Biotin: we can’t live without it. In fact, bio (which means life) is right in the name. If you follow a plant-based diet, you may be wondering: what are the vegan sources of biotin?
There is so much to know about nutrition and it can be overwhelming to learn about each nutrient.
Understanding how to get enough of each nutrient on a plant-based diet can be even more confusing!
I want to break it down for you and focus on one nutrient at a time.
Here, I am shining a light on biotin. You may have heard about biotin and its benefits for hair and nails but biotin does so much more!
I will review what biotin is, what it does for us, and some of the best vegan sources of biotin.
Let’s get started!
What is biotin?
Biotin is a compound that occurs naturally in many of the foods we eat. It is a member of the B vitamin crew. Namely, it is B7.
Biotin is an essential nutrient. Essential means that we do not create biotin in our bodies in enough quantities to meet our needs. We need to get it from the food we eat.
Biotin is water soluble which means it disperses in water. This makes it challenging to measure biotin levels on traditional blood lab tests in humans.
What does biotin do?
To better explain exactly what biotin does in the body, I’m going to get a little chem-y for a minute. Don’t worry, it’s not that scary!
Biotin as a Cofactor
One of the main roles of biotin is as a cofactor. A cofactor is a chemical substance that needs to be present for a specific chemical reaction to take place.
You can compare the cofactor concept to that of making a fire. Fire requires heat, fuel, and oxygen.
Oxygen is always around, at least on this planet, and it gets used when it’s needed. Oxygen is essential for certain reactions to take place. One of those is the creation of fire. If oxygen isn’t available when you try to make a fire, your reaction won’t take place.
As a cofactor, biotin hangs around and gets used when a chemical reaction needs it. The types of reactions that need biotin are mainly related to our metabolism.
Because metabolic reactions are happening constantly, it turns out that biotin is needed pretty much all the time!
Biotin also plays a role in gene expression.
For the sake of not turning this into a genetics article (sorry Watson and Crick), I’m going to keep this simple.
Our DNA isn’t just free-floating around in our cells. It is wrapped up and folded until it’s time for it to be replicated or activated.
It is thought that biotin can add itself to certain elements of folded-up DNA and this changes how the DNA replicates and whether or not it does.
Hair and nail health
I wanted to include this section because hair and nail health is probably the best-known benefit of biotin and many people have questions about it!
We know that biotin deficiency can cause hair loss and brittle nails. What is less clear is if taking a supplement of biotin shows any benefit for hair and nails in otherwise healthy people.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there are limited clinical studies to support the use of biotin for the overall health of skin, hair, and nails. There is evidence to support that it may help those who have a known biotin deficiency or genetic problems that cause a deficiency in biotin, but they note these cases are exceedingly rare.
Does this mean that biotin does not support healthy hair skin and nails? No, it doesn’t. It simply means we do not have the body of research available to prove that supplementation (in the absence of deficiency) promotes the health of hair, skin, and nails.
How much biotin do you need?
Now that I’ve convinced you that we can’t live without biotin, you’re probably wondering how much you need.
If you’ve ever read the back of a supplement bottle or nutrition label, you will see different letters after each element. IU, g, and mg are the most common.
Biotin is typically measured in micrograms. You might see the symbol µ or mcg to denote this.
Also, you may have heard the term Recommended Daily Allowance or RDA for short when people talk about how much of a specific nutrient we need.
RDAs are established by boards of health professionals and are meant to help guide us in our nutrition choices.
As so often is the case with nutrition science, data about precisely how much biotin we need in a day is lacking.
When this happens, the board members I mentioned above, opt for suggesting an Adequate Intake or AI instead of an RDA. You can think of an AI as more of an estimate that’s used. It is the level of the nutrient we assume will meet people’s needs based on the evidence we currently have.
The recommended adequate intake for biotin is 30 micrograms a day. For women who are breastfeeding, this increases to 35 micrograms a day.
Best vegan sources of biotin
Now that we’ve covered the scientific details about biotin, we can (finally) talk about plant-based sources!
You are more than capable of meeting your AI for biotin on a plant-based diet. To up your intake, consider eating more of the following:
Raspberries are an excellent source of biotin.
One cup of raspberries has about 0.2-2 micrograms of biotin.
Cauliflower is one of our cruciferous superstars so it should come as no surprise that it is a great source of biotin.
One cup of raw cauliflower has 0.2-4 micrograms of biotin.
Avocado is another healthy lifestyle staple. Rich in healthy fats, avocado is also a great source of biotin.
One avocado contains 2-6 micrograms of biotin.
This one may come as a bit of a surprise. Yeast has one of the highest amounts of any of the foods listed here.
One packet or 7 grams of yeast contains up to 14 micrograms of biotin. That’s nearly 50% of your daily needs!
You might be wondering about nutritional yeast and if that’s a part of this. I could not find what I deemed to be a reliable scientific source of information stating the exact amounts of biotin in nutritional yeast.
I resorted to searching through different food labels for nutritional yeast and found a wide range of biotin content depending on the brand. In fact, many brands did not list biotin on the nutrition label.
What I can say is that nutritional yeast is a rich source of B vitamins in general and biotin is among the B vitamins. Exactly how much you will get from nutritional yeast is less clear.
Mushrooms are another superfood. They are well-known to be rich in B vitamins.
120 grams of mushrooms contain around 2.5 micrograms of biotin!
Okay, we just took a deep dive into B7. It’s incredible to think that this little nutrient does so much for us!
Biotin deficiency is relatively rare because biotin is widely available in the foods we eat.
B7 is an essential nutrient and plays an important role in our body’s main functions like metabolism and gene expression.
You are more than capable of meeting your AI for biotin on a plant-based diet!
Before you reach for a supplement, consider loading up on the vegan sources of biotin listed above.
Thanks so much for reading and as always, consider the source!