What can foods high in vitamin B1 do for you?

  • Maintain your energy supplies
  • Coordinate the activity of nerves and muscles
  • Support proper heart function

What events can indicate a need for more foods high in vitamin B1?

  • Loss of appetite
  • "Pins and needles" sensations
  • Feeling of numbness, especially in the legs
  • Muscle tenderness, particularly in the calf muscles

Very good sources of vitamin B1 include asparagus, romaine lettuce, mushrooms, spinach, sunflower seeds, tuna, green peas, tomatoes, eggplant and Brussels sprouts.



What is vitamin B1?

Vitamin B1, also commonly called thiamin, is a member of the B-vitamin family and most famous for its role in the nutritional deficiency disease beriberi. Beriberi, a word derived from the Sinhalese word beri meaning "weakness," is a disease that was widespread (particularly in parts of Asia) during the late 19th and early 20th century.

In its most common form, the disease was characterized by muscular weakness , energy deprivation, and inactivity. Sailing voyages were a common backdrop for the appearance of beriberi, and the addition of whole grains to ships rations was discovered to prevent its occurrence. By 1926, researchers discovered that the preventive substance in whole grains that could also remedy the energy deprivation in the ships' crews was vitamin B1.

Although beriberi is extremely rare in the United States, our understanding of vitamin B1 and its relationship to energy deprivation has carried over into our approach to other health problems (like alcoholism) in which vitamin B1 deficiency plays a critical role.

How it Functions

What is the function of vitamin B1?

Energy Production

Most cells in the body depend on sugar as an energy source. When oxygen is used to help convert sugar into usable energy, the process of energy generation is called aerobic energy production. This process cannot take place without adequate supplies of vitamin B1, since B1 is part of an enzyme system (called the pyruvate dehydrogenase system) that enables oxygen-based processing of sugar.

When vitamin B1 functions in this energy-production capacity, it is usually present in the form of TDP, or thiamin diphosphate. Other forms of vitamin B1, including TPP (thiamin pyrophosphate) and TMP (thiamin monophosphate) are also important in energy production.

Because vitamin B1 is so important in energy production, and because food energy is usually measured in terms of calories, vitamin B1 is often prescribed in relationship to caloric intake. For example, recommendations sometime suggest intake of 0.5 milligrams of B1 for every 1,000 calories consumed.

Nervous System Support

Vitamin B1 also plays a key role in support of the nervous system, where it permits healthy development of the fat-like coverings which surround most nerves (called myelin sheaths). In the absence of vitamin B1, these coverings can degenerate or become damaged. Pain, prickly sensations, and nerve deadening are nerve-related symptoms that can result from vitamin B1 deficiency.

A second type of connection between vitamin B1 and the nervous system involves its role in the production of the messaging molecule acetylcholine. This molecule, called a neurotransmitter, is used by the nervous system to relay messages between the nerves and muscles. Acetylcholine cannot be produced without adequate supplies of vitamin B1. Because acetylcholine is used by the nervous system to ensure proper muscle tone in the heart, deficiency of B1 can also result in compromised heart function.

Deficiency Symptoms

What are deficiency symptoms for vitamin B1?

Because of its ability to disrupt the body's energy production, one of the first symptoms of vitamin B1 deficiency is loss of appetite (called anorexia) that reflects the body's listlessness and malaise.

Inability of the nervous system to ensure proper muscle tone in the GI tract can lead to indigestion or constipation, and muscle tenderness, particularly in the calf muscles.

Other symptoms related to nerve dysfunction are commonly associated with thiamin deficiency, since the myelin sheaths wrapping the nerves cannot be correctly made without adequate thiamin. These nerve-related symptoms include "pins and needles" sensations or numbness, especially in the legs.

Toxicity Symptoms

What are toxicity symptoms for vitamin B1?

Even at extremely high doses of 500 milligrams per day, vitamin B1 intake does not appear to carry a risk of toxicity. This vitamin is often supplemented in high doses during treatment of maple sugar urine disease (MSUD), and may be given intravenously in treatment of alcoholism; these clinical circumstances have provided a broad basis for determining the low risk of toxicity associated with increased intake of thiamin. In its most recent 1998 recommendations for intake of B-complex vitamins, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences did not establish a tolerable upper level (UL) for intake of vitamin B1.

