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.
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:
|Food||Folate per 100g (3.5 oz)||Folate per cup||Related foods?|
|Edamame||311 mcg||482mcg||Peas, soybean sprouts|
|Lentils (cooked)||181 mcg||358 mcg||Roman beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, chickpeas, black beans|
|149 mcg||268 mcg||Artichokes, beets, okra|
|Spinach||146 mcg||263mcg||Turnip greens, pak choi, collard greens|
|108 mcg||168 mcg||Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, cauliflower|
|Marmite (yeast extract)||100 mcg per 8 g serving||Unhelpfully, the makers of Marmite have listed the folate as “folic acid” because the terms are used interchangeably. It is actually natural folate.|
|Avocados||81 mcg||163 mcg|
|Mangos||43 mcg||71 mcg||Guavas, pomegranate, papaya, kiwi, durian|
|Romaine lettuce||136 mcg||64 mcg||Endive, butterhead lettuce, garden cress|
|Sweet corn||42 mcg||61 mcg|
|Oranges||54 mcg||30 mcg||Strawberries, cantaloupe, blackberries, honeydew, pineapple|
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.
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.
- Corn chips
- 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 – 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 Food||MTHFR-Safe Substitution (usually. Read your labels.)|
|Bread||Organic bread, 100% rye bread, gluten-free bread, sprouted bread, rice cakes|
|Cereal||Organic cereals (sometimes), oatmeal (sometimes – usually not the instant ones),|
|Pasta||Rice noodles, gluten-free noodles, organic pasta (don’t forget, rice and potatoes are still on the menu!)|
|Crackers||Rice crackers, rice cakes, Some rye crackers, most organic crackers|
|Cookies||Gluten-free cookies, organic cookies.|
|Corn chips||Organic corn chips, bean chips,|
|Tortillas||Organic tortillas or sprouted tortillas.|
|Baking flour||Organic flour, brown rice flour, gluten-free baking mix, wheat alternative flours like buckwheat or sorghum.|
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.
- 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.
- 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.