S2E18: What is the MTHFR Lifestyle?

I mention the MTHFR Lifestyle a lot, but don’t always clarify what I’m talking about, and at this phase of the journey, it matters a lot. If you’re following along with the process in this podcast series, then you have done a number of remarkable things. You’ve:

  • Taken folic acid out of your diet and supplements
  • Added a good foundation of other B vitamins
  • Started 5-LMTHF, folinic acid, or SAMe – whichever of those options is the most easily tolerated for you.

Chances are you’re feeling better – clearer, more energetic, happier, less anxious, and generally like you’re on the right track. And you are. You are doing amazing and I am so proud of you for coming this far.

When I talk about the MTHFR Lifestyle, it’s really to remind people that our genes are for life. We will always have them, and when we happen to have MTHFR it can stand as a great reminder that we will thrive the best when we actually make health a priority.

Many people ignore their health until the wheels fall off the cart. That usually looks like a heart attack or a big diagnosis, or hitting some kind of health and functioning wall. Some of us may have done the same. The thing is, with MTHFR we will always do the best when we are making space in our lives to take care of our bodies. We will always do the best when we’re living the MTHFR Lifestyle.

What Is the MTHFR Lifestyle?

Put simply, it’s a life that puts physical health, mental health, and even spiritual or soul health on your radar every day. This isn’t something that we have the dubious luxury of forgetting – when we have something like MTHFR, it matters to make health a priority. To always be mindful of how we are treating ourselves and how we are caring for ourselves. It’s easy to rail against it and think that it’s unfair we have to pay so much attention to this when other people seem to be able to do whatever they want, but it’s also a blessing in disguise.

Living the MTHFR lifestyle gives us permission to make our own self-care a priority every day. That is actually kind of huge, when you think about it. It’s a good reason to take the best possible care of yourself.

What is the MTHFR Lifestyle in concrete terms?

This lifestyle involves making health a priority without getting too extreme. It focuses on things like:

  • Discovering and avoiding your food sensitivities.
  • Clearing as many toxins and chemicals out of your diet, home, and water as you can.
  • Keeping healthy fruits, veggies, beans, and pulses in your diet.
  • Making good sleep a priority.
  • Mindfulness meditation or some other mind-taming activity.
  • Moderate exercise (not too much and not too little).
  • Moderate protein (not too much because it can raise homocysteine).
  • Good hydration.
  • Gentle detox support like hot baths, saunas, dry skin brushing and castor oil.
  • Taking time for rest, relaxation, and joy.

When you look at it like this, it sounds sort of idyllic. Good sleep, relaxation, joy, some exercise, great food. This is the MTHFR lifestyle we’re striving for.

I know, being a realist, that it’s hard to maintain this kind of lifestyle in a busy, overstressed, modern world. I also know, that taking small steps towards it can have a huge impact on your wellbeing and quality of life. When you think about it, who do you know who doesn’t need a bit more self-care?

I feel like it’s especially important now, in this time of global pandemic and the related stress because even if you don’t consciously feel like it’s a stressful time, there is an underlying chunk of mental burden related to covid that we don’t normally carry. For everyone this is new, and for everyone it adds another weight. All we can do is take better care of ourselves so we can support that weight more gracefully.

Now, please be clear that I’m not the type of health cheerleader to ever tell you your life/diet/self-care or routine all need to be perfect. Sometimes the thing you need most for your wellbeing is a churro. Or a Christmas cookie, or a gin and tonic. A healthy lifestyle has lots of wiggle room for treats. Also, if your foundation is solid, then small treats bring benefits rather than harm. I am never going to be the one to preach to 100% clean. If you can get to 90% then you’re doing amazing.

Also, be gentle with yourself. I’ve been doing this for years, have a doctoral level education in how to take care of myself, and I still go through ups and downs. It’s human nature. Sometimes my self-care is rocking – I’m doing everything right and I”m on fire and it’s amazing. Sometimes, it isn’t. I go through periods where I’m just not as motivated to do it all, or I don’t have the bandwidth, or the rest of my life has eaten my self-care. That’s ok too. This is all a process of continuing to make the choice, every day, to make caring for yourself a priority. There isn’t any judgment, there isn’t any winning or losing, it’s just a process that allows you to take steps toward a richer life.

Thank you so much for listening today, and I really hope this inspires you to give yourself just a little more care. Also, I”d love it if you’d take the time to sign up for the mailing list -there are so many great things coming up this year and I want you to be the first to know.

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S2E4: Adding Food Sources of Folate

Food sources of folate (natural folate, not foods enriched with folic acid) are some of the best foods out there, so with MTHFR we truly are blessed that our healthy foods are also some of the foods that taste the best. Also, high folate foods are heavily represented in Tex-Mex, so there’s another reason to be grateful.

The average person should shoot for about 400 mcg of natural folate daily. For the full nutritional requirements and more information about it, read this post.

