg (39 percent DV*)
- Mung beans: 1/3 cup dried, or about 1 cup cooked — 0.42 mg (36 percent DV*)
- Macadamia nuts: 1 ounce — 0.33 mg (27 percent DV*)
- Sunflower seeds: 1 ounce — 0.33 mg (27 percent DV*)
- Beef liver: 1 3 oz. piece cooked — 0.32 mg (26 percent DV*)
- Asparagus: 1 cup cooked — 0.31 mg (25 percent DV*)
- Brussels sprouts: 1 cup cooked — 0.16 mg (13 percent DV*)
*Daily Value: Percentages are based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day.
Other thiamine foods include spinach, eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, potatoes, sesame seeds, rice bran, wheat germ, oats, barley, dairy products like yogurt or cheese, oranges, and organ meats.
Are high-protein foods like meat, fish and pork a good source of thiamine? Most foods high in protein do provide some thiamine — plus they are good sources of other B vitamins, like B12 and B6. Fish and pork are especially high in thiamine.
1. Support the Metabolism and Higher Energy Levels
Thiamine is used to help extract energy from the foods you eat by turning nutrients into useable energy in the form of “ATP.” Foods with thiamine help convert molecules found in carbohydrates and proteins so the body can utilize these macronutrients to carry out various functions.
The coenzymatic form of thiamine is involved in two main types of metabolic reactions within the body that support carbohydrate and fat metabolism: decarboxylation and transketolation. Thiamine also plays an important role in the production of red blood cells, which are used for ongoing energy.
Thiamine also plays an important role in the production of red blood cells, which are used for ongoing energy. Because thiamine and other B vitamins are naturally energy-boosting and required to produce ATP from foods, you will often find B vitamin complex supplements labeled as “energy boosting” or “healthy metabolism” products. Ingesting thiamine in supplement form is also sometimes given to patients to help correct metabolic disorders associated with genetic diseases.
2. Protect Eye Health and Vision
Studies reveal that foods with thiamine help prevent cataracts by working together with omega-3 and omega-6 fats to improve eye health. Thiamine can also help prevent vision loss due to nerve swelling in the eyes. This is also due to its ability to influence nerve and muscle signaling, which is important in relaying information from the eyes to the brain.
You should also consider adding more vitamin A foods into your diet to improve vision.
3. Promote Neurological Health
Eating foods high in thiamine is a natural way to promote healthy cognitive health. Lack of thiamine can contribute to confusion, dementia and even Alzheimer’s disease. This is especially common in alcoholics who lose a lot of B vitamins due to dehydration and an improper diet.
Elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease tend to have lower levels of thiamine in the blood than those without the disease. However, at this point the exact connection between thiamine levels and the development of Alzheimer’s disease is still unclear. Studies are underway to use thiamine supplementation to prevent Alzheimer’s from developing.
Otherwise, thiamine is a crucial vitamin for increasing focus, energy, fighting chronic stress and possibly preventing memory loss. Studies have linked thiamine deficiency to problems learning and retaining information. One study out of the U.K. showed that thiamine caused quick reaction times and feelings of clear-headedness in those taking tests.
4. Support the Cardiovascular System
Thiamine works with other B vitamins, such as vitamin B12 and B6, to regulate important functions of the cardiovascular system, endocrine system and digestive system. Studies indicate that foods containing thiamine have a positive impact on circulation and functions of the heart, and higher intake has been shown to improve cardiac function, urine output, weight loss, and signs and symptoms of heart failure.
Vitamin B1/thiamine may also help prevent heart problems, such as an enlarged heart, high pulse rate, edema, inflammation and muscle wasting (remember the heart is a muscle).
5. Prevent Muscle Weakness, Spasms and Soreness
Low intake of thiamine is associated with restless leg syndrome, soreness, weakness, tenderness, fluid retention and numbness/tingling in the limbs.
Thiamine is especially helpful for preventing these symptoms in people with health conditions like diabetes, since it helps with nerve function and protects nerves’ outer coating called the myelin sheath. Vitamin B1 can also help improve recovery time after exercise and helps reduce lactic acid, which causes soreness.
6. Help Promote Gut and Digestive Health
In people with thiamine deficiency, consuming more thiamine may help improves appetite and strengthen their digestive systems. In animal studies, treating animals eating a low-calorie diet (similar to humans eating a calorie-restricted diet due to dieting or an eating disorder) helped improve appetite and recovery.
A lack of energy, anxiety and depression can also all contribute to a poor appetite, low moods and lack of motivation, but thiamine may help prevent these symptoms by supporting the body’s ability to deal with mental and physical stress.
7. Boosts Immunity
As just detailed, thiamine helps maintain the muscle tone along the walls of the digestive tract, where much of the immune system is actually located. Digestive health is important for thiamine absorption because a healthy digestive tract allows your body to extract nutrients from food better, which are used to boost immunity and defend you from becoming sick.
