Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) Rich Foods & Recipes

Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is an essential nutrient that enables you to use energy from foods rich in carbohydrates to power your brain and nervous system.  

A deficiency in Vitamin B1 can lead to a range of health problems, including beriberi, a disease that affects the nervous system and can cause muscle weakness, numbness, and tingling.

This article will show you the foods and recipes that contain the most selenium using the tools and charts used by Optimisers in our Micros Masterclass.

Vitamin B1 Food Chart

The chart below shows a range of popular foods in terms of vitamin B1 (per calorie) vs vitamin B1 (per serve).  Foods towards the right will provide more vitamin B1 per calorie, while the foods towards the top will provide more vitamin B1 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.

Vitamin B1-rich foods are found in both plant and animal-based foods.  However, foods highest in thiamine are arguably more concentrated in animal foods like meat, poultry, and shellfish.  

Grains are relatively good sources of vitamin B1, although it’s best to consume whole, unprocessed forms. 

Vitamin B1 Rich Foods (Per Serving)

The popular foods listed below will give you more vitamin B1 in the typical serving sizes we consume them in.  

  • pork chops
  • salmon  
  • macadamia nuts
  • liver
  • whole wheat bread
  • white bread
  • sunflower seeds
  • brown rice
  • mussels
  • green peas
  • pistachio nuts
  • tahini
  • brussels sprouts
  • pecans
  • beef steak
  • chicken breast 
  • asparagus
  • flax seeds
  • orange
  • watermelon

Vitamin B1 Rich Foods (Per Calorie)

Foods highest in vitamin B1 per calorie tend to be green veggies like the ones listed below.

  • watercress
  • spirulina
  • asparagus
  • endive
  • lettuce
  • spinach
  • pickles
  • mushrooms
  • green peas
  • brussels sprouts
  • flax seeds
  • mustard greens
  • green bell peppers
  • green beans
  • bok choy
  • coriander leaf
  • sunflower seeds
  • kale
  • pork chops 
  • zucchini
  • cabbage (green)

Vitamin B1-Rich Recipes

The chart below shows our 1400+ NutriBooster recipes that we use in the Micros Masterclass plotted in terms of vitamin B1 vs protein %.  Recipes towards the right will help you boost your vitamin B1 with fewer calories.   Note that vitamin B1 and protein % trend together, so if you get adequate protein, you’ll likely also get a solid amount of vitamin B1.

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 vitamin B1 are shown below. 

Why is Vitamin B1 Important? 

  • Energy production: Vitamin B1 helps in the breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose, which is then used by the body to produce energy.  It also helps in the metabolism of fats and proteins.
  • Nervous system function: Vitamin B1 is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system.  It is involved in the transmission of nerve signals and helps in the synthesis of neurotransmitters.
  • Cardiovascular health: Vitamin B1 helps in the production of red blood cells, which are necessary for the transportation of oxygen to the body’s tissues.  It also helps in maintaining a healthy heart by regulating heart muscle function.
  • Brain function: Vitamin B1 is essential for maintaining cognitive function and memory.  It has been shown to improve brain function in people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
  • Digestive health: Vitamin B1 is necessary for the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which is essential for the proper digestion of food.
  • Immune system function: Vitamin B1 is involved in the production of white blood cells, which help to fight off infections and diseases.

Symptoms of Vitamin B1 Deficiency

Severe thiamine deficiency is a recognised medical condition known as beriberi.  There are two forms of beriberi: ‘wet’ beriberi affecting the heart and circulatory system, and ‘dry’ beriberi, which can lead to nerve damage and poor muscle strength.  Wet beriberi can present as heart failure, while dry beriberi presents as muscle paralysis.

The condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is often a result of thiamine deficiency.  It is characterised by loss of cognition, muscle coordination, tremors, visual changes, and confusion that can lead to death if it goes unaddressed.

Low thiamine levels are prevalent in people with diabetes, Alzheimer’s, hypertension, liver failure and HIV/AIDS.  In addition, people who rely on polished rice and milled flour are prone to thiamine deficiency because these foods lack nutrients, including thiamine.

Thiamine deficiency is also common in alcoholics because alcohol inflames the stomach and contributes to nutrient malabsorption.  The body also requires thiamine to create the enzyme that metabolises alcohol.  Therefore, thiamine supplementation is often used in their rehabilitation and recovery

Processing Losses

Thiamine is a heat and light-sensitive vitamin.  Because of this factor, processing causes significant losses of thiamine levels in food, including:

  • roasting of meat (40 to 60%),
  • milling of flour (60 to 80%),
  • baking of bread (5 to 15%), and
  • the cooking of vegetables (60 to 80%).  

Storage and Losses of B1 

Thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin that can only be stored in the body for short durations before it exits through your urine.  Due to the limited storage capacity for thiamine, deficiencies can develop as quickly as two weeks of a nutrient-poor diet. 

Satiety Response to Thiamine

Our satiety analysis of data from Optimisers indicates a significant satiety response to a diet containing more thiamine (excluding amounts that could only be achieved from fortification or supplementation).  People who consume more vitamin B1 foods and meals per calorie tend to eat around 17% fewer calories than those consuming the least thiamine. 

For reference, the average thiamine intake of Optimisers is 1.8 mg/2000 calories, which is around twice the Estimated Average Requirement of 1.0 mg/day and the Daily Recommended Intake of 1.2 mg/day.  

