Nutrient to Know: Niacin

Though plentiful in lots of foods, many folks turn to this B-vitamin in supplement form. Find out why that might not be such a good idea.

What is It?

Niacin (a.k.a. vitamin B3) is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that daily excess is lost in the urine. Because of this high turnover, it’s best to have a steady intake in niacin-rich foods.

Why is It Good for You?

Our bodies rely on this important vitamin to help produce energy from the carbs and fat we eat. It also plays a role in the workings of both the digestive and nervous systems.

Thankfully, you can find niacin in a wide variety of foods (see below). Not getting enough of this nutrient can lead to weakness, loss of appetite, and a rare combination of symptoms including diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia and possibly death known as Pellagra.

As usual, food sources of niacin are preferable because high doses from supplements have been shown to cause liver damage, skin rashes and digestive problems. Prescription-strength doses are sometimes given to help lower cholesterol, but those that do take it in such large amounts should work closely with their doctor or registered dietitian to make sure toxic effects are avoided.

Even low doses of niacin supplements can cause “niacin flush,” flushing along with possible itching and discomfort of the skin (usually the face). Just another good reason to watch your intake of the vitamin in any of the supplements you take.

Where Can I Find It?

The daily value for this vitamin is 20 milligrams per day. It can be found in lean meats, poultry, fish, wheat bran, legumes, mushrooms, whole grain cereals and peanuts.  Pass on the mega-dose supplements and stick to these easy-to-eat sources:

3 ounces roasted chicken breast = 11.4 milligrams (57 percent)
3 ounces cooked tuna = 9.0 milligrams (45 percent)
3 ounces cooked salmon = 6.8 milligrams (34 percent)
1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms = 2.7 milligrams (14 percent)
1 tablespoon peanut butter = 2.2 milligrams (11 percent)
1 slice whole wheat bread = 1.3 milligrams (7 percent)

Try the chicken satay, pictured above, for a hefty percentage of your daily niacin needs.

TELL US: What nutrients do you want to know more about?

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »

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