This water-soluble B vitamin plays an essential role in energy metabolism and maintaining a healthy nervous system. Niacin was initially recognized as a factor necessary to prevent pellagra (a pigmented rash). This deficiency was first characterized in populations who subsisted on a corn-based diet. The corn has high leucine content, an amino acid that bound niacin tightly and prevented its absorption. Getting adequate protein in your diet will ensure you are meeting your niacin requirements.
Meats, poultry, fish, legumes, eggs, nuts and enriched cereals are all good sources of niacin. Seeking out high protein foods will help you meet your niacin needs. Niacin in grains is not bioavailable but can be made so in alkaline conditions. Treating your grains with lime can help release this key nutrient making it easier for your body to absorb and utilize.
Niacin can be used to improve cholesterol levels aand lower cardiovascular risk factors. There is strong evidence to support niacin as a cholesterol treatment by boosting levels of our beneficial HDL cholesterol and lowering trigycerides. Mention this to your healthcare provider if you are interested in using niacin as a heart health aid.
How much do we need?
Males over 12 should aim for 16 mg/day while females should aim for 14 mg. Of note, is that the amino acid tryptophan found in many of our protein foods can convert to niacin in the body. A typical American diet contains enough protein to meet our niacin requirement which is partially aided by this synthesis process.