Nutrition 101: Niacin Featured

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Authors: Registered Dietitians

Nutrition 101: Niacin

(HealthCastle.com) Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is one of 8 B vitamins.  All of the B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning that the body does not store them but excretes them in the urine. Other names for niacin include nicotinic acid and nicotinamide / niacinamide. 

Recommended Intakes

Age Group Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) per day Tolerable Upper Intake (UI) Levels
Adults    
19 years and up

16 mg men

14 mg women

35 mg
Kids and Youth    
1 to 3 years 6 mg 10 mg
4 to 8 years 8 mg 15 mg
9 to 13 years 12 mg 20 mg
14 to 18 years

16 mg male

14 mg female

30 mg
Special Considerations    
Pregnant women 14 to 18 years 18 mg 30 mg
Pregnant women 18 years and up 18 mg 35 mg
Lactating women 14 to 18 years  17 mg 30 mg
Lactating women 18 years and up 17 mg 35 mg

Note: Niacin can be made in the body from tryptophan (an amino aciid). Therefore, the recommended intake for niacin assumes that some niacin will be obtained from tryptophan

What Does Niacin Do?

All B vitamins help release energy from carbohydrates, protein, and fat in food.  B complex vitamins are also needed for healthy skin, hair, eyes, and liver.  They also help the nervous system function properly. Niacin helps the body make various sex and stress-related hormones and helps to improve blood circulation and nerve functions.  Niacin has also been shown to regulate appetite.

High doses of niacin supplementation are used to lower total blood cholesterol in individuals with elevated cholesterol levels. It does this by increasing the HDL, or the "good"cholesterol and decreasing the LDL, or the "bad" cholesterol.

It is rare for individuals in developed countries to acquire a niacin deficiency, as it is easy to meet the body's needs through diet.  However, alcoholism can lead to a deficiency.  Inadequate intake of niacin through diet can lead to pellagra, a deficiency disease characterized by diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, and even death.

Top Food Sources of Niacin

Meats and alternatives are the richest sources of niacin followed by fortified enriched grains.  Because niacin can be made from tryptophan, which is found in protein, any diet which includes a regular amount of protein is unlikely to be lacking in niacin

Food Amount of niacin
Liver (turkey, chicken, beef, pork), cooked, 3 oz 14.4-24 mg
Chicken, various cuts, cooked, 3 oz 12 mg
Tuna, cooked or canned, 3 oz 10.2 mg
Pumpkin or squash seeds, 1/4 cup 8 mg
Mushrooms, portabello, raw, 1/2 cup 6 mg
Turkey, various cuts, 3 oz 6.4 mg
Halibut, cooked, 3 oz 6 mg
Salmon, cooked or canned, 3 oz 5.6 mg
Peanuts, 1/4 cup 4.4 mg
Pasta, enriched, cooked, 1/2 cup 4 mg
Bran Flakes, 1 cup 3.5 mg
Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice 2 mg

Nutrition Facts Label and the % Daily Value

In the US: The daily value for niacin is 20 mg, which is higher than the DRI for all age groups. The % daily value gives you an idea of how much niacin is in the food you eat. However, the % daily value number is only required by the FDA for foods that have been fortified with niacin.

The number you see on the Nutrition Facts label is a percentage calculated by dividing the amount of folic acid in one serving of the food by the daily value. To use an example from the food table above, a cup of Bran Flakes that contains 3.5 mg of niacin would have 18% of the daily value (DV) for niacin.

In Canada: The daily value for niacin is 23 mg, which is higher than the DRI for all age groups. Listing the daily value for niacin on the Nutrition Facts label is optional. However, products that have been enriched with niacin, such as cereal and pasta, will most often have the daily value written on the label.

Nutrient Interactions

Riboflavin: Riboflavin is required for the formation of niacin.

Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 is required for the formation of niacin.

Iron: Iron is required for the formation of niacin.

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