Top Foods High in Niacin

Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is one of the eight water-soluble B vitamins. Your body needs it to function properly.

You typically get the vitamin through the foods you eat. Some people take a niacin supplement to ensure they’re getting enough. Others may use prescription niacin to manage health conditions such as high cholesterol.

There are two chemical forms of niacin: nicotinic acid and niacinamide (nicotinamide). Both are found in food, as well as in B3 supplements. Much like the other B vitamins, niacin helps to turn the foods you eat into energy. It also aids in DNA repair and functions as an antioxidant. 

Why You Need Niacin

Niacin is an essential nutrient that you mainly need to get from foods. Your body may also convert some tryptophan, one of the body’s amino acids, into the nutrient. 

Since it’s a water-soluble vitamin, your body doesn’t store niacin. It excretes any excess of the vitamin through your urine. It’s important to regularly consume foods with niacin to ensure you’re getting enough every day. 

The amount of niacin you need varies based on your age and sex. For instance, adult women over the age of 18 need 14 mg while adult men need 18 mg. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need 18 mg and 17 mg respectively. 

While uncommon in Western countries, it is possible to develop a niacin deficiency. Symptoms include:

Untreated, it can lead to a condition called pellagra. 

Like other B vitamins, niacin plays a role in many functions throughout your body. The body uses it for such things as proper nervous system functions and metabolism. The vitamin also plays a role in:

Heart Health

Niacin helps to regulate cholesterol and protect the health of your heart. It can aid in reducing LDL cholesterol, raising HDL cholesterol, and improving triglyceride levels.

If you take statin medication or blood pressure-lowering medication, you should speak with your doctor, though, as too much niacin may have negative effects.

The vitamin also acts as an antioxidant, which can further protect your heart. As an antioxidant, it helps to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which can contribute to atherosclerosis, or narrowed arteries due to plaque buildup.

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Digestive Health

Niacin plays an important part in breaking down fats, carbohydrates, and alcohol in the digestive system. Having enough vitamin B3 also helps to prevent pellagra, which causes digestive issues such as vomiting and diarrhea, along with other symptoms. 

Skin Health

Niacin may help to keep your skin cells safe from sun damage.

Some studies also show that the vitamin may also play a role in preventing certain types of skin cancer.

Brain Health

Your brain needs niacin to function properly. Insufficient amounts of B3 could result in too little energy to the brain, which could lead to brain fog. It may even lead to symptoms of schizophrenia

Foods with Niacin

Many foods have niacin, so it’s typically easy to get your recommended daily intake from your diet. Many fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and milk, contain B3, but other food sources naturally have B3. The following foods are excellent sources of niacin:

1. Liver

Both beef and chicken livers are some of the best natural sources of niacin. Beef liver provides 14.9 mg of B3 per three-ounce serving, while a three-ounce portion of chicken liver has 9.3 mg. 

2. Chicken

Chicken meat, particularly chicken breast, is an excellent source of protein as well as niacin. A three-ounce serving of skinless breast meat provides 10.3 mg. 

3. Turkey

Turkey contains slightly less niacin than chicken, but it does have tryptophan, an amino acid often blamed for making you feel sleepy. Your body can convert small amounts of tryptophan into vitamin B3. Cooked turkey breast contains 10 mg of niacin per 3 ounces. 

4. Ground Beef

Ground beef is an excellent source of protein, iron, selenium, zinc, B12, and B3. A three-ounce serving of 90% lean ground beef has 5.8 mg. 

5. Fish

Fish, particularly salmon, tuna, and anchovies, is an excellent source of niacin. Sockeye salmon and canned tuna both offer 8.3 mg of the nutrient. Canned anchovies, which are also an excellent source of selenium, contain just 1mg of niacin per fish.  

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6. Brown Rice

One of the most notable differences between brown and white rice is the color. Another significant difference is in the nutrient content. Brown rice is less processed and, as such, maintains many more vitamins and minerals, including niacin. A one-cup serving of cooked brown rice has 5.2 mg. 

7. Avocados

In addition to being full of heart-healthy fats, fiber, and potassium, avocados are an excellent plant-based source of niacin. One whole California avocado, without the skin and seed, has 2.6 mg of B3. 

8. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is full of vital nutrients, including protein, iron, folic acid, zinc, and selenium. It also contains several B vitamins, including niacin. You’ll get 39.4 mg of B3 in 1 tablespoon.

With almost double your daily recommended intake of niacin in such a small serving, you should be careful not to consume too much. High doses of niacin may cause facial flushing. While it’s typically not harmful, it may be uncomfortable. It also subsides after a few hours. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 03, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences: “Niacin-respondent subset of schizophrenia – a therapeutic review.”

Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health: “Niacin — B3”

Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences: Official Journal of the European Photochemistry Association and the European Society for Photobiology: “Photoprotective effects of nicotinamide.”

National Institutes of Health: “Niacin: Fact Sheet for Consumers.”

National Institutes of Health: “Niacin: Fact Sheet for Professionals.”

Nutrients: “B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy – A Review.”

Mayo Clinic: “Niacin.”

Mount Sinai: “Vitamin B3 (Niacin)”

The American Journal of Cardiology: “Mechanism of Action of Niacin.”

The Journal of Clinical Investigation: “Seeing Red: Flushing Out Instigators of Niacin-Associated Skin Toxicity.”

The New England Journal of Medicine: A Phase 3 Randomized Trial of Nicotinamide for Skin-Cancer Chemoprevention.”

The New York Times: “No, Tryptophan in Turkey Won’t Make You Sleepy.”

The World’s Healthiest Foods: “Brown Rice.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Avocados, Raw, California.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Beef Liver, Braised.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Chicken Liver, Braised.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Nutritional Yeast Seasoning.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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