Wheat Belly . . . and folates

Advocates of wheat consumption claim that multiple nutritional deficiencies will develop with elimination of this thing being sold to us called “wheat” (cause it ain’t wheat, but a genetically-altered product for high-yield).

Folates are a B vitamin necessary for multiple cell processes, including assembly of DNA and RNA. Folates are therefore especially necessary during pregnancy, as the fetus requires this nutrient to assemble and grow its own genetic code.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for folates and folic acid, which are lumped together as Dietary Folate Equivalents, are 400 mcg per day in adults (male and female), 600 mcg per day in pregnant females. (1 DFE = 1 mcg food folate = 0.6 mcg folic acid from supplements and fortified foods.) Folate deficiency can show itself as anemia (megaloblastic variety, or big red blood cells), impairment of neurologic function, and the feared and devastating neural tube defects (e.g., spina bifida) in infants born to mothers who are folate-deficient.

Because folates are so crucial to pregnant women, the FDA has passed regulations that require manufacturers of breads, cereals, flours, corn meals, pastas, rice, and other grain products to enrich them with folates, usually folic acid. So one of the first concerns in going wheat-free (or, at least eliminating this fraud being sold as “wheat”) is folate deficiency. So let’s explore that question.

Two slices of whole wheat bread provide 50 mcg of folates after fortification. So how do other dietary sources of folate stack up? Here’s a partial list:

Almonds, 1/2 cup, unblanched: 24 mcg
Asparagus, 10 medium stalks: 230 mcg
Avocado, 1 cup: 90 mcg
Black beans, 1/2 cup, cooked: 64 mcg
Broccoli, 2 raw spears: 45 mcg
Brussel sprouts, 1 cup, cooked: 93 mcg
Cauliflower, 1/2 cup, raw: 30 mcg
Celery, 1 large stalk, raw: 23 mcg
Eggs, 2 large: 41 mcg
Green beans, 1 cup, raw: 33 mcg
Green onions, 1/2 cup: 51 mcg
Romaine lettuce, 2 cups: 77 mcg
Spinach, 1 cup cooked: 261 mcg
Spinach, 2 cups raw: 116 mcg
Summer squash, 1/2 cup, cooked: 23 mcg
Tomato, 1 medium, 18 mcg
Walnuts, 1/2 cup: 59 mcg

So folate-fortified bread is, by no means, a standout source of folates. Wheat products can serve as a source of folates, however, in an unhealthy diet of soft drinks, vending machine foods, and cheap fast food. But a diet dominated by real, whole foods like the ones in the list above provide adequate folates for the majority, even wheat-free.

Anyone interested in ensuring adequate folate intake, especially pregnant and lactating women, can easily supplement folate intake with an inexpensive folic acid or B-complex supplement. Folic acid costs somewhere around $3 for a 90-day supply of 400-800 mcg tablets.

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. Pattye

    Found this info too:

    “Vitamin B12 and folate can be found in a variety of animal and seafood sources. One of the best sources of both folate and vitamin B12 is beef liver. A mere 3 oz. of braised beef liver contains 185 mcg of folate, or 45 percent of the daily recommended intake.
    Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/273253-foods-high-in-folate-b12/#ixzz1axTEtUfp

    That notion that there are SO many nutrients in wheat that we will just shrivel up without is a bunch of bull. All you got to do is a little research (thank God you did all of this for us) and the facts are laid bare.

    • Alex

      Dr. Davis,

      i recently adopted a wheat free diet, and I have been struggling with iron deficiency/anemia my entire life. I am also a vegetarian (lacto-ovo) and cannot get enough B12 from my diet.
      Do you believe i can improve my iron/B12 levels through the wheat free diet?

      I am curious weather there are other people out there, with the same problems, that have gotten a relief through this diet.

      A little on my changes, since going wheat free (1.5 months): weight loss 1 kg, healthier skin and most off all i lost those low bloood-sugar moments, and can now go through the day without constantly thinking about food!

      • Dr. Davis

        Wheat elimination does indeed improve vitamin B12 absorption, provided there has not been damage to the stomach lining.

        However, vegetarians are notoriously B12 deficient due to poor intake, as well. So it means supplementing a high dose of B12. I’ve had success with 1000 mcg per day with most people.

  2. AllisonK

    Do you think with the nutrient binding properties of wheat that we possibly don’t even need the recommended intake, and could get by quite well with much less?

    • PJ

      Good point Allison! When you think of all the irritation and inflammation wheat causes in the digestive track (and throughout the body) it has to reduce, if not completely prevent, absorption of many nutrients. Like Allison (below) my sister was diagnosed with iron deficiency and had symptoms of broad spectrum mineral deficiencies. When she gave up all grains, and wheat specifically, her health improved and you can tell just by looking at her that she was healthier.