Impact of Cooking, Storage and Processing

How do cooking, storage, or processing affect vitamin B1?

Vitamin B1 is highly unstable, and easily damaged by heat, degree of acidity (called pH), and by other chemical substances. Both sulfites and nitrites can inactivate vitamin B1. Processing of grains for use in cereals, and in particular, heating of processed grain components can result in the loss of more than half of the grains' B1 content.

Long-term (for example, 12 months) refrigeration of B1-containing foods can also result in substantial loss. Green beans, for example, lose over 90% of their original B1 content after one year's refrigeration, and the losses for other B1-containing foods range from 20-60%.

Factors that Affect Function

What factors might contribute to a deficiency of vitamin B1?

The leading risk factor for vitamin B-1 deficiency in the United States is alcoholism. In fact, the link between alcoholism, heart disease, and vitamin B1 deficiency is so strong that a specific disease called beriberi heart disease has been formally identified by researchers. This vitamin B1 deficiency condition usually leads to congestive heart failure. Chronic alcoholics may need 10-100 times the ordinary thiamin requirement.

Heavy users of coffee and tea may also have increased risk of vitamin B1 deficiency, since these beverages act as diuretics and remove both water and water-soluble vitamins (like B1) from the body. Our need for vitamin B1 is also increased by chronic stress, chronic diarrhea, chronic fever, and smoking. Individuals with these health problems may need 5-10 times the ordinary amount of vitamin B1.

Drug-Nutrient Interactions

What medications affect vitamin B1?

"Loop diuretics," including the drug furosemide (Lasix); birth control pills (oral contraceptives); antibiotics; sulfa drugs; and alcohol have all been shown to decrease the availability of vitamin B1 in the body. In addition, some anticancer drugs like 5-fluorouracil can prevent conversion of vitamin B1 (thiamin) to one of its chemically active forms (thiamine pyrophosphate, or TTP).

Nutrient Interactions

How do other nutrients interact with vitamin B1?

No B-complex vitamin is more dependent on its fellow B vitamins than thiamin. Absorption of thiamin into the body requires adequate supplies of vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can increase loss of thiamin in the urine, and vitamin B6 also appears to help regulate distribution of thiamin throughout the body.

Health Conditions

What health conditions require special emphasis on vitamin B1?

Vitamin B1 may play a role in the prevention and/or treatment of the following health conditions:

  • Alcoholism
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Crohn's disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Depression
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Korsakoff's psychosis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Wernicke's encephalopathy

Form in Dietary Supplements

What forms of vitamin B1 are found in dietary supplements?

Most supplements contain vitamin B1 in a biologically non-active form called thiamin hydrochloride. When B1 is active in the body's metabolic pathways, it is typically found in the form thiamin pyrophosphate (TPP), thiamin monophosphate (TMP), or thiamin diphosphate (TDP). Each of these forms of vitamin B1 is water-soluble and available in supplemental form.

Two synthetic, fat-soluble forms of thiamin also exist. These forms, called thiamin propyl disulfide and thiamin tetrahydrofurfuryl disulphide, are sometimes used in treatment of thiamin deficiency because they follow a different route of absorption into the body.

Food Sources

Introduction to Nutrient Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the foods which are either excellent, very good or good sources of this nutrient. Next to each food name you will find the following information: the serving size of the food; the number of calories in one serving; DV% (percent daily value) of the nutrient contained in one serving (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Nutrient Rating System, please click here.


