What Is Riboflavin? - Benefits, Foods & Deficiency Symptoms

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

In this lesson we will learn about riboflavin and its importance in the body. We will learn what foods are high in riboflavin and what happens if we don't get enough riboflavin in our diet.

Riboflavin Benefits

As a child our parents were always telling us to 'eat your vegetables' or 'drink your milk'. They would then often add that 'it will help you grow up big and strong'. What is in these foods to allow us to grow big and strong? Why are these foods so important to eat? It is the nutrients in the food that helps us be healthy. One of these nutrients is Riboflavin.

Riboflavin is a B vitamin. Riboflavin helps in the process of making energy for the body. Most food products also have fat, carbohydrates, and protein. These nutrients are what get converted into energy for our bodies. Yet we can't simply eat a slice and bread and then have that bread turn into energy. There are many reactions that occur in the body to turn that slice of bread into energy. Several of these reactions need riboflavin in order to occur. So without riboflavin our body would not be able to turn food into energy.

Riboflavin also works in many other functions in the body, including as an antioxidant. An antioxidant helps prevent and stop cell damage caused by free radicals. A free radical is naturally produced as reactions occur in the body. Once a free radical is produced it can cause extensive damage to the body (including cancer and heart disease) if it is not stopped.

So Riboflavin plays an important role in the body and it is obvious why eating foods high in riboflavin will help you grow up (and stay) healthy and strong. The riboflavin not only helps make energy for our body but also helps prevent damage from occurring to the body.

Food Sources of Riboflavin

Riboflavin is a 'water soluble' vitamin. This means that our body doesn't store riboflavin. Since our body doesn't store riboflavin, we need to eat riboflavin on a daily basis. It also means that riboflavin toxicity doesn't occur. Since we do need to get riboflavin in our diet on a daily basis it is a good thing that there are so many foods high in riboflavin.

The recommended daily intake for riboflavin is 1.1 mg/day for women and 1.3 mg/day for men (19 years and older). Pregnant and breastfeeding women have an even higher recommended intake since they need to provide energy for a second body.

Dairy products are typically very high in riboflavin. One cup of milk can have up to 0.5 mg of riboflavin, so drinking the recommended 2-3 cups of milk a day will give you nearly all, if not all, of your needed riboflavin. It can also be found in eggs, green leafy vegetables, legumes, and organ meats (such as liver). Most flours and cereals are also fortified with riboflavin.

Riboflavin has a slight yellow tint and can give a yellow tint to food. It is also light sensitive, so extensive exposure to light can destroy the riboflavin in food. This is why milk is often sold in opaque containers. These containers are able to block some of the light to prevent deterioration of the riboflavin and other vitamins.

When your parents said 'eat your spinach and drink your milk' they knew what they were talking about. These foods have the necessary riboflavin, among other necessary nutrients. This is how we stay healthy and strong, just as our parents said we would.

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