      Don’t wait until you can actually be diagnosed with the serious effect of a deficiency — some body parts just aren’t replaceable.

      • PJ

        ” Like Allison (below) my sister was diagnosed with iron deficiency . . . ”
        Oops! sorry, I meant christy.

    • Excellent question, Allison. But, sorry, I don’t know that this question has ever been explored.

      Being wheat-free is, in many ways, the dawn of a new age in understanding nutrition, this question among them.

      • Boundless

        re: Being wheat-free is, in many ways, the dawn of a new age in understanding nutrition, this question among them.

        Once grains are off the table, the last 50 years worth of dietary advice will need to be completely reconsidered, from the RDAs on up.

        Fact is, we humans have no flippin’ idea what to eat (this was even the cover story on a recent Time magazine). Increasing civilization and urbanization has cut us off from legacy foods, as well as from any ancestral dietary wisdom that might even have been correct.

        We have a vague idea what was in Paleo vending machines, but that may not be an ideal diet, starting with the common observation that it only needed to support a lifespan that is less than half of today’s (although wheat could drag us back to that level).

        We don’t even know what “ideal diet” means: longevity? vitality? super-powers?

        Circa 2014 …
        DD v2.5, the Davis Diet(TM), now offers “only” a 97 year lifespan, but you will have the vitality of a 22-year old up until the last 17 minutes.

        LEF v17.36r3, the Life Extension Foundation diet, now promises a 140 year lifespan, but it feels like 180 years, because you are zombie-hungry all the time.

        Which is “ideal”?

        • Very nice discussion, Boundless!

          I won’t pretend to have an answer to every question, but I believe that wheat elimination is the first step, carb restriction is the second step.

          In my mind, I question the necessity of calorie restriction after the first two priorities have been tackled.

  3. christy kennedy

    In my late 20s and early 30s I had 4 “unexplained” end-of-first-trimester miscarriages (my mother had 3) that my naturpath and I now attribute to malabsorption (had all kinds of tests done and doctors then found ‘nothing wrong’ so “it just happens.”) I took prenatal vitamins FOR YEARS, before, during, and after failed and successful pregnancies (I have four kids). I was also always anemic (no stored iron) and had premature bone thinning, just to name a couple of things on a very long list of ailments. All the while I was doing everything “right,” whole grains and all : p I figured out when I was 45 that I was gluten sensitive (I’m now 52) and for the last 7 years my kids, my mom, and I have been gluten free and we have for the most part recovered from migraines, severe GI symptoms (I’m 5’4″ and got down to 100 lbs), chronic infections, skin ailments, anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and all kinds of other things caused by malabsorption or inflammation. BTW, my bone scans over the last seven years first got worse and have since shown increased density to better than my first scan. Point is, there’s no reason to eat fortified grains if the grains themselves are causing more damage to every other part of your body AND enough gut damage so you don’t absorb the added vitamins anyway!! I eat almonds, eggs, and greens almost every day. Been off wheat, oats, rye, etc. for six years and all grains since August. Had a recent very comprehensive bunch of blood work done and after everything being abnormal for so, so long, almost everything is back to normal. Thanks, as always, for a good and helpful post.

    • That’s great, Christy, that you eventually conquered this dietary demon.

      It makes you wonder how many other women struggle with fertility, undergo repeated attempts at in vitro fertilization, or lose their babies in utero just because of this genetic monster, this fraudulent grain created in a laboratory.

      This is worrisome at a very deep level. Perhaps it’s related to the preliminary observation that a component of modern wheat (gliadin? lectins?) may be the in utero trigger underlying the surge in autism.

      • AllisonK

        That would make sense….if wheat affects an autistic child after birth, chances are good it affected them before birth.

  4. lola

    Keep debunking their BS claims. They are so relentless, they really grasp at anything and everything.

    I gave up wheat a month ago, that is until last night when I had soy sauce with my sushi. Then I ate some popcorn at the movies. Can I just tell you….. I got so ill. My GI tract was in a complete uproar, gassy pains all night, I couldn’t sit, sleep or think straight. This entire morning I felt like I was trying to wake up from a drunken stupor. I’m back on protein and veg again. I’m always surprised when people mention how sick they get on grains, but now I know I’m one of the many. I just feel so much better off of them.

    The cravings, mood swings and blood sugar crashes just aren’t worth a bowl of pasta or danish. I don’t miss that crap one iota.

