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A Course In Nutrition: Learning Your A, B, C’s
Welcome back to Part 7 of our multiple-part series on Vitamins.
In the last blog of this series, we talked about Vitamin B6, Pyridoxine.
- the importance of Vitamin B6
- what health challenges occur when there is a deficiency
- what foods are packed with this very important vitamin
- and, an easy recipe to make sure you’re eating enough Vitamin B6 daily
In today’s blog, we will talk about Vitamin B9, also known as Folate (often interchanged with folic acid.)
- Folic acid is the man-made version of folate, which is found naturally in foods.
- Folic acid is sold as a supplement and added to fortified foods.
- It is not found in nature.
As a reminder, all of the B vitamins are water-soluble…..which means our body doesn’t store them for a long time and it’s important to eat foods rich in this nutrient, every single day.
As has been the case with the other B vitamins we’ve discussed, folate is also important for energy production. It allows for healthy red blood cell production, which then allows for healthy oxygen distribution, which then allows for more strength and stamina….and who wouldn’t want more of that?
Folate is crucial during rapid growth periods, which include:
During pregnancy, folate is very important for brain and spinal cord health.
Though very rare in the US (less than 20,000 cases per year), one defect from too little folate is anencephaly – incomplete formation of brain and skull. It is always fatal. Children born with this might live for a few hours up to a few days.
A more common complication during pregnancy, due to too little folate, is spina bifida. This defect occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly. Since the spinal cord is not properly formed, the ability to walk is often hindered. If someone has a mild case, they might be able to walk without any aids or assistance, though that is rare. Most people with this defect will walk with braces, crutches or walkers. People with spina bifida higher on the spine (near the head) might have paralyzed legs and use wheelchairs.
If you, or a loved one, is planning on getting pregnant, it will be important to eat foods rich in folate. Doing so will significantly reduce the risk of having a child with a neural-tube defect.
From infancy through adolescence, folate plays a crucial role, too. B9 plays an important role in growth and development. Additionally, higher intakes of folate in adolescents have been linked to better academic achievement. What parent doesn’t want to give their child the best opportunity to succeed?
Like other B vitamins, adolescent intake recommendations for folate were extrapolated from adult recommendations accounting for growth. The RDA for adolescents aged 14 to 18 years is 400 mcg (micrograms)/day of dietary folate.
When considering naturally occurring folate in foods, results of a national survey indicate that almost 80% of individuals aged 2-18 years in the US have intakes below the estimated average requirement. (That’s very discouraging to me, too. As you’ll see below, it should be fairly easy to eat enough B9 daily. It doesn’t come from strange foods.) Due to this, the US Food and Drug Administration implemented legislation in 1998 requiring the fortification of all enriched grain products with folic acid. Please remember that folic acid is the man-made version of folate. This is important, because our cells don’t absorb synthetic nutrients as efficiently as natural nutrients.
Folate and Brain Health in Adults
There is very exciting research in the fields of Depression and Alzheimer’s Disease and the benefit of folate.
One study on depression showed that taking folate along with an anti-depressant, significantly improved response to care. In the same study, some participants had improvements in depressive symptoms on folate alone. I found this very encouraging. Folate alone has the ability to improve depressive symptoms. Knowing this, I think it would be awesome if all healthcare providers would start here, when treating their patients for depression.
This study also took the time to see how response would be to taking various forms of Vitamin B9. Some people took folic acid. Some took 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) (also known as methylfolate and L-methylfolate). Others took folinic acid. It was shown that methylfolate was the most bioavailable form. (This is great news….because this is the form found in nature. Hmmmm…..it seems like Mother Nature knows best.)
If you find yourself ‘down in the dumps’, increasing your dietary intake of folate just might be the answer you’re looking for. (No matter what, you’re improving your nutrient intake and that’s always a good thing.)
The studies on Alzheimer’s disease are encouraging, too.
The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging did some very interesting research on folate intake and the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. This study spanned over 9 years.
All participants in the study had no signs of dementia or cognitive decline at the start of the study. Over 9 years, a nutrition diary was kept and follow-up labs were taken.
