Advocates of wheat and grain consumption claim that multiple nutritional deficiencies will develop if we eliminate them from our diet. Not true. Let’s explore this question.
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, is 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 synthetic 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 (as folic acid) 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
Liver, beef, 4 ounces: 285 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 indeed serve as a supplemental source of folates, however, in an unhealthy diet of soft drinks, vending machine foods, and cheap fast food, as long as you are willing to tolerate the weight gain, inflammation, acid reflux, IBS, high blood sugars, autoimmune diseases, and increased risk for heart disease, cancer, and dementia that come along with these sources. But a diet dominated by real, whole foods like the ones in the list above, especially liver and green leafy vegetables like spinach, can provide an adequate quantity of folate for the majority living a wheat- and grain-free lifestyle.
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 mcg tablets. Also, see the discussion in Wheat Belly Total Health about the suspected adverse effects of synthetic folic acid, especially with doses of 800 mcg or more, and why the 5-methylfolate may be the preferred supplemental form, if you must supplement.