By Dr. Mike Roussell

Q: Does sugar deplete my body of B vitamins?

A: No; there is really no evidence to suggest that sugar robs your body of B vitamins. This idea is speculative at best because the relationship between sugar and B vitamins is more complicated than that: Sugar doesn't actively deplete B vitamin levels in your body, but a diet high in refined carbohydrates may increase your body's need for certain Bs. [Tweet this fact!]

The metabolism of a lot of carbs (as found in sugar) requires your body to have access to greater amounts of certain B vitamins. But because your body does not readily store B vitamins, it needs a constant influx from your diet. High-sugar and refined carbohydrate diets also can negatively impact the body's inflammatory balance, which then increases requirements for certain vitamins, like B6.

People with diabetes, which is a disease of dysfunctional carbohydrate metabolism, often have low levels of vitamin B6, which is used to metabolize carbs. This fact is often used to support the premise that high-sugar diets (as many diabetes prescribe to) deplete B vitamins; but what if these diets were just low in B vitamins to start?

The crux here is that high-sugar foods and food containing refined carbohydrates do not contain many B vitamins to start with, or the refinement process strips away these key vitamins during food production. This gives you a diet that is lacking B vitamins but a body that needs more of them due to the high-carb nature of what you're eating and, in the case of diabetes, increased inflammatory stress.

If you eat a Mediterranean diet full of whole grains (which could mean 55 to 60 percent of your calories come from carbohydrates), your body may have greater needs for the B vitamins involved in carb metabolism, but the difference is that the unrefined vitamin-rich nature of your Mediterranean diet will replete your body with any extra B vitamins it may need. [Tweet this tip!]

So please don't fall victim to the nutritional hype that would have you believe that the sugar found in a rare indulgence of a piece of pecan pie with ice cream is going to force your body to leech out pyridoxine phosphate (B6) or thiamin (B1). It just isn't the case. At the level of energy metabolism, carbohydrates are carbohydrates. When thiamin is used to drive the energy extraction of a glucose molecule in your liver, it doesn't know if that glucose molecule came from a soda or brown rice.

Comments (2)

November 29, 2018
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May 12, 2017
Dr. Roussell, this is helpful and good point on eating lots of carbohydrates (even the w[filtered] grain so-called "healthy" ones) may require more B vitamins for their digestion. Yes, people often confuse their lack of providing enough vitamins (especially if their diet and lifestyle habits increase the need for those vitamins) with a "burning up" or depletion caused by the food or even chemical toxicity. True, as most B-vitamins act as co-factors, they are recycled as long as there are adequate nutrients available to recycle them. What concerns me, though, is the article suggests only sugar is the problem and also suggests that the typical person might eat a desert as a "rare indulgence" or get their carbs from a soda. Neither is true. The typical person eats cereal or toast and orange juice for breakfast, sweetens their coffee or grabs a Mochachino latte or other syrupy flavoring, more carbs for lunch, and pasta or rice for dinner. While some of these may come fortified with a few synthetic B vitamins it still isn't balanced and is inadequate. We now know that many, if not most, of our B vitamins are produced by the helpful bacteria living in our gut; especially bifidobacteria. The notion that the body doesn't care about the source of carbs (or how much are eaten) misses this key point. Get your carbs from the wrong places (sweet treats or cola on a regular basis, or even fortified grain foods) and you disrupt the microbiome. So, no, this still doesn't chemically "burn up" B vitamins; to say the body "doesn't care" where carbs come from is simply incorrect. see