Almost all natural food sources – beans, pulses, some meats, fruits, and vegetables, have natural folate in them. It’s easy to come by in a healthy, well-rounded diet. That doesn’t mean that everyone gets good amounts, but if you’ve made any healthy changes to your diet, you’re probably in better shape folate-wise than you think you are. Let’s talk about major food sources.

Beans, Pulses, and Legumes.

These miracle foods are high on the best-foods-for-health list anyway, but if you’re an MTHFR mutant, then so much the better. A few bean-related tips:

  • Cooked from dried beans always have more folate in them than canned.
  • Soaking dried beans before cooking helps to reduce cooking time.
  • Cooking from dried generally takes a while.
  • Mashed beans can be added to almost any recipe in place of oil to add moisture (as you might add applesauce)
  • Bean flour can be used as well – checkpea flour is reasonably easy to find.
  • Beans are high in fiber so if you suddenly start eating them you’ll notice more gas, but as your body gets used to a higher fiber diet the gas will settle down.
  • Beans and other high fiber foods are great for your digestive health and help provide a happy environment for all those good bacteria everyone keeps going on about.
Food typeFolate (mcg) per 100gFolate (mcg) per cup
Lentils (cooked from dried)280358
Black beans (cooked from dried)200256
Black beans (canned)119152
Chickpeas (cooked from dried)220282
Chickpeas (canned)126161
Edamame (frozen)311 398
Red kidney beans (canned)102131
Black eyed peas (cooked from dried)280358
Black eyed peas (canned)95122
Peanut butter (all natural, 100% peanuts)92118
Peanuts237.5304

You’ll notice that a cup of beans will typically provide 50-90% of your daily recommended folate in one fell swoop. Easy peasy.

Fruits and Vegetables

There are a number of great fruit and veggie sources of natural folate as well, and fruits and veggies with two meals will go a long way to racking up those natural folate micrograms.

Food typeFolate (mcg) per 100gFolate (mcg) per cup
Asparagus7 spears – 15412 spears – 264
Avocado81 152
Broccoli6178
Okra5874
Papaya4153
Spinach (cooked)205263
Green peas6685
Orange3646

Condiments

This entire category is pretty much for one line item, which is marmite. Marmite is a yeast extract that is very popular in Great Britain and was the original source from which folate was discovered. 100 g of marmite has a whopping 1250 mcg of folate (unhelpfully labeled folic acid because the terms are interchangeable) but there is no earthly human who could possibly choke down 100g of marmite in one day under threat of mortal peril. A “serving size” on the marmite website contains 100 mcg but it is unclear what the serving size actually is. I’m guessing, it’s enough marmite to spread a thin layer on a piece of toast.

If marmite isn’t a thing you have grown up with, it is something of an acquired taste. I love it and eat it daily – typically on rice cakes because I’m gluten free and typically with a bit of butter and avocado. It’s divine. Two rice cakes like this, you will notice, is also my 400 mcg of folate because it’s marmite and avocado combined. Food genius. Plus, it’s heavenly.

On the marmite website, there is an additional product, which I have not ever seen, called marmite and peanut butter. If you’ve never tried marmite you are probably not as appalled by this thought as I am. I am also very curious. Marmite is salty-tangy and peanut butter is, well, peanut-buttery. The two don’t go together in my mind, but obviously, people like the combo enough to make a mixed product. So what do I know? I do have to point out that peanuts are also high in natural folate.

So the goal here is 400 mcg daily, which is easiest to do if you just plan to accommodate some beans, some fruit and veg, and maybe some marmite to spice things up. Also, if you’ve never tried marmite before I highly recommend you film your reaction the first time you eat it and join the thousands of other marmite reactions on youtube because it’s a pretty vivid flavor. If you do this thing, please loop me in and send me the video – I would love to see it.

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What To Eat For MTHFR Mutants

We’ve been talking a lot about natural folate and its food sources vs. synthetic folic acid (which is toxic in high doses.). So in theory, we’ve got it. But in reality, what does this actually look like? Let’s dive in right now.

How Much Folate Are We Talking? Do I Have To Bathe In The Stuff?

Not at all. Although MTHFR folks might need to adjust based on their own responses, generally we’re aiming for the same targets as everyone else. The units are in “dietary folate equivalents” because absorption of folate and folic acid are different. Natural folate is about 50% absorbed and folic acid about 85%. If you want to geek out on it:

1 mcg DFE = 1 mcg natural folate = 0.6 mcg artificial folic acid.

According to Harvard University School of Public Health, daily folate needs are:

  • Adults: 400 mcg
  • Pregnant women: 600 mcg
  • Lactating women: 500 mcg
  • People who regularly drink alcohol: 600 mcg (because alcohol impairs absorption).
  • Children – from 65 mcg up to 400 mcg at 14 years old.
Assuming 1 whole avocado and 1 cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice (juice from about three oranges) this breakfast has approximately 300 mcg of natural folate. BOOM. Photo by Ba Tik from pexels.