Foods Ranked as quality sources of:
vitamin B1 (thiamin)
Food Serving
Cals Amount
Foods Rating
Lettuce, Romaine 2 cup 15.7 0.11 7.3 8.4 very good
Asparagus, Boiled 1 cup 43.2 0.22 14.7 6.1 very good
Mushrooms, Crimini, Raw 5 oz-wt 31.2 0.13 8.7 5.0 very good
Spinach (boiled, with salt) 1 cup 41.4 0.17 11.3 4.9 very good
Sunflower Seeds, Dried 0.25 cup 205.2 0.82 54.7 4.8 very good
Tuna, Yellowfin, Baked/Broiled 4 oz-wt 157.6 0.57 38.0 4.3 very good
Celery, Raw 1 cup 19.2 0.06 4.0 3.8 good
Green Peas-Boiled 1 cup 134.4 0.41 27.3 3.7 very good
Tomato, Red, Raw, Ripe 1 cup 37.8 0.11 7.3 3.5 very good
Eggplant, Boiled 1 cup 27.7 0.08 5.3 3.5 very good
Greens, Mustard, Boiled 1 cup 21.0 0.06 4.0 3.4 good
Brussels Sprouts, Boiled 1 cup 60.8 0.17 11.3 3.4 very good
Cabbage (shredded, boiled) 1 cup 33.0 0.09 6.0 3.3 good
Watermelon 1 cup 48.6 0.12 8.0 3.0 good
Red Bell Peppers (sliced, raw) 1 cup 24.8 0.06 4.0 2.9 good
Carrots, Raw 1 cup 52.5 0.12 8.0 2.7 good
Squash, Summer, All Varieties 1 cup 36.0 0.08 5.3 2.7 good
Squash, Winter, All Varieties 1 cup 80.0 0.17 11.3 2.6 good
Greens, Turnip, Cooked 1 cup 28.8 0.06 4.0 2.5 good
Broccoli (pieces, steamed) 1 cup 43.7 0.09 6.0 2.5 good
Green Snap/String Beans, Boiled 1 cup 43.8 0.09 6.0 2.5 good
Corn, Yellow, Boiled 1 cup 177.1 0.36 24.0 2.4 good
Spelt WholeGrain Flour 2 oz-wt 189.0 0.37 24.7 2.3 good
Kale, Fresh, Boiled 1 cup 36.4 0.07 4.7 2.3 good
Beans, Black, Boiled 1 cup 227.0 0.42 28.0 2.2 good
Pineapple 1 cup 76.0 0.14 9.3 2.2 good
Oats, Whole Grain 1 cup 145.1 0.26 17.3 2.2 good
Oranges 1 each 61.6 0.11 7.3 2.1 good
Cauliflower (boiled, drained) 1 cup 28.5 0.05 3.3 2.1 good
Chard, Boiled 1 cup 35.0 0.06 4.0 2.1 good
Collard Greens, Boiled, Drained 1 cup 49.4 0.08 5.3 1.9 good
Split Peas, Boiled 1 cup 231.3 0.37 24.7 1.9 good
Lentils, Boiled 1 cup 229.7 0.33 22.0 1.7 good
Beans, Navy, Cooked 1 cup 258.4 0.37 24.7 1.7 good
Garlic 1 oz-wt 42.2 0.06 4.0 1.7 good
Beans, Lima, Cooked 1 cup 216.2 0.30 20.0 1.7 good
Beans, Pinto, Cooked 1 cup 234.3 0.32 21.3 1.6 good
Seeds, Sesame 0.25 cup 206.3 0.28 18.7 1.6 good
Grapes, Concord 1 cup 61.6 0.08 5.3 1.6 good
Beans, Kidney, Cooked 1 cup 224.8 0.28 18.7 1.5 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

Public Health Recommendations

What are current public health recommendations for vitamin B1?

The Recommended Dietary Allowances for vitamin B1 set in 1998 by the National Academy of Sciences are as follows:

  • 0-6 months: 200 micrograms
  • 6-12 months: 300 micrograms
  • 1-3 years: 500 micrograms
  • 4-8 years: 600 micrograms
  • Males 9-13 years: 900 micrograms
  • Males 14 years and older: 1.2 milligrams
  • Females 9-13 years: 900 micrograms
  • Females 14 years and older: 1.1 milligrams
  • Pregnant females of any age: 1.4 milligrams
  • Lactating females of any age: 1.5 milligrams


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This page was updated on: 2004-11-21 12:11:28
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation