Niacin (vitamin B3) is critical for energy utilisation and can help lower cholesterol, ease arthritis, and boost brain function.
Niacin is a precursor of NAD and NADP, which are involved in over 400 crucial bodily reactions, including cellular metabolism and the movement and transfer of energy throughout the body.
This article will show you the foods and recipes that contain the most niacin using the tools and charts used by Optimisers in our Micros Masterclass.
- Niacin Food Chart
- Niacin Rich Foods (Per Serving)
- Niacin Rich Foods (Per Calorie)
- Niacin-Rich Recipes
- Why is Niacin Important?
- What Is Vitamin B3 Good For, and What Does Niacin Do in Your Body?
- You Can Make Niacin from Protein.
- What Are the Symptoms of Vitamin B3 Deficiency?
- Niacin Storage in Your Body
- Functions of niacin
- Factors That Increase Your Demand for Niacin
- How Much Niacin Is Required Daily?
- Optimal Niacin (B3) Intake
- Excess B3 Side Effects: The Niacin Flush
- Synergistic Nutrients with Niacin
- Niacin Fortification – A Double-Edged Sword?
- How Can I Calculate if I am Getting Enough Niacin?
- Nutrient Density Starter Pack
- Nutrient Series
Niacin Food Chart
The chart below shows a range of popular foods in terms of niacin (per calorie) vs niacin (per serve). Foods towards the right will provide more niacin per calorie, while the foods towards the top will provide more niacin in the serving sizes we typically eat them.
For more detail, you can dive into the interactive Tableau version of this chart (on your computer), check out the food lists of popular foods below or download longer lists in our Optimising Nutrition Community here.
Niacin Rich Foods (Per Serving)
The popular foods listed below will give you more niacin in the typical serving sizes we consume them in.
- chicken breast
- beef steak
- chicken breast
- beef steak (sirloin)
- chicken thigh
- chicken wing
- chicken thigh
- chicken drumstick
- chicken drumstick
- ground beef
- pork chops
- ground beef
- peanut butter
- brown rice
Niacin Rich Foods (Per Calorie)
Foods highest in niacin per calorie tend to be green veggies like the ones listed below.
- chicken breast
- broccoli seeds (sprouted)
- chicken broth
- beef steak
- coriander leaf
- chicken drumstick
- chicken thigh
- bok choy
The chart below shows our 1400+ NutriBooster recipes that we use in the Micros Masterclass plotted in terms of niacin vs protein %. Recipes towards the right will help you boost your niacin with fewer calories. Note that niacin and protein % trend together, so if you get adequate protein, you’ll likely also get a solid amount of niacin.
To dive into the detail, you can open the interactive Tableau version of this chart (on your computer). Then, click on each recipe to learn more about it and view a picture of the recipe.
Some examples of our NutriBooster recipes that contain the most niacin are shown below.
Why is Niacin Important?
- Energy production: Niacin helps convert food into energy by aiding in the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
- Cardiovascular health: Niacin can help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease.
- Brain function: Niacin is essential for the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which plays a crucial role in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep.
- Skin health: Niacin has been shown to improve skin health by reducing inflammation, preventing acne, and improving the skin’s natural barrier function.
- Digestive health: Niacin is important for the proper functioning of the digestive system and helps maintain healthy gut bacteria.
What Is Vitamin B3 Good For, and What Does Niacin Do in Your Body?
- Because niacin is critical for energy utilisation, it can help lower cholesterol, ease arthritis, and boost brain function.
- Niacin is a precursor of NAD and NADP. These two coenzymes are involved in over 400 crucial bodily reactions, including cellular metabolism and the movement and transfer of energy throughout the body.
- Niacin plays a role in cell signalling, or cell communication, to initiate essential processes.
- Niacin is also crucial for creating and repairing DNA.
- Niacin helps to inhibit the deposit of fatty acids into the liver and can be helpful in conditions like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
- Niacin works as an antioxidant and protects various parts of the body from oxidative damage.
If someone is not getting enough niacin from their diet, all these biological processes suffer.
You Can Make Niacin from Protein.
Your body gets most of its niacin through food but can make small amounts endogenously from the amino acid tryptophan. However, this process isn’t overly reliable as a source of vitamin B3, though, as only around 2% of niacin is converted from tryptophan.
What Are the Symptoms of Vitamin B3 Deficiency?
The official name for niacin deficiency is pellagra, although it has become rare since the food fortification of vitamin B3 began. However, this vitamin deficiency can present itself if someone consumes a diet low in protein or niacin-rich foods.
Someone may also fall short of their niacin intake if there are absorption issues, like damage to the small intestine or stomach. Too much alcohol or conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can contribute to poor niacin absorption in this way.
