Is Riboflavin Vegan? Benefits & Sources of Riboflavin 

Is riboflavin vegan? The short answer: maybe!  

With all vitamins, it depends on the food source to determine if it’s vegan. 

Keep reading to see the list of plant-based sources of riboflavin, and some key benefits riboflavin has to offer (that you’ve probably never heard before!).  

What Is Riboflavin?  

Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, is a water-soluble vitamin.

This means that fat doesn’t have to be present for it to be absorbed in the body. 

Riboflavin functions as an essential part of coenzymes, or substances that help enzymes do their job.  

These coenzymes include flavin mononucleotide (FMN) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD).  

FMN and FAD make up more than 90% of dietary riboflavin, and influence processes such as metabolism, energy production, and many normal cellular processes (Suwannasom et al., 2020). 

In other words, you cannot live without riboflavin! 

Riboflavin is also produced by gut bacteria where it then moves to the large intestine to be absorbed and used in the body.  

Interestingly, the body will compensate for low dietary intake of riboflavin by producing more in the gut.  

Protective Effects of Riboflavin 

Deficiency can result in various medical conditions since riboflavin is involved in so many processes in the body.

Therefore, it is important to avoid deficiency by consuming adequate amounts of riboflavin through food sources.  

Riboflavin also has a wide range of additional benefits, listed below.  

Antioxidant, Anti-cancer, Anti-aging, Anti-inflammatory 

Riboflavin is involved in many oxidation and reduction reactions as part of FMN and FAD.

It works to reduce the amount of harmful oxygen reactive species (ROS), or free radicals, from damaging cells.  

This protects the body from things like cancer and from speeding up the aging process by reducing the damage caused by the highly reactive free radicals.  

In one study, riboflavin showed positive influence on other antioxidant enzymes as well.  

So not only does riboflavin have antioxidant properties itself, but it amplifies other existing antioxidants to give a more powerful effect!

It was found in animal studies that riboflavin supplementation lowered pro-inflammatory cytokines, tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) (Suwannasom et al., 2020). 

TNF-α promotes the pro-inflammatory response of the immune system, causing symptoms like fever or inflammation. 

Inflammation is a problem when it becomes chronic, causing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and many others.  

IL-6 is also involved in the pro-inflammatory immune response but in short-term conditions such as infections and tissue injuries.  

It initiates the synthesis of acute phase proteins, inhibits production of albumin, an essential protein, stimulates antibody production, and promotes cell activity of several non-immune cells. (Tanaka et al., 2014). 

Errors in IL-6 regulation can lead to disease, making another case to get enough riboflavin into your diet to avoid these complications.  

Antinociceptive 

Antinociception is “the body’s response to potentially toxic stimuli, like harmful chemicals (e.g., capsaicin, formalin), mechanical injury (e.g., cutting, crushing), or adverse temperatures (heat and cold) by the sensory nervous system” (Heinricher & Ingram, 2008). 

In other words, it is the body’s response to a sudden, external stimulus that causes damage to the body. 

Animal studies have shown that riboflavin has potential use in… 

  • Virus inactivation 
  • Reduction in fluid accumulation (edema) from injury 
  • Reduction in septic conditions and shock (Suwannasom et al., 2020) 

All the above can be catastrophic in acute conditions or for those with comorbidities, putting them at higher risk for worse outcomes.  

Riboflavin has gained more scientific interest in recent years for this unique function that other vitamins don’t seem to possess.

Hopefully, this will lead to more human studies demonstrating the promising benefits riboflavin has to offer.  

Ultraviolet light and riboflavin 

Have you ever wondered why milk comes in opaque containers instead of clear glass?  

Maybe you haven’t given it much thought, but with the recent trend of moving towards sustainable packaging, this is one area where you may want to choose the non-glass option (and it pains me to say that). 

Riboflavin is a photosensitizer that is sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light.  

The opaque containers protect the vitamins in the milk from UV light, so that you get the maximum nutritional benefits. 

On a positive note, the photosensitizing function of riboflavin has shown usefulness in studies using UV radiation to inactivate pathogens. 

Some of these pathogens include HIV, West Nile virus, parvovirus, and E. coli, to name a few. (Suwannasom et al., 2020). 

Vegan Riboflavin Sources 

Plant-based sources of riboflavin are found mostly in fortified and enriched whole grains and some vegetables.  

Check the food labels to confirm fortified and natural amounts of riboflavin in foods.  

  • Almond milk 
  • Almonds 
  • Dark green leafy vegetables 
  • Fortified and enriched breakfast cereals 
  • Fortified fruit juices 
  • Green tea 
  • Mushrooms 
  • Oats 
  • Paprika 

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of riboflavin is: 

  • 1.3 milligrams per day for most adult males (19-50 years old) 
  • 1.1 milligrams per day for most adult women (19-50 years old)  

One cup of instant, fortified oats made with water has 1.1 milligrams, for reference, and would meet 100% of the daily requirement for females or 85% for males.  

Cooking tip:

A significant amount of the vitamin will be lost in the cooking water for foods that are boiled.

This is due to the water-soluble property of riboflavin causing it to leach into the discarded water.  

Try steaming, roasting, or other dry methods of cooking to preserve the maximum nutrients.

Riboflavin Deficiency

While most Americans consume the recommended amounts of riboflavin, deficiency can still occur.

Deficiency may result in:

  • Cheilosis, or swollen and cracked lips 
  • Angular stomatitis, or corner cracks of the mouth paired with a sore throat 
  • Magenta tongue 
  • Growth failure 

Please check with your doctor if you have concerns of riboflavin deficiency. 

In Summary

Riboflavin is a powerhouse of both proven and potential benefits through antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and antinociceptive properties.  

Is riboflavin vegan? Yes and no…

Riboflavin can be adequately consumed on a vegan diet by consuming a varied diet of dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, mushrooms, and fortified and enriched grains.  

Sources of Information 

Heinricher, M. M., & Ingram, S. L. (2008). The Brainstem and Nociceptive Modulation. The Senses: A Comprehensive References, 5, 593-626. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-012370880-9.00183-3 

Riboflavin: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals [Fact Sheet]. (2021). National institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Riboflavin-HealthProfessional/ 

Suwannasom, N., Kao, I., Pruß, A., Georgieva, R., & Bäumler, H. (2020). Riboflavin: The Health Benefits of a Forgotten Natural Vitamin. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21(3), 950. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21030950  

Tanaka, T., Narazaki, M., & Kishimoto, T. (2014). IL-6 in inflammation, immunity, and disease. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology, 6(10), a016295. https://doi.org/10.1101/cshperspect.a016295

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