    • Hi, Lola–

      It really makes you wonder how it could exert such effects, doesn’t it?

      Does going wheat-free reawaken us to the long-term, more subtle sufferings we were experiencing? Or does re-exposure rekindle some kind of immunologic/inflammatory “memory” in our gastrointestinal tracts, airways, and brains?

      The re-exposure phenomenon is, from a cold scientific viewpoint, a fascinating issue. Nonetheless, kiss it goodbye!

      • AllisonK

        I would imagine it’s like lactose intolerance. After weaning, no mammal is supposed to consume milk. However, humans continue to drink it, therefore the body keeps producing lactase to digest it. When you stop consuming milk, the body goes, oh, we don’t need to be preparing for this anymore and stops producing lactase. Then when you drink milk after a period of being milk-free, you get sick.
        Perhaps inflammation/water retention is your bodies way of storing what it needs to get rid of this garbage. Then you stop eating wheat and grains and your inflammation goes down and suddenly you aren’t prepared for wheat anymore therefore it makes you ill?

  5. Linda

    Little by little I think the word is getting out there. Here is a link to an article in today’s CNN News, regarding the correct diet for diabetics. In reading through the comments, a very high percentage of posters are saying “low carb, no grains!”
    They are also condemning CNN for posting the same old garbage and not being relative with the latest information. Baby steps……………………
    http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/10/14/whats-healthy-eating-for-a-diabetic/

    • Yes, Linda, baby steps.

      My wife and I had dinner Saturday night and the owner/host came over to our table on his rounds. Somehow the issue of wheat came up (I believe I turned down the chef’s menu, since it had two wheat-encrusted dishes) and he commented, “Lots of people have been saying they don’t want the wheat.”

      That surprised me. If it’s in restaurants, it’s starting to reach Main Street. It will also become easier to navigate a wheat-free lifestyle in restaurants, social gatherings, and the grocery store.

  6. Pam

    I did a little check and found that –

    A Nice Wheat-Free Chicken Dinner Provides 313 mcg of Folate!

    Roasted chicken breast, 3 oz: 4 mcg
    Asparagus, 5 medium stalks, steamed & 2 tsp sliced almonds: 117 mcg
    Salad:
    Romaine lettuce, 2 cups: 77 mcg
    Green onions, 1/4 cup: 25 mcg
    Tomato, 1/2 medium, 9 mcg
    Egg, boiled, 1 large: 20 mcg
    Sunflower seed kernels, 1 oz: 63 mcg

    Total Folate: 313 mcg

    • Thanks, Pam!

      And that’s just for dinner. Add a healthy breakfast and lunch and you’ve easily exceeded your folate requirement, no wheat products in sight.

  7. Dan

    What a crock. Yould have to eat 8 slices of fortified bread a day to get enough folate & pregnant women would have to eat 12. Of course, that doesn’t take into account that the grains inhibit nutrient absorbsion. As I recall, other greens, such as leaf lettuce & collards are high in folate. If you want enough folate, eat leafy greens. If you want mega doses, eat liver.

    This also begs the question that if grains are so “nutritious,” why do they need to be fortified?????

    • AllisonK

      People always forget that just because a certain amount of mineral or vitamin is in a food, that doesn’t mean your body uses it, or is even able to use it.

  8. SteveG

    Dr. Davis, great list on folate amounts. My Wheat Belly is on order after perusing this blog. It is great, and I totally am buying in even before reading the book. I was turned on to this blog by a friend in the sport supplement biz. My dilemma: My wife is freaking out about it. Says my health is in peril and I am a dimwit for going along with my much reduced wheat regimen.
    Personal facts about me: I am 58, 6-6 230 lbs, work out a couple times a week, 15 mile bike ride once a week on average. Like get back to 215 (high school basketball trim) and I figure I am down about 4lbs in the last 2 weeks.
    We have two close friends that are Nutrition Ph.D.s (one world renown) and the Mrs. has set up “counseling” sessions with each of them with me. I am refusing because I think my position will be “gunned down” in flames with these very intelligent individuals. Hence my apprehension meeting with them about this (Have a great time socializing though!).
    Can you compile a cheat list of facts that I can memorize when going up against the conventional wisdom? I know it is there, just a bit ignorant on good specific points to make an impact.

    • You know, Steve, I did indeed write such a “cheat sheet” of wheat facts for my Heart Scan Blog about 2 years ago . . . but, for the life of me, I can’t find it!

      I think your best defense is to read the book, just because I did my best to lay out the arguments in an accessible way. Sadly, you and I cannot expect the “experts” to stay fully abreast of all the new thinking and data. Most “experts,” in fact, find an agenda and stick to it. That’s how much of their funding is obtained.

