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Is niacin (vitamin B3) a single nutrient?

Niacin is a blanket term for a family of compounds with vitamin B3 activity. The terms "niacin" and "vitamin B3" can be used interchangeably, and whenever you find either term on our website, we are referring to the same group of compounds. Basic types of vitamin B3 include nicotinamide, nicotinic acid, and several active enzymatic forms, each of which can be obtained from food. In research studies, nicotinamide is used as a standard of measurement for calculating the vitamin B3-activity associated with each forms of niacin, prompting researchers to use the term "NE" when referring to B3 measurements. "NE" in this situation stands for "niacin equivalents." Many public health organizations make B3 recommendations in terms of "milligrams of NEs" per day. When you see this type of reference, it simply means that all forms of B3 found in whole foods count as good ways to meet your daily B3 needs.

You may have heard the term "pellagra," and if you associate this term with diet- and nutrition-related problems, you are correct. Pellagra is the name of a disease that is characterized by nutrient defiency, and primarily deficiency of vitamin B3. It took a long time for healthcare community—both in the U.S. and worldwide—to recognize that dietary changes as simple as adding animal foods and legumes to a meal plan could help prevent pellagra. Between 1900 and 1940, more than 100,000 people in the United States—mostly those who were poor, African-American, female, and from southern states—died from an epidemic of pellagra stemming from poverty and malnourishment. This epidemic was wrongly ascribed to several possible causes, including infection. It was also a primary reason for steps taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1938 to authorize the enrichment of wheat flour with niacin. ("Enrichment" refers to the addition of nutrient supplements during food processing.)

Consumption of enriched wheat flour, however, is by no means required for adequate niacin intake. Your diet is likely to have the recommended daily amount of B3 if you have multiple daily servings of whole, natural foods across a wide variety of food groups.

The World's Healthiest Foods list contains four excellent sources of niacin—tuna, chicken, turkey, and crimini mushrooms. We also list six very good sources and 34 good sources. A number of our recipes are very niacin rich, including 13 that contain more than the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) requirement.

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