The question of folate in food safe for MTHFR mutants has, like everything else about MTHFR, a complex answer: yes and no. Sigh. But actually there’s a pretty easy split, and that’s between foods naturally high in folate, and foods fortified with folic acid.
Foods Naturally High in Folate
This list is all awesomeness. These are great healthy foods that most people want to incorporate into their diet but many of us mutants (MTHFR mutants that is) hesitate because of the folate content. Great news folks – naturally occuring folate is actually not a problem with the MTHFR mutation. Here’s the thing – what we call “folate” isn’t actually just one thing. In nature it’s a collection of related molecules in the family of pteroylglutamates (say that three times fast). Folate can be used directly by the human body, it doesn’t have to be converted into anything and so with or without a MTHFR mutation we can use folate well.
We use folate to synthesize, repair and methylate DNA, and as a cofactor in a number of reactions in the human body. It’s especially important in periods of rapid growth and cell division – so infancy, growth spurts and pregnancy. We also use it to make our red blood cells and deficiency is one of the causes of anemia.
Foods Highest in Folate (Safe for MTHFR)
Beans and Pulses:
- Black eyed Peas – 356 mcg/cup serving (89% daily value)
- Mung beans – 80% DV per cup serving
- Pinto beans – 74% DV per cup serving
- Chickpeas – 71% DV per cup serving
- Lentils – 90% DV per cup serving
Dark Green Leafy Veggies:
- Spinach – 66% DV per cup serving (cooked)
- Turnip greens – 42% DV per cup serving (cooked)
- Romaine Lettuce – 16% DV per cup serving (raw)
Brassica Family Veggies:
- Broccoli – 42% DV per cup serving (cooked)
- Cauliflower – 14% DV per cup serving (cooked)
- Brussels sprouts – 25% DV per cup serving (cooked)
- Avocado – 30% DV per cup serving (raw)
- Mango – 18% DV per cup serving (raw)
- Oranges – 18% DV per cup serving (raw)
- Asparagus – 68% DV per cup serving (cooked)
- Okra – 37% DV per cup serving (cooked)
- Liver – 50-60% DV per 3 oz serving (because nobody eats a cup of liver.) Percentage range depending on the type of animal the liver comes from.
The answer to the question ‘Is NATURALLY OCCURING folate in foods safe for MTHFR mutants?’ Is a resounding YES.
Foods Fortified with Folic Acid
Here’s where the MTHFR group get tripped up. Often ‘folate’ and ‘folic acid’ are used interchangeably to refer to the same thing, because they theoretically do the same things in the body. Except for MTHFR mutants they really don’t do the same thing because we have varying degrees of impairment with the enzyme that converts folic acid to folate. This means that MTHFR mutants really can’t count folic acid, which is the synthetic, lab-created, oxidized form of folate which is really not found so much in nature. This requires functioning MTHFR genes to be converted into a usable form of folate. If you don’t have good function of your MTHFR genes (and just a note – we all have some function, we’re just impaired) then you don’t get to use this form very well.
Folic Acid ≠ Folate
The issue with eating a lot of foods fortified with folic acid for an MTHFR mutant is that the folic acid competes at receptor sites with natural folate that is coming from your diet. This means the synthetic folic acid makes the natural folate less effective because much of the time the synthetic (unusable) form is clogging up the folate receptors.
Foods Most Likely to Be Fortified with Folic Acid (Unsafe for MTHFR Mutants):
- Baking mixes
So – is Fortified “Folic Acid” folate in food safe for MTHFR mutants? Absolutely Not.
The best strategy to make your foods MTHFR friendly is to eat whole foods, natural unfortified whole grains, and skip the fortified garbage. There are many dangers of folic acid (and not just to MTHFR mutants – we’ll talk about that later) so avoid it wherever possible and add naturally-occurring folate-rich foods into your diet wherever you can. One more time: Is folate in food safe for MTHFR mutants? You betcha, but folic acid isn’t.