      I believe your wife will come along when she sees your wonderful success.

    • Nancy

      I outright asked a doctor if we are “supposed” to eat grains because I thought that grains were “supposed” to be a part of our diet. He surprised me by saying ” no” and that people were hunter-gathers before they even started cultivating grains and we do not have to eat grains to survive. He also shared with me that the pancreas was supposed to produce “insulin” for times of feast but not on an everyday basis. Diabetes is a result of eatting foods that spike our blood sugar ” unnaturally” on a daily basis. Grains are a stealth “sugar” because we never think of flours as being “sugar”. We are so used to looking at the amount of sugar in our foods, but we fail to see the flours they are comprised of as sugars and “worse” than table sugar on the glycemic index. Feed your guests pasta, and nice loaves of bread, (no protein because it will counter the sugar spike from the wheat ), just wheat, and you eat wheat-free, sugar-free, chicken over a green salad, all the while talking about a wheat-free diet and after an hour take out the stick pins and glucose strips and let them “prove” their points by comparing their glycemic index compared to yours.
      Or put a bowl of jelly beans and a bowl of pretzels out for experimentation. They both have the same glycemic index…tell your wife that if you had to choose…you’ll take the jellybeans, why? They have the same glycemic index. Your point is that she is saying a diet that includes jellybeans is healthier. She wants you to eat more sugar in the form of wheat and perhaps starches…and this is supposed to make you healthier???? Tell her the story of sugarcane from the book “sugar blues” which recounts tales of ships carrying sugarcane being shipwrecked in storms. The survivors that were the first to die were always those that tried to eat the sugarcane to survive vs those survivors who only had water to drink.
      Just some food for thought.

  9. Amy

    Hi. I know this post is a little date now…but I have a question…

    First, I”ll give you a little background. I have been trying to conceive for six months or so, and it hasn”t happened yet. This past December, I read “Wheat Belly,” along with the “Paleo Diet” by Cordain and it made complete sense, so I gave up wheat and grains – bread, pasta, oats, corn, etc. I feel great, have been eating lots of veggies, lean proteins, nuts, fruits, good fats, etc. I”ve also lost 13 pounds since the first of the year.

    Anyways, I”m a total believer in going grain free – I don”t feel like I need wheat, rice, corn. I feel like a diet rich in real, food – vegetables, fruits, meat, nuts – is the way to go. I don”t feel hungry all the time, feel like I have energy and am sleeping better. However, I feel like I get conflicting advice from popular nutritional advice.

    When I read websites about conception, many times the top foods listed in aiding fertility are whole grains. Can someone please confirm and or give me support that I”m doing the right thing? That by giving up wheat, grains I can improve my fertility? That grains will do more harm than good? Is my prenatal vitamin still effective and/or necessary?

    Thanks in advance!

  10. Marie

    Dear Doctor Davis,
    I’ve been gradually losing weight on a wheat-free diet for the last eight months (18 pounds so far) and am feeling much better. No more constant hunger, more energy. About three months into the new way of eating I had some blood work, and the RN who gave me the results was astonished at the good numbers for blood lipids and cholesterol. This summer I fell off the wagon a little due to travel. Three months ago I started getting more serious about reducing carbs in my diet and eliminated legumes and also higher carb vegetables and fruit from my diet, and my weight loss rate increased. At about the same time I began having foot problems that really accelerated in the last few weeks. It went from a spot of numbness on the end of a big toe, to pain in another toe, to fairly severe pain on the balls of the feet (which I attributed to overuse since I had been walking 4 miles a day), and then to tingling and burning all over the soles of both feet. Trying to research this, I found the term peripheral neuropathy, which can be associated with diabetes and MS, but also with B12 deficiency. I also saw that ketosis, burning fat rather than glucose, can use more B vitamins and also D. I should mention that I am a 57-year-old woman who drinks a lot of coffee! I’ve increased the vitamin D that I take, and also started taking a B1 supplement in tablet form and a sublingual liquid vitamin B supplement that includes a lot of B12. Am hoping this improves the foot problems in a few weeks. I wanted to share this with you and ask what you think.

    • Dr. Davis

      I won’t to pretend to be a foot expert, Marie, but this doesn’t really sound like peripheral neuropathy (though be aware that just reading a description cannot substitute for a neurologist’s exam). Plantar fasciitis?

      I think that a visit to your doctor to assess for identifiable organic causes is in order. While this diet approach is indeed very powerful–good work on the lipid values!–it cannot prevent ALL human illness. We can still break a leg, for instance.