Food Sources of Natural Folate

Naturally occurring folate is present in lots of the foods you might already eat, and also in some that might be new to you. Here are the 10 foods highest in natural folate according to USDA nutrition data:

FoodFolate per 100g (3.5 oz)Folate per cupRelated foods?
Edamame311 mcg482mcgPeas, soybean sprouts
Lentils (cooked)181 mcg358 mcgRoman beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, chickpeas, black beans
Asparagus
(cooked)
149 mcg268 mcgArtichokes, beets, okra
Spinach146 mcg263mcgTurnip greens, pak choi, collard greens
Broccoli
(cooked)
108 mcg168 mcgBrussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, cauliflower
Marmite (yeast extract)100 mcg per 8 g servingUnhelpfully, the makers of Marmite have listed the folate as “folic acid” because the terms are used interchangeably. It is actually natural folate.
Avocados81 mcg163 mcg
Mangos43 mcg71 mcgGuavas, pomegranate, papaya, kiwi, durian
Romaine lettuce136 mcg64 mcgEndive, butterhead lettuce, garden cress
Sweet corn42 mcg61 mcg
Oranges54 mcg30 mcgStrawberries, cantaloupe, blackberries, honeydew, pineapple
So many yummy choices…

With MTHFR Mutation, If You Can Eat Your 400 mcg and Avoid Folic Acid, You’ve Pretty Much Nailed It.

Of course, there are lots of times when it isn’t quite so simple, but this is a nice easy benchmark to strive for. So – What to eat for MTHFR? Lots of beans, veg, and fruit. No problem. The much harder part is what not to eat.

Don’t make getting your natural folate harder than it has to be! Photo by alleksana from Pexels

With MTHFR mutation, if you can eat your 400 mcg of natural folate and avoid folic acid, you’ve pretty much nailed it.

– Amy Neuzil

What Not To Eat For MTHFR Folks

There is a small list of fortified foods that have added synthetic folic acid that should be avoided (also, all vitamins and supplements with folic acid). The list is short but impactful. Here it is:

  • Enriched wheat flour
  • Enriched corn flour

There – That wasn’t so hard, was it? Except it turns out it is hard because here are all the foods that are made with those two things.

  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Pasta
  • Crackers
  • Cookies
  • Corn chips
  • Tortillas
  • Baked goods
  • Baking mixes for cakes, cookies, brownies and whatnot.

This is very much where the wheels fall off the cart because, in the West, most people don’t really know how to eat without hefty doses of bread, pasta, crackers, and cereal. It is just how we are used to eating.

What to eat for MTHFR? Yeah. It’s not doughnuts. Lovely photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

What to Eat for MTHFR – Substitutions

With every substitution, be sure to read the label. If folic acid is listed in the ingredients (or fortified or enriched flour), then it’s a no-go. Also, remember that if you’re just buying flour and making it yourself (go you!), then you still have to make sure you get un-enriched flour – usually, this is gluten-free, organic, or specialty.

Fortified FoodMTHFR-Safe Substitution (usually. Read your labels.)
BreadOrganic bread, 100% rye bread, gluten-free bread, sprouted bread, rice cakes
CerealOrganic cereals (sometimes), oatmeal (sometimes – usually not the instant ones),
PastaRice noodles, gluten-free noodles, organic pasta (don’t forget, rice and potatoes are still on the menu!)
CrackersRice crackers, rice cakes, Some rye crackers, most organic crackers
CookiesGluten-free cookies, organic cookies.
Corn chipsOrganic corn chips, bean chips,
TortillasOrganic tortillas or sprouted tortillas.
Baking flourOrganic flour, brown rice flour, gluten-free baking mix, wheat alternative flours like buckwheat or sorghum.
You’ve got options!

This Sounds Like a Big Change

It is a big change from the typical Western diet, but it’s a very doable change – especially now when there are so many products designed for people with gluten sensitivities or people looking for organics. Still, it takes some commitment, especially at first, while you’re getting used to your new normal.

Why Do This?

The payoff from this one change can be really significant. Many people report better energy, more stability in moods, reduced brain fog, increased attention, and even better hormone balance. Also, if you’re trying to get pregnant, this sets you up for a healthier pregnancy. That still doesn’t make it easy, but it does make it worth it.

This is The Foundation For a Healthy Life With MTHFR Issues

Many of us MTHFR folks can reduce or resolve any MTHFR related issues just by following this diet. There are a few exceptions.

  1. MTHFR folks with very low serotonin – sometimes these folks can’t tolerate any folate intake and have to avoid folate-rich foods along with fortified foods (although cutting out the fortified foods will make a huge positive difference). We’ll talk about this in detail next week.
  2. Some overmethylators – MTHFR folks with symptoms usually fall into one of two categories. Overmethylators or undermethylators. Undermethylators are more common and usually need higher doses of folate to manage symptoms. Overmethylators are less common and sometimes need very low doses of folate to manage their symptoms. I happen to be an overmethylator but I still eat a very high-folate diet and occasionally supplement so it’s very individual. We will talk more about over- and under- methylators in September.

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