Symptoms of niacin deficiency include:
- pigmented brown rash or discolouration when exposed to sunlight (perhaps the most distinctive characteristic),
- bright red tongue,
- dementia (memory loss and mental confusion),
- diarrhea, and
B vitamins are a ‘family’ and often reinforce and synergise one another’s actions. For this reason, inadequate riboflavin (B2) and pyridoxine (B6) intake can also contribute to a niacin deficiency. Likewise, inadequate intake of iron has a similar effect.
Niacin Storage in Your Body
Niacin is water-soluble, meaning your body doesn’t store it for long, so you must consume niacin-rich foods regularly. However, the fact that niacin is water-soluble means that your body can quickly excrete excess niacin.
Functions of niacin
You require adequate niacin to:
- break down your food,
- build and grow your muscles,
- detoxify your body,
- create cholesterol and fats usable for the body,
- recycle other nutrients (e.g., vitamin K and folate),
- manage oxidative stress,
- use neurotransmitters in your brain,
- create and repair your DNA, and
- lengthen your telomeres (an indicator of aging and longevity).
NAD+ is a critical enzyme that helps to shuttle electrons throughout your body. A decrease in your NAD+ levels is a crucial marker of aging and lower energy. Reduced NAD+ has also been linked to cardiovascular and renal disease.
The increase in NAD+ and sirtuins seems to be one of the reasons that calorie restriction and fasting help repair our bodies and delay the onset of aging. Hence, focusing on higher satiety nutrient-dense foods and meals rich in NAD+ precursors like niacin can help delay diseases of ageing.
Factors That Increase Your Demand for Niacin
The body varies in its demands for different nutrients depending on the environment it is exposed to. For example, if there are more stressors in your life, there may be a higher demand for niacin.
You may need more niacin if you:
- consume excessive amounts of alcohol,
- eat a lot of sugar,
- have diarrhoea,
- have a fever,
- have high cholesterol,
- are going through a growth spurt,
- consume a low-protein diet,
- eat a lot of refined foods,
- are a smoker,
- are more physically active,
- have schizophrenia, or
- have ulcerative colitis.
How Much Niacin Is Required Daily?
Our satiety analysis of data from Optimisers suggests that foods containing more niacin tend to be more satiating on a calorie-for-calorie basis until around 60 mg/2000 calories. People who eat food and meals that contain more niacin within this threshold tend to consume 32% fewer calories.
The median niacin intake of our Optimisers is 32 mg/2000 calories, with an 85th percentile value of 67 mg/2000 calories. This is significantly higher than the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) of 11mg/day and Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) of 16 mg/day.
Niacin is one of the most readily absorbed vitamins. At high doses of 3 – 4 g per day, niacin is still taken up into the bloodstream to create NAD+ and add to the circulating pool of niacin. This may be useful to replenish niacin stores if you’ve been fasting for extended periods, but supplementing more B3 does not always mean that we produce more NAD+ or burn more energy. Excessively high supplemental intakes of niacin can contribute to peptic ulcers, hypotension, or liver damage.
It doesn’t seem that we crave any more niacin beyond the maximum of 60 mg/2000 calories daily. For this reason, focusing on getting your niacin needs from food is best.
Optimal Niacin (B3) Intake
Based on the robust satiety response data, we have set a stretch target of 60 mg/2000 calories for vitamin B3 (niacin).
Once you start to get the hang of nutrient density, you could ‘level up’ by working to achieve these stretch targets to optimise your nutrition. For more details, see:
Excess B3 Side Effects: The Niacin Flush
The Upper Limit Intake (UL) for niacin has been set at 35 mg/day because of the niacin flush response that can occur if taking large doses of supplemental niacin. This is harmless but slightly uncomfortable for some.
Supplemental niacin is absorbed more quickly than food, allowing large amounts to flood into the bloodstream. As a result, capillaries expand rapidly, allowing blood to flow to the skin’s surface. The flush is harmless, but it can be uncomfortable and surprising! It’s a bit like an internal sauna.
Although B3 is essential for energy production, high supplemental doses of B3 will slow lipolysis and gluconeogenesis because it sends a ‘full’ signal to the body. If you choose to supplement Vitamin B3, don’t take it right before a workout because it will limit your energy availability because your body won’t mobilise your stored body fat as readily. In addition, excessive supplemental niacin may cause insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance (i.e., diabetes).
If you supplement B3, start small at 25 mg/day and see what happens before ramping up to higher doses. Taking niacin in the middle or towards the end of a meal can help to limit the flush by slowing adsorption.
High-dose niacin supplementation for managing diabetes, high cholesterol, and other conditions should only be done under the supervision of an experienced health practitioner who can monitor changes in your cholesterol, insulin, and glucose levels over time.
Synergistic Nutrients with Niacin
Niacin works synergistically with vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, C, chromium, zinc, potassium manganese, phosphorus, copper, folate, iron, magnesium, methionine, selenium, and tryptophan. Your body requires these other nutrients for niacin to function correctly.
While supplements may be convenient, they often do not come equipped with all of these vitamins and minerals as food does. Hence, getting your niacin from whole food sources that naturally are packaged with other synergistic nutrients is crucial.
