Eating a High Folate Diet, Part 3

Eating Your Folate

Looking at the list of high folate foods and trying to figure out how to get enough folate each day can seem a bit overwhelming, especially if you are considering a massive change in your diet. To help make eating your folate a little more understandable, below are 3 examples of ways you can get 100% of the folate you need in one day.

Please keep in mind that you don’t need to make drastic changes. While you do need to get enough folate, especially if you have an MTHFR anomaly, start small. Try eating just one high folate food each day, when you are comfortable with that change, add a second serving of high folate food a day. Keep adding high folate foods like this and pretty soon you will be getting all the folate you need.


Day 1

Cup of strawberries with breakfast – 10 %

Cup of orange juice with breakfast – 12%

Small pack of peanuts for snack – 10%

Bowl of spinach salad for lunch (2 cups) – 30%

½ cup corn with dinner – 13%

½ cup of beans with dinner – 23%

Total: 98% of daily folate


Day 2

2 tablespoons wheat germ mixed with oatmeal – 10%

Cup of orange juice with breakfast – 12%

Cup of papaya for snack – 13%

½ cup corn for lunch – 13%

½ cup broccoli for lunch – 13%

½ cup lentils with dinner – 45%

Total: 106% of daily folate


Day 3

½ cup strawberries with breakfast – 10%

½ cup avacado dip with pretzels for snack – 15%

4 stacks boiled asparagus with lunch – 22%

Cup tomato juice with lunch – 12%

Small pack of peanuts for snack – 10%

½ cup green peas with dinner – 12%

½ cup beans with dinner – 23%

Total: 103% of daily folate


Part 2

Eating a High Folate Diet, Part 2

Preparing High Folate Foods

In general, high folate foods can be divided into two groups: fruits and vegetables, and everything else. When discussing folate and cooking, these groups matter, in fact they matter a lot. Fruits and vegetables had a type of folate that gets easily broken down so the body can’t use it. To get the maximum effective folate, you need to buy, store and prepare high folate fruits and vegetables in ways that won’t damage their folate.

For everything else, go to town. Beans, liver, lentils and other non-fruit and vegetable sources of folate contain a form of folate that is not as easily damaged. So you can pretty much ignore everything else in this section if you are cooking any of those folate sources. Bake, boil, fry, have fun. The folate will still be there for you when you eat them.

Buying and Storing High Folate Fruits and Vegetables

There are three things that break down the folate in fruits and vegetables: air, water and heat. By protecting your fruit and vegetables from them you can ensure the highest level of folate possible.

Air: The folate in fruit is protected from air by the fruits skin or peel. Vegetables don’t have this protection, and protecting them fro air in storage is not really possible unless you have some way to vacuum seal your food. Your best option for vegetables with folate is to buy the as fresh as possible and eat them quickly. If you have the room and time, growing your own vegetables is a great way to get the highest possible folate – you can pick them right before you eat. Once fruit gas been sliced, it will also begin to lose folate.

Water: Actually, there is one way to store high folate vegetables that protects them from air – canning. However, make sure any canned fruit or vegetables you buy for folate are canned in syrup or oil. High folate vegetables or fruits that are canned in water rather than syrup will likely be low folate by the time you open the cans. Cooking high folate vegetables in water will also remove folate from your food. So when you cook go for grilling, stir frying or a quick steam cooker. Boiling is definitely not the best option.

Heat: Cooking of course leads to the last thing that damages the folate in food, heat. High folate fruits and vegetables are best eaten raw when possible. If you do cook them you are best going to with a quick cooking method that doesn’t expose the vegetables to heat long, like the above mentioned grilling and stir fry.


Why Cooked Vegetables Seem to Have More Folate

Many people get confused when they research foods high in folate, because the see frequent warnings not to cook their high folate foods, and then find lists of high folate foods, like our list in Part 1 of Eating a High Folate Diet, that say, for instance, a half cup of boiled spinach has more folate then a cup of raw spinach. The fact is that both statements are true – and the folate food lists are unintentionally very misleading. The reason for this is the confusing system we use in America for measuring our food.

Cups are volume measurements. Volume measurements are notoriously unreliable because the volume food takes up changes depending on a number of things, including how the food is cooked. A better measure for how much food you are eating is actually weight, which is the way food is measured in Europe. Looking at boiled and raw spinach by weight, it turns out that ½ lb of spinach makes 1 serving (that half cup on the list) of boiled spinach. That same ½ pound can make 7 ½ servings of raw spinach (½ lb is 226 grams, 1 cup of raw spinach is considered to be 30 grams). This means that you can each a ½ lb of spinach raw, and get 100% of your folate for the day, or boil is and get 29% of your folate for the day. To be fair, most people will not be interested in 3 bowls (2 servings to a bowl) of spinach salad in a day. In which case you are still better having one bowl, and saving the rest for tomorrow. You’ll get more folate out of the same amount of food, and save some money (by making 3 meals with that food instead of 1) at the same time.

