Folate – Why you Need to Eat your Greens

Folate – Why you Need to Eat your Greens

Folate is one of the B group vitamins, sometime referred to as B9. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is often used in supplements or added to foods such as bread and cereals. Folate is found most abundantly in dark green leafy vegetables and legumes, and it has a number of functions vital to our health and wellbeing.

Most of the functions of folate also require vitamin C and B12 as co-factors. Folate is necessary for cellular growth and regeneration, which is why it’s particularly important during times of growth such as foetal development in pregnancy. DNA and RNA synthesis require folate, and it is also necessary for red blood cell production in conjunction with iron and B12 for the prevention of anaemia. Low blood levels of folate are associated with depression and dementia, so eating your greens is beneficial to your brain and mental health as well.

Methylation is a biochemical process that’s involved in a number of systems in your body. This one-carbon metabolic cycle involves methylation of homocysteine to methionine using 5-methyl folate and B12 as co-factors. Effective methylation is required for detoxification, regulation of gene expression (epigenetic modification), cellular communication and more. Folate, along with B2, B6, B12, choline and serine, is essential to this process. Compromised methylation is linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and dementia.

Over the last 18 months, I’ve incorporated DNA testing into my clinical practice. Some of the genes tested include MTHFR (methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase)– which is involved in the methylation cycle. What we’re looking at with these genes is how effectively a person can convert folate from food or folic acid from supplements into 5-methyl tetrahydrofolate, the active form that your body needs for effective methylation. For people with compromised MTHFR genes, I’ve recommended to supplement with 5-methyl tetrahydrofolate especially if their blood levels of folate are at the low end of the scale. For people with normal MTHFR genes, I still look at their blood levels to ensure that their folate levels are high enough for optimal vibrant health.

How much do we need?

The recommended daily intake for folate is measured in dietary folate equivalents or DFEs. Use of the DFE reflects the higher bioavailability of synthetic folic acid found in supplements and fortified food compared to that of naturally occurring folate from food. Synthetic folate has 1.7 – 2 times greater bioavailability than food folate.

In an article form Oregon State University on folate, the daily requirements are as follows:

Life Stage             Age                                      Males (mcg/day)     Females (mcg/day)

Infants                  0-6 months                        65                                 65

Infants                  7-12 months                     80                                  80

Children                1-3 years                            150                             150

Children                4-8 years                            200                             200

Children                9-13 years                         300                              300

Adolescents        14-18 years                       400                                400

Adults                    19 years and older          400                                400

Pregnancy           all ages                               –                                   600

Breast-feeding   all ages                               –                                     500

This means the average adult requires 400 micrograms of folate per day. It’s not confirmed whether someone with compromised MTHFR genetics requires more, but I would suggest that it’s important to at least get enough. If you were to get your folate primarily from food (in my clinic, supplements are secondary) the following table will give you an indication of how much you need:

Source                                           Serving Size        mcg folate                 number of servings required for RDI

Spinach                                         1 cup                      263 mcg                             1.5

Asparagus                                    1 cup                      262 mcg                             1.5

Collard Greens*                          1 cup                      177 mcg                             2.25

Turnip Greens                             1 cup                      170 mcg                             2.25

Mustard Greens                         1 cup                      103 mcg                             4

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts        1 cup                      100 mcg                             4

Silverbeet (Swiss Chard)         1 cup                      100 mcg                             4

Romaine Lettuce                        1 cup                      76 mcg                                5

*Collard greens include Asian cabbages e.g. bok choi, kale and others from the Brassica family

Lentils                                            1 cup                      358 mcg                             1.1

Pinto Beans                                  1 cup                      294 mcg                             1.35

Garbanzo Beans                         1 cup                      282 mcg                             1.4

Black Beans                                 1 cup                      256 mcg                             1.5

Navy Beans                                 1 cup                      254 mcg                             1.5

Kidney Beans                              1 cup                      229 mcg                             1.75

Lima Beans                                  1 cup                      156 mcg                             2.5

Split Peas                                      1 cup                      127 mcg                             3.2

Green Peas                                  1 cup                      101 mcg                             4

Green Beans                                1 cup                      42 mcg                                9.5

As you can see, you need a lot of greens and beans to get the recommended amount of folate. If you don’t like eating vegetables or legumes, and would rather get it from fruit, even greater volumes are required!

Source                                           Serving Size        mcg folate                 number of servings required for RDI

Papaya                                          1 Papaya              115 mcg                      3.5

Oranges                                        1 orange               40 mcg                         10

Grapefruit                                     1 Grapefruit         40 mcg                         10

Strawberries                                1 cup                      40 mcg                         10

Raspberries                                  1 cup                      14 mcg                         28.5

Nuts and seeds contain some folate as well, but also in relatively low amounts:

Source                                           Serving Size        mcg folate                 number of servings required for RDI

Sunflower Seeds                        ¼ cup                     82 mcg                         5

Peanuts                                         ¼ cup                     88 mcg                         4.5

Flax Seeds                                    2 tbsp                    54 mcg                         7.4

Almonds                                       1 cup                      54 mcg                         7.4

Including these good whole foods into your diet, including a decent serving of green vegetables or legumes every day will ensure your folate requirements are met. If you really want to be happy, healthy and well, long-term, eating your greens is a great place to start.

This time of year is perfect for growing your own vegetables. I’m eating asparagus, spinach, silverbeet, broccoli, and bok choi from my garden, with beans and peas growing rapidly. By growing your own, you can ensure that your vegetables are spray free, and are as fresh as possible for the greatest nutrient density. I will have a serving of vegetables for brunch, and another at dinner time – lightly steamed or stir fried with a knob of butter – yum!

Helen is a registered medical herbalist and naturopath with 15 years clinical and teaching experience. She aims to help her clients to create vibrant health through improved nutrition and better lifestyle practices, and uses herbal medicines to support healing processes. Her philosophy on health is to keep it simple and find easy ways to fit 'being healthy' into your life.

Helen is passionate about health and wellbeing, and understands metabolism and weight management as a holistic practice - working with physical, mental and emotional aspects of health, weight and body image.

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