Niacin Fortification – A Double-Edged Sword?
Widespread fortification of common foods with vitamin B3 was introduced in the 1930s to combat an outbreak of pellagra worldwide. However, deficiency in this nutrient was found to be more common in poorer areas, particularly during the Great Depression, when people could only afford to eat foods that lacked niacin, like rice, wheat, and corn.
Guidelines for fortification were revised in 1974, with a sharp increase in the fortification of common breakfast cereals. As shown in the chart below, created from data from the USDA Economic Research Service, the availability of niacin in the food system has increased with the fortification of breakfast cereals and bread.
Interestingly, our satiety analysis shows that very high levels of niacin correlate with a higher calorie intake. More niacin from supplements and fortification does not equate to greater satiety.
Many modern foods are heavily processed and contain excessive amounts of synthetic vitamins. In addition, processed foods are typically higher in fats and carbs and low in protein, making them easy to overeat and dense in calories.
The 2014 paper Excess vitamin intake: An unrecognised risk factor for obesity highlights that sharp increases in infant formula and breakfast cereal fortification were proportional to increases in obesity rates when introduced in different countries. The study also notes that B vitamins promote fat synthesis when taken in excess. In addition, they may cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugars) and thus increase appetite for more high glycaemic foods when added to foods like fortified bread and cereals with a high glycaemic index.
Fortification and supplementation can benefit frank deficiencies or where nutrient-dense foods are hard to obtain. Fortification has been life-changing in parts of the world where dietary staples are corn, wheat, and unfortified rice. However, data analysis suggests that supplementation and fortification of isolated nutrients in levels over and above what is naturally found in whole foods do not correlate with an overall lowered calorie intake. Therefore, the satiety impact shown in this analysis can only be assumed for minimally processed foods that naturally contain these nutrients.
In 1959, the University of Illinois produced a landmark pamphlet titled “Balancing Swine Rations“, documenting their research that identified the feeding regime for pigs that optimised growth and minimised the amount of feed in the shortest amount of time. The most rapid weight gain was observed in pigs with only a fortified feed and no alternative.
Before the widespread fortification of pig feed, farmers knew that pigs housed in barns fed solely on grain and corn would get sick, lose their hair, and fail to thrive. As a result, the farmers needed to ensure that pigs had time on pasture or were fed alfalfa to obtain adequate vitamins to grow and remain healthy before vitamin fortification.
But this all changed once they optimised the fortification of their chow. They initially found that the pigs would predominantly choose the pasture and unfortified feed if given a choice, although they would not grow as fast. However, once given only fortified feed, they would eat more and lose interest in healthier natural foods.
In his book, The End of Craving, Mark Schatzker likens our modern food system to the fortified pig food designed to minimise input, prevent deficiencies and maximise growth.
Fortification of processed food appears to override our innate drive to seek out a variety of foods containing the full spectrum of nutrients we need to avoid excess calorie intake and thrive. Since the study was performed in 1959, this understanding of supplementation has been used heavily to maximise growth rates in livestock for meat production.
This understanding of the role of fortification also appears to have influenced human food. The increased rates of fortification in breakfast cereals and other ultra-processed ‘foods’ may have inadvertently had a similar impact. Because highly processed food now contains more of the narrow spectrum of nutrients required to thrive, we are more content to eat more of them. As a result, we have a reduced appetite for food naturally containing common nutrients.
If we have innate cravings for vitamins, fortification may increase cravings for processed and fortified foods and drown out cravings for whole foods containing other vital nutrients like amino acids, potassium, sodium and calcium needed to thrive.
In summary, it can only be assumed that the positive satiety impact of increased nutrient density comes from whole foods containing a complete range of essential and non-essential nutrients–not isolated synthetic nutrients!
While getting adequate niacin from food is critical, you should also avoid getting excess niacin from processed foods to regulate appetite and cravings.
How Can I Calculate if I am Getting Enough Niacin?
If you’re interested in determining if you’re getting the right amount of niacin in your diet, you can check your nutrient profile using our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge.
After a week of tracking your current diet in Cronometer, Nutrient Optimiser will give you a prioritised list of foods and NutriBooster recipes that will help you plug your current nutritional gaps, including selenium.
Nutrient Density Starter Pack
We’re eager to make the process of Nutritional Optimisation as simple as possible. So, to help you increase your intake of all the essential nutrients, including niacin, when you join our free Optimising Nutrition Community, you’ll get a starter pack that includes:
- Food Lists – optimised for each essential nutrient, goals, preferences and conditions.
- The Healthiest Meal Plan in the World – see what a week of nutrient-dense eating looks like.
- Recipes – check out samples of each of our NutriBosoter recipe books.
- 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge – identify your priority nutrients and the foods and meals that contain them.
- Biotin (B7)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Niacin (B3)
- Pantothenic acid (B5)
- Vitamin B6
- Folate (B9)
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K1
- Vitamin K2