The Exception to the Rule

There is one vegetable that actually has more folate when it is cooked, asparagus. Asparagus apparently contains nutrients that when exposed to heat combine to form folate, so you get more folate from cooked asparagus than from raw asparagus – nearly 4 times more.

Part 1 | Part 3

Eating a High Folate Diet

It is very important for people with MTHFR anomalies to get enough folate, whether in the form of naturally occurring folate, folic acid or other folate supplements. MTHFR anomalies interfere with the body’s absorption of folic acid, so a high folate diet is one of the best ways to get enough folate. Unfortunately, some naturally occurring folate can be destroyed very easily through improper storage or cooking. Eating a high folate diet means not just eating foods high in folate, but knowing how to prepare them so you can get the maximum benefit.

Part 1 – Sources of Folate

Naturally occurring folate can be found in a number of food sources. The best known sources of folate are green leafy vegetables like romaine lettuce and spinach. What many people do not realize is that folate is also found in many varieties of beans. The biggest problem Americans have getting a high folate diet isn’t difficulty in finding foods high in folate, it’s that high folate foods just aren’t a part of the typical American diet.

Foods High in Folate:

Beef liver, cooked, braised, 3 ounces – 54%
Lentils, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, ½ cup – 45%
Spinach, frozen, cooked, boiled, ½ cup – 29%
Great Northern beans, boiled, ½ cup – 23%
Asparagus, boiled, 4 spears – 22%
Avocado, raw, all varieties, sliced, ½ cup – 15%
Spinach, raw, 1 cup – 15%
Papaya, raw, 1 cup cubes – 13%
Corn, sweet, yellow, canned ½ cup – 13%
Broccoli, chopped, frozen, cooked, ½ cup – 13%
Tomato Juice, canned, 1 cup – 12%
Green peas, frozen, boiled, ½ cup – 12%
Orange juice, chilled, includes concentrate, 1 cup – 12%
Peanuts, all types, dry roasted, 1 ounce – 10%
Broccoli, raw, 2 spears (each 5 inches long) – 10%
Wheat germ, crude, 2 Tablespoons – 10%
Strawberries, raw, 1 cup – 10%

Part 2

Understanding Bioavailability

If you try to learn about folic acid and folate, you will eventually run across the term ‘bioavailability’. Specifically, many articles on folic acid or folate say that folic acid has a higher bioavailability than folate. What does bioavailablity mean? How does it affect you? And does it matter for people with MTHFR anomalies?


What is bioavailability?

Digestion is the process of breaking down food so it can be absorbed and used by the body. Acids in the stomach and other chemicals in the intestines turn a bite of spinach, a vitamin supplement, or a handfull of french fries into basic nutrients, vitamins and carbohydrates that can be absorbed into the body through the intestines.

During this process, many of the nutrients and chemicals that make up our food are split into smaller chemicals or changed in other ways. Some nutrients or chemicals don’t get absorbed – they pass through the intestines and are carried out as wastes. This means that sometimes you can eat what should be enough of a nutrient, but still not get enough of it.

In addition to whether or not a nutrient or chemical gets absorbed into the body, different chemicals are absorbed into the body at different rates. This is why some medicines take hours or days to take effect – if they are absorbed slowly, you won’t see any benefit until enough has been absorbed to begin making a difference.

Bioavailability is the combination of how much of a nutrient gets absorbed, and how quickly it gets absorbed. However, when talking about nutrients like folic acid and folate, bioavailability mainly refers to how much gets absorbed. So when an article talks about folate having less bioavailability than folic acid, it means that if you take 100 mg of folate, and 100 mg of folic acid, your body will actually get more folic acid than folate.


How Does Bioavailability Affect Me?

For the most part, bioavailability of any nutrient or medicine won’t affect you. The recommended daily amounts of nutrients take into account their bioavailability, so as long you take the recommended amount, you should get the right amount of the nutrients actually in your bloodsteam. Doses for medicine are also based on bioavailability.

Bioavailability does vary a bit from person to person – things like age, gender, diet and lifestyle can have an impact on how much of a nutrient your body actually absorbs. For this reason, the general RDA for a nutrient is a bit higher than most people actually need, so people with lower bioavailability for certain nutrients can still get enough. If you want to be sure you are getting enough of a nutrient, you can check out the specific recommended intake for your demographic or talk with a nutritionist.

When you are making sure you get enough folates, bioavailability becomes more important. The RDA for B9 is set based on folic acid. If you are getting most of your B9 through folates in your food, you need to take more than the RDA for folic acid in order to get enough. How much more? No one really knows. Studies on folate bioavailability have had a wide range of results. This is probably because different folates have different bioavailability rates, and because diet has a huge impact on how your body absorbs folates.

There are other issues with getting enough folates, but as far as bioavailability goes its probably a good idea to try and get at least twice as much folate as the RDA for folic acid.


How is Bioavailability Important for People with MTHFR Anomalies?

For people with MTHFR anomalies, natural folates that their bodies can use properly are often a better source of B9 than folic acid. The lower bioavailability of folate, plus other problems with folate intake, can make getting enough folate challenging. It is very important for people with MTHFR anomalies who choose to get their B9 through folate know that they need to get folate than the RDA of folic acid, and how to change their diets to maximize their folate intake.

Folic Acid FAQs

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is a man-made form of vitamin B9. Folic acid is more stable and easier for the body to absorb than naturally occurring forms of B9. However the body can’t use folic acid directly, it needs to convert it into different folate forms in order to use it.


What is folate?

Folate refers to several different naturally occurring forms of vitamin B9. Folate is unstable and difficult for the body to absorb. The body can use folates more easily than folic acid, but it is difficult for the body to get enough folate.


So is folic acid or folate better?

Tough question. For people who do not have MTHFR, it’s not a bad idea to take folic acid supplements. You can be sure you are getting enough in any over the counter supplement, and your body is able to convert it without too much trouble. However, only women who are able to get pregnant need to take folic acid supplements regularly in the US. Folic acid is regularly added to bread, rice, and pasta, in the US, so you are probably getting enough folic acid in your normal diet.

For people with MTHFR anomalies, folate is better if you can get enough of it. Your body will be able to use the folate more easily and you will get more benefits from it. The difficulty is in getting enough folate. If you can’t get enough folate, or aren’t sure if you are, you can take larger folic acid supplements. Even if the MTHFR anomaly keeps your body from using most of the folic acid, if you take enough of it, your body will be able to do everything it needs to. Unfortunately, taking too much folic acid may cause other problems, so don’t take more than 1000mg a day, and try to get your B9 from other sources of folate as much as possible.


What are the sources for folic acid?

In the US, and several other parts of the world, folic acid is added to staple foods like bread, rice and pasta. If you don’t have a metabolic problem interfering with folic acid (like MTHFR) you can get enough folic acid just by eating a healthy diet. If you follow a low carb diet, you may want to take folic acid supplements. Folic acid is a manmade version of folate, and is not found naturally in foods.


What are sources for folate?

The best sources for folate are beef liver, bean and legumes, and green vegetables. However, folate in green vegetables degrades quickly – raw vegetables will have more folate than cooked, but vegetables will lose folate if they are stored to long, exposed to light after being cooked, or well, pretty much anything other than eaten right away. Dried beans and legumes do not lose folate in cooking or storage.

What is L-methylfolate?

L-methylfolate is a stable form of folate that is extremely bioavailable – the body is able to use it more effectively than any other form of folate. At the moment, L-methylfolate is only available by prescription. It is the best form of folate for people with MTHFR anomalies.

Why do I need folic acid?

People who do not get enough folate will develop a folic acid deficiency. Symptoms include:

  • Increased risk of neural tube birth defects and miscarriage

  • Slow growth in infants and children

  • A form of anemia

  • Digestive disorders

  • Weakness

  • Sore tongue

  • Headaches

  • Irritability

  • High levels of homocysteine

How much folic acid do I need?

Most adults need 400mg of folic acid daily, usually you can get this through your diet. Pregnant woman, people with high alcohol intake, people with liver problems, and anyone taking a medication which interferes with folic acid absorption should take more.

Will folic acid supplements help with problems caused by MTHFR anomalies?

Possibly. MTHFR anomalies reduce the effectiveness of folic acid in the body. If you have an anomaly that reduces the bodies ability to use folic acid by 50%, than taking 800mg a day rather than 400mg should prevent the health problems MTHFR can cause. If you have an anomaly that reduces the body’s ability to use folic acid by 90%, than when you take 400mg, your body only uses 40mg. You’d need to take 4000mg of folic acid each day in order to get what you need. While folic acid isn’t toxic, this would leave over 3000mg of unused folic acid in your body, and some studies have found potential problems from excess folic acid in the blood stream.

If you have a severe version of MTHFR, you are better off learning how to get folate from your diet or getting a prescription for L-methylfolate.

Glutathione and Heavy Metals

As you probably know, heavy metals are usually not things that belong in the human body. There are a few heavy metals that we need a very, very small amount, but most heavy metals quickly make people sick if they get inside the body. Luckily, heavy metals are not naturally common in the environment.

When heavy metals do get into the body, the body has several ways to defend itself. These defenses don’t work against large amounts of heavy metals, but they can protect us from moderate exposure. One of the most important defenses the body has is called glutathione.

Glutathione is a tripeptide (molecule made of three amino acids) that attaches itself to some heavy metals. This is called ‘binding’. Once glutathione has bound a piece of heavy metal, the liver is able to clear the heavy metal from the body. Glutathione binds cadmium, lead, iron, and mercury.

If a person is exposed to high levels of heavy metals, such as when working in a factory that handles heavy metals, eating lots of fish that are high in mercury, or living in a home with lead paint, the glutathione will not be able to keep up with the amount of heavy metal in the body. When this happens, the heavy metals begin to make the person sick. This is known as heavy metal toxicity, or sometimes heavy metal poisoning.

On the other hand, when something interferes with glutathione a person may develop heavy metal toxicity from small amounts of heavy metals. MTHFR anomalies lower glutathione levels, leaving people who have them vulnerable to heavy metal toxicity.


More on glutathione

More on heavy metals

MTHFR, Oxidative Stress and Glutathione

Glutathione and MTHFR are both important parts of the body’s system for maintaining homeostasis. The complex way the biochemicals of the body interact, means that a problem with one important biochemical will often affect others. In the case of MTHFR anomalies, the inability of the MTHFR enzyme to do its job effectively increases the work load for glutathione, with less than pleasant consequences.


MTHFR Anomalies Create Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress is damage to the cells of the body by free radicals. Many diseases associated with aging are caused by oxidative stress, as are a number of other health problems. People who have MTHFR anomalies have high levels of oxidative stress.

This is because MTHFR anomalies cause high levels of homocysteine, and homocysteine creates the free radicals that cause oxidative stress.


Oxidative Stress Lowers Glutathione Levels

Glutathione is one of the body’s most powerful anti-oxidants. One of glutathione’s main jobs in the body is to seek out and neutralize free radicals before they can do any damage. Glutathione also helps repair cells and DNA that have already been damaged by free radicals.

When there are more free radicals (which is another way of saying ‘high oxidative stress’) glutathione gets used up faster than usual. If it gets used up fast enough, the body isn’t able to keep up and glutathione levels drop. Then, free radicals are able to damage cells throughout the body, creating the symptoms of oxidative. Low glutathione levels also mean there isn’t enough available to repair damage to cells or help with the other things the body uses it for, like clearing heavy metal.


MTHFR anomalies → high homocysteine → more free radicals → high oxidative stress + low glutathione → many health problems

What is Glutathione?

If you keep up with the latest nutrition advice, you may have heard of glutathione. Glutathione has become popular in recent years as an important anti-oxidant that is found in some fruits. It is actually one of the body’s most important anti-oxidants, but it does a lot more then just clear out free radicals. In fact, glutathione is involved in a great deal of the body’s metabolism.

So, Just What Is Glutathione?
Glutathione is a small molecule made of three amino acids – the pieces that proteins are built from. The technical term for this kind of molecule is a ‘tri-peptide’.

What Does Glutathione Do?
Glutathione is a very busy molecule. It:

  • Is an antioxidant, protecting the body against free radicals and oxidative stress
  • Helps process medications
  • Processes and protects against carcinogens
  • Clears heavy metals from the body
  • Helps build DNA
  • Helps build proteins

As you can see, glutathione does a lot of important things. Luckily, the body is normally very good at keeping levels of glutathione high enough to take care of everything it needs to. For most people, glutathione will quietly do its job without any problems for their entire lives.

What Happens if the Body Doesn’t Have Enough Glutathione?
When there isn’t enough glutathione, a person has a glutathione deficiency. When a glutathione deficiency develops, then the body isn’t able to protect itself against oxidative stress, process medications, clear heavy metals or protect itself from carcinogens. Some of the health problems that can develop or worsen when this happens include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • liver disease
  • cystic fibrosis
  • sickle cell anemia
  • cancer
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • diabetes

What Causes Glutathione Deficiency?
Several things can cause a gluthathione deficiency.

Genetic problems in glutathione production: Sometimes something prevents the body from making enough glutathione. There are some rare genetic polymorphisms that directly interfere with the body’s production of glutatione, and some more common polymorphisms on what is called the ‘transulfuration pathway’ and can also lead to a glutathione deficiency. MTHFR is not included in these genetic polymorphisms. MTHFR does not interfere with the production of glutathione.

Poor Nutrition: The body needs animal protein to create glutathione. It cannot manufacture glutathione from plant protein or other sources. However glutathione is already present in a number of fruits. In order to avoid a glutathione deficiency it is important to eat either animal protein or fruits high in glutathione.

The body is good at maintaining healthy levels of glutathione – a few days without fruit or animal protein now and then won’t cause problems, bu one or the other should be a regular part of your diet.

High levels of oxidative stress: Oxidative stress is the only thing researchers have found which is Able to cause a sudden drop in glutathione levels.

MTHFR causes high levels of oxidative stress, which can lead to glutathione deficiency and all the health problems it causes.

More on the connection between MTHFR, oxidative stress, and glutathione.

The Connection Between Heavy Metal and MTHFR

MTHFR is a genetic condition, heavy metal poisoning is, like all poisoning, caused by something outside the body. Which makes it a bit surprising that MTHFR increases the risk of heavy metal poisoning. How can a genetic condition effect whether or not a person is poisoned?

The connection is a bit convoluted, but very much real. Basically, MTHFR anomalies destroy the body’s ability to protect itself from heavy metal. A person with an MTHFR anomaly will get sick from amounts of heavy metal that normally aren’t dangerous, because their body is not able to get rid of the heavy metal.

How the Body Deals with Heavy Metals
Many things need to happen before a person develops symptoms of heavy metal poisoning. The first, and most important, is they need to be exposed to a lot of heavy metals. Someone who is never exposed to heavy metals will never get heavy metal poisoning. Unfortunately, our world is full of heavy metals. Mercury is found in sea food, lead in some paints; commercial fertilizers have zinc, nickle and cadmium, even cars spread heavy metal, in the dust from tired and brake pads.

Luckily, the body has ways of dealing with and getting rid of heavy metals. Glutathione, in the liver, clears heavy metal from the blood stream and urine carries it out of the body. If there is more heavy metal than can be carried away by the urine, it is taken up by hair follicles and grows out of the body with our hair. In extreme cases, heavy metal will be ‘stored’ in fat cells. This puts the heavy metal in a place where it can’t hurt the body, but means the heavy metal is still there, and if the person loses weight, the heavy metal will flood their system.

The human body is not very good at getting rid of heavy metals. The systems for getting rid of heavy metals can be easily overwhelmed with relatively small amounts of heavy metals. This is why things like lead in paint and drinking water are so dangerous. The body can keep up with normal heavy metal exposure, but any excess quickly becomes a problem. When no more heavy metal can be shoved out of the body through urine and hair growth, or packed into fat cells, the heavy metal stays in the blood stream, and people get sick.

Glutathione, MTHFR and Heavy Metals
Glutathione is the key to the body’s defense against heavy metals. Anything that interferes with glutathione or reduces the amount of glutathione available immediately increases the risk of heavy metal poisoning. However, removing heavy metals is something of a secondary job for glutathione. It is a major factor in several parts of the metabolism, and gets used for a lot of different purposes. Normally, the body does a very good job of keeping level of glutathione stable. By making sure there is always enough glutathione, the body insures that all the jobs glutathione is needed for can get done, including clearing heavy metals.

There are really only two things can really reduce glutathione levels. One is a genetic polymorphism that interferes with the production of glutathione, the other is high levels of oxidative stress (aka, lots of free radicals). Oxidative stress is the connection between MTHFR anomalies and heavy metal poisoning.

MTHFR anomalies create high levels of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is just as much a poison as heavy metals are, and clearing oxidative stress from the body is one of glutathione’s most important jobs. However, when the levels of oxidative stress get too high, the body can’t keep up, and glutathione levels start dropping. If you are exposed to heavy metals while the body has low levels of glutathione, the heavy metals will stay in your body. Without glutathione, the heavy metals can’t be cleared out of the blood steam and gotten rid of. This can lead to heavy metal poisoning.

MTHFR anomalies → high oxidative stress → low glutathione
Low glutathione + heavy metal exposure → heavy metal poisoning

Many people without any MTHFR anomalies develop heavy metal poisoning every year. And many people with MTHFR anomalies never develop heavy metal problems. However, people who have MTHFR anomalies can develop symptoms of heavy metal poisoning far more easily, and with far less heavy metal exposure, than people who do not have MTHFR anomalies.