Optimal Vitamin B1 Intake

Based on the robust satiety response data, we have set a stretch target of 1.5 mg/2000 calories for vitamin B1 (thiamine). 

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:

Thiamine Toxicity and Overdose

Because thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin, there is no known upper limit for vitamin B1 as the kidneys quickly excrete excess dietary thiamine in the urine. 

Bioavailability of Thiamine

Little is known about the bioavailability of thiamine from plants vs animal-based foods.  However, thiamine is sensitive to heat, how long it is cooked, and the duration it is stored.  For this reason, avoid cooking foods at high temperatures for too long, and try to consume unprocessed fresh foods as much as possible.

Availability of Thiamine in The Food System

Nearly 20% of US residents are thought to fall short of their minimum vitamin B1 intake.  But this could be as high as 50%!

Food staples like polished rice and milled flour are essentially void of thiamine.  To account for this, the widespread fortification of refined white flour was implemented in 1939 to address thiamine deficiency.  

While fortification and supplementation can be helpful if you have deficiency symptoms, avoiding supplements and fortified foods that provide more thiamine (vitamin B1) than you require is important.

Thiamine Fortification

Although vitamin B1 is critical for transforming food into usable energy, our data has shown increased intake of otherwise nutrient-poor foods fortified with thiamine. 

While whole grains naturally contain thiamine, refining them removes the bran and wheat germ that carries most of the thiamine found in grains. 

As shown in the chart below, our average intake of B1 has remained slightly above the EAR and RDI (data from USDA Economic Research Service) since the introduction of fortification in the 1930s.  However, this is still well below our preferred stretch target for vitamin B1 from whole foods that align with optimal satiety.

Widespread fortification of common foods with thiamine was introduced in the 1930s because of the deficiencies caused by the lack of nutrients in processed rice, wheat, and corn.  The guidelines for fortification were revised in 1974, which led to a sharp increase in the fortification of common breakfast cereals.  As shown in the chart below, thiamine availability in the food system has increased with the fortification of grain products (data from the USDA Economic Research Service).

Interestingly, when we look at the satiety analysis, including supplementation and fortification, we see that foods with very high thiamine levels correlate with an increased caloric intake. 

The 2014 paper Excess vitamin intake: An unrecognised risk factor for obesity highlights that sharp increases in the fortification of infant formula and breakfast cereals when introduced in different countries, correlated with sharp increases in obesity rates.  

The study notes that B vitamins promote fat synthesis when consumed in excess.  In addition, they may cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugars) and thus increase the appetite for more high glycaemic foods when found in foods like fortified bread and cereals. 

Fortification and supplementation can benefit frank deficiencies or where nutrient-dense foods are hard to obtain.  However, data analysis suggests that supplementation and fortification of isolated nutrients in levels over and above what is naturally found in whole foods does not correlate with an overall lowered calorie intake.   Therefore, the satiety impact shown in this analysis can only be assumed for minimally processed foods naturally containing these nutrients.  

In 1959 the University of Illinois produced a landmark pamphlet titled “Balancing Swine Rations“, documenting their research to identify the feeding regime that optimised growth while minimising the feed ratio (i.e., maximum weight gain with minimum food inputs).  The most rapid weight increases were observed in pigs with only fortified feed and no alternative. 

They ate more of the fortified feed rather than seeking out pasture or consuming alfalfa.  However, farmers found that pigs housed in barns that were solely fed grain and corn would get sick, lose their hair, and fail to thrive.  Therefore, before vitamin supplementation, farmers needed to ensure that the pigs had time on pasture or were fed alfalfa to obtain adequate vitamins to grow and remain healthy.  They also found that pigs predominantly preferred pasture and unfortified feed if given the choice of pasture or fortified feed.

In his book, The End of Craving, Mark Schatzker likens our modern food system to the fortified pig food designed to maximise growth and evade deficiencies.  The fortification of processed food overrides our innate drive to seek out a variety of foods that contain the full spectrum of nutrients we need to thrive and avoid excess calorie intake.  Since 1959, this understanding of the role of supplementation has been used heavily in feeding livestock to maximise growth rates for meat production.

The increased rates of fortification of breakfast cereals and other ultra-processed foods may have inadvertently had a similar impact.  Because ultra-processed foods now contain more nutrients required to thrive, we are motivated and content to continue eating more of them.  Unfortunately, as a result, we have a reduced appetite for foods that naturally contain the nutrients commonly used in fortification.  

If we have innate cravings for vitamins, fortification may increase cravings for processed foods and drown out cravings for whole foods containing other essential nutrients like amino acids, potassium, sodium, and calcium that we need to thrive.  For this reason, in our Micros Masterclass, we guide people to review their intake of supplements and fortified foods to ensure they are not excessive. 

In summary, it can only be assumed that the positive satiety impact of increased nutrient density comes from whole foods containing a broad range of essential and non-essential nutrients, not isolated synthetic nutrients. 

How Can I Calculate if I am Getting Enough Vitamin B1? 

If you’re interested in determining if you’re getting just the right amount of vitamin B1 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 vitamin B1, when you join our free Optimising Nutrition Community, you’ll get a starter pack that includes:

Nutrient Series

Minerals

Vitamins

Fatty acids

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