8. Helps Prevent Nerve Damage
Without enough “fuel” from our diets going toward the function of our nervous system, we can experience nerve damage that can result in trouble moving, learning and remembering information. Thiamine is needed to convert carbohydrates from our food, and the main role of carbohydrates is to provide energy for the body, especially for the brain and nervous system.
Thiamine is specifically needed for a system of enzyme reactions called pyruvate dehydrogenase, which works to oxidize sugars that we eat. Thiamine also helps with proper development of myelin sheaths, which wrap around nerves to protect them from damage and death.
9. Helps Keep a Positive Mood
Thiamine-rich foods are also mood-boosting, as this vitamin improves the body’s ability to withstand stress. It’s why B vitamins are often called the “anti-stress” vitamins. A lack of energy can contribute to a poor mood and motivation. Thiamine is needed to boost your mood and defend against depression and anxiety because of its positive effects on the brain.
It can ward off inflammation and help maintain healthy brain function that is responsible for decision making in the brain. Healthy nerve function is crucial for controlling stress and anxiety and boosting your mood.
10. Helps Treat Alcoholism
Thiamine helps decrease the risk for developing the specific brain disorder called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS). WKS symptoms include involuntary muscle movement, nerve damage, lethargy and trouble walking. This brain disorder is related to low levels of thiamine and is often seen in alcoholics, especially those who have poor diets as well. Alcohol negatively impacts the body’s ability to absorb thiamine from foods.
It is believed that between 30 percent to 80 percent of alcoholics have thiamine deficiency. High doses of thiamine have been shown to help to decrease symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Thiamine deficiency occurs most often when someone consumes a diet that’s too low in calories, low in animals products (such a vegan or vegetarian diet) or if that person overconsumes alcohol. The human body requires a minimum of 0.33 milligrams of thiamine for every 1,000 kilocalories it consumes to prevent deficiency.
What are the symptoms of thiamine/vitamin B1 deficiency? Severe thiamine deficiency is also known as beriberi. Signs and symptoms of beriberi can include heart failure, muscle weakness, delirium or confusion, and a burning sensation in the hands and feet. Other symptoms can still be experienced even if vitamin B1 deficiency is not as severe.
In industrialized nations, when most people consume enough calories, thiamine deficiency is rare. Thiamine deficiencies are not very common because the vitamin is plentiful in most foods that are widely available.
Most people don’t require thiamine supplements to meet their daily needs, but getting more thiamine can be helpful if you’re feeling fatigued, stress or ill. If you’re unsure about whether supplementation may be beneficial for you, talk to your healthcare professional and mention any risk factors you might have for thiamine deficiency.
Thiamine is included in many vitamin B complex supplements and multivitamins. While thiamine works best when consumed or taken with other B vitamins, it is not the same as vitamin B12, B6 or other B vitamins. If you want to increase your intake of thiamine, it’s better to take a B complex formula than a B12 supplement. B12 is also good for supporting energy levels and mental health, but these two vitamins have different mechanisms of action.
A great way to get thiamine easily without taking a supplement is by having one to two tablespoons of nutritional yeast daily, which is high in many B vitamins and even plant-based protein. Sprinkle these yellow flakes over veggies, a baked potato, popcorn or eggs, since it tastes very similar to cheese. Just one tablespoon provides more than 150 percent of your daily thiamine needs, plus amino acids and other minerals. Look for organic nutritional yeast that is not fortified.
Risks and Side Effects
How much is too much thiamine? In other words, can you overdose on vitamin B1/thiamine?
Consuming high doses of thiamine from foods isn’t very dangerous because thiamine is water-soluble and can be excreted from the body via urine pretty easily. This is why thiamine is considered non-toxic even in high amounts. Only a small percentage of a high dose of thiamine is actually absorbed by the body.
That being said, it is still possible to get too much thiamine from supplements if you take very large amounts at once, such 50 milligrams a day or more from a combination of food or supplements.
Not many side effects have been attributed to having too much vitamin B1 from foods alone, but to be safe it’s still best to read supplement dosage directions carefully.
- Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, and is a water-soluble vitamin that’s found in many plant and animal-derived foods.
- Thiamine foods include nutritional yeast, sea vegetables, certain whole grains, green veggies like asparagus and peas, seeds, beans, and fish.
- Benefits of eating thiamine rich foods include supporting the metabolism, raising energy levels, protecting the heart, supporting neurological health and protecting the eyes/vision.
- People who require higher intake of thiamine and can benefit from eating more foods with thiamine include alcoholics, people eating low-calorie diets, diabetics, pregnant or breastfeeding women, the elderly, and people with anemia, HIV, inflammatory bowel disease or liver disease.
- Most people don’t need a thiamine supplement to get enough, and because it’s water-soluble there isn’t much risk involved with consuming too much thiamine.