At the end of the study, approximately 10% of the participants developed Alzheimer’s Disease. However, the great news is that 90% of participants DID NOT develop Alzheimer’s Disease.
These findings suggest that total intake of folate at, or above, the RDA is associated with a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
With Alzheimer’s Disease on the rise, adding more folate-rich foods to your diet might be the best insurance policy to maintaining optimal brain health.
What are optimal daily folate levels?
The Recommended Dietary Allowances are:
- Birth to 1 year – 80 mcg
- 1-3 years old – 150 mcg
- 4-8 years old – 200 mcg
- 9-13 years old – 300 mcg
- 14 and older – 400 mcg
- Pregnant women – 600 mcg
- Nursing women – 500 mcg
It’s important to understand that the RDA are guidelines to minimize deficiency risks but don’t list numbers that allow for optimal health.
In the studies mentioned above, on depression and Alzheimer’s Disease, most of those participants were taking 800 mcg per day. Since this is a water-soluble nutrient, it’s likely that you’ll urinate out any excesses. There is very little concern about taking too much vitamin B9.
What foods shall you eat?
If you want to have:
- A healthy pregnancy
- Well-developed children
- Smarter than average, too
- Reduced risk of depression
- Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
what are the foods you need to eat more of, to get these incredible benefits?
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Did you know that the word folate comes from the word foliage? If you’re enjoying green leaves, you are getting a great amount of natural folate.
- 1 cup of raw spinach contains 100 mcg
- Just a mere ½ cup of cooked lentils offers 180 mcg of B9.
- 1 cup contains 100 mcg of this super-nutrient
- 1 cup of this superfood contains 90 mcg of folate
- Great Northern Beans
- ½ cup of these cooked beans contains 90 mcg of Vit B9
- Sunflower seeds
- ¼ cup of these mighty seeds contain 85 mcg of folate
There are plenty of other foods that contain a good amount of Vitamin B9. But, these will get you started on your journey to improved health.
Though it should be easy for you to eat 400-800 mcg per day, if you think you will struggle in eating enough of the right foods, taking a supplement might be beneficial, especially if you are pregnant, suffer with depression or concerned about Alzheimer’s Disease. To get the best benefit from supplemental folate, make sure the label (on the back) contains folate, or methylfolate or 5-MTHF. If it contains folic acid, you might struggle with effective absorption.
As always, I’m including a delicious recipe that’s easy to prepare. I’m hoping this will become one of your go-to recipes, especially in autumn and winter.
Here’s to your health.
Instant Pot Tuscan White Bean Soup (can also be done in crockpot)
- 4 cups bone or vegetable broth (If you have a ham bone, that’ll be perfect!)
- 2 (15-oz.) cans unsalted Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed (You can use dried beans, too. Just make sure to properly prepare.)
- 1 cup uncooked brown or green lentils, soaked and rinsed
- 1 cup water (increase to 2 cups for Instant Pot)
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion
- 3/4 cup chopped carrot
- 1 (2-inch) Parmesan cheese rind
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups coarsely chopped rainbow chard (or spinach)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
Combine broth, beans, lentils, 2 cups water, onion, carrot, Parmesan rind, garlic, thyme, pepper, salt, and bay leaf in Instant Pot. Cover with lid, and turn to manual. Turn lid valve to seal, and set to high pressure for 15 minutes.
Release valve with a towel (be careful of the pressurized steam), and release steam until it stops. Carefully uncover, and add chard and lemon juice. Stir until chard is wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove and discard cheese rind and bay leaf.
Divide soup evenly among 6 bowls. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan.
***If cooking in crockpot, put all ingredients, except chard/spinach and lemon juice, in pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours. At the end of cooking, add chard/spinach and lemon juice. Cook until greens are wilted. (Approximately 3-5 minutes)
Thank you, Jamie Vespa, of Cooking Light, for sharing such an awesome recipe.
Continue with the rest of the recipe.
1 cup of this prepared soup will contain nearly 400 mcg folate, your daily requirement. Yum Yum
About the author: Dr Becky Spacke is a course instructor at Nutrition Therapy Institute. Additionally, she has a private practice focused on minimizing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease as a qualified ReCODE practitioner. You can learn more about her work at www.HealingFromAlz.com
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