B1 - The Energy Vitamin B1 / Thiamin
Vitamin B1, also known as thiamin, is a member of the vitamin B complex and like all of them is water soluble. It was first identified by two doctors, Jansen and Donath, way back in 1926 and they found it in the residues left behind when natural wholegrain rice was polished to make it into white rice.
This explains why Japanese officers and guards became ill while their prisoners in the camps didn't. The prisoners were fed on cheap brown rice but the Japanese were given the much more expensive and socially acceptable white rice. Because food was in such short supply and rice formed the bulk of the diet, there weren't enough other sources of B1 to compensate for the white rice. The Japanese soon realised what was going wrong and switched things around, after which the prisoners soon developed vitamin B1 deficiency which eventually causes the fatal disease beriberi. This condition is rare in the Western world but still quite common where the staple diet is polished white rice. The disease affects the nervous system and mental ability, also causing muscle weakness, severe water retention with heart and circulatory problems.
This nutrient works as a coenzyme needed to convert carbohydrates into energy for use by the muscles and in the nervous system, where it's needed to enable nerve impulses to travel between the brain and the spinal cord. The combination of poor diet and bad cooking can lead to mild deficiency. B1 is easily destroyed by overcooking as it leaches into the cooking water and usually gets thrown away. It's also destroyed by the sulphur dioxide preservative widely used in food processing. Alkaline products like baking powder and soda also break down this vitamin.
The most common cause of severe deficiency in the West is alcohol as excessive amounts prevent its absorption. Smoking has a similar effect and so too do the carbonates and citrates used as additives in canned drinks and many processed foods. Long term use of antacid remedies and large amounts of coffee or tea can also lower the amount of B1 your body can absorb.
Eating foods rich in vitamin C like fruits and vegetables at the same time as sources of B1 can improve absorption and like most B vitamins B1 works best when combined with other members of the group.
Early symptoms of even a slight deficiency may be fatigue, nausea, poor appetite, digestive upsets, muscle weakness, memory loss, poor concentration, depression and irritability. If the deficiency is not rectified by supplements or improved diet, constipation, painful calves, pins and needles, burning sensations in the feet and general debility will follow.
Although the RDA is only 1.4 mg a day, some people may need considerably more. Pregnancy, breast feeding, before and after surgery, prolonged stress all indicate the need for around 4 mg daily. Anyone on a high carbohydrate diet, especially athletes, regular exercisers and people with physically active jobs, would all benefit from a supplement of 10 mg daily. Supplements of up to 50 mg a day may help to improve memory, reduce sugar cravings, especially associated with PMS, and there's even evidence to show that it might slow the progression of Alzheimer's Disease. Conditions directly affecting the nervous system like Multiple Sclerosis, Trigeminal Neuralgia, Peripheral Neuritis and Bell's Palsey may also benefit.
Few people seem to eat roe these days but taramasalata which is made from roe is increasingly popular. Apart from its thiamin content roe is an extremely rich source of vitamins A, E, biotin (another B vitamin) and copper.
1.3 mg / 100 g
Percentage of daily requirement: 143% from average 150 g portion
B1 score: 10/10
2 mg / 100 g
Percentage of daily requirement: 28% from average 20 g portion
B1 score: 3/10
0.7 mg / 100 g
Percentage of daily requirement: 25% from average 50 g portion
B1 score: 3/10
1.1 mg / 100 g
Percentage of daily requirement: 39% from average 50 g portion
B1 score: 4/10
1 mg / 100 g
Percentage of daily requirement: 107% from average 150 g portion
B1 score: 10/10
0.08 mg / 100 g
Percentage of daily requirement: 6% from average 160 g portion
B1 score: 1/10
0.74 mg / 100 g
Percentage of daily requirement: 53% from average 100 g portion
B1 score: 5/10
Apart from the risk of high blood pressure, kidney stones, raised cholesterol and permanent kidney damage, there's another reason to avoid the Atkins diet like the plague. A healthy diet should include at least four slices of wholemeal bread a day which would give you more than a third of your B1 requirement. Many of the other best sources are starchy foods too.
0.34 mg / 100 g
Percentage of daily requirement: 9% from average slice
B1 score: 2/10
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