Food Sources of L-Methylfolate

L-methylfolate (also known as L-methylfolate, 5-methylfolate, 5-MTHF, prescription Deplin, 5-CH3-H4folate, or simply methylfolate) is the folate your body uses to fulfill it’s many essential methylating functions such as neurotransmitter production, DNA and RNA synthesis (after it’s converted to 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate), cancer prevention, homocysteine processing (and heart and vascular health), red blood cell production, detoxification, and much more.

If you’re curious about methylated vitamin B12, we have also published a discussion of food sources of methylated vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin).

Food Sources of L-methylfolate

Foods high in L-methylfolate include:

  • Sprouted legumes (mung bean, lentil, chickpea, etc)
  • Spinach
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Cauliflower
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Strawberries
  • Other berries
  • Oranges, grapefruit, and their juices
  • Fermented foods such as kefir, water kefir, sauerkraut
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Peas
  • Sweet peppers
  • and more

Grains such as wheat, corn, and rice are low in folate, yet throughout the world they are a foundational food source, resulting in low folate status in most people. Meat is generally low in folate, except for liver, which is high in non-methylated (not 5-MTHF) folate.

Most fresh green plant sources of folate have between 50% and 100% of their folate in the active L-methylfolate form, with the average green leaf seeming to have about 80% of its folate in the L-methylfolate form. Virtually none of the folate in fresh food is folic acid, and virtually all of it is reduced (ready to be methylated if not already methylated).

Dried legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and white beans have the highest folate concentration of any food. However, they are mostly non-methylated, being primarily tetrahydrofolate, followed by 5-formyl-tetrahydrofolate and 5-methyl-tetrahydrofolate. However, amazingly, sprouting legumes for four days causes a 3- to 4-fold increase in total folate, a near-complete conversion of the folate to L-methylfolate, and a spike in vitamin C content that protects and stabilizes the 5-MTHF.

Eating legumes sprouted for 4 days is quite possibly the single most powerful way of increasing your body’s supply of L-methylfolate (aside from 5-MTHF supplementation).

Bacteria and yeasts are folate factories, and hence fermented foods are excellent sources of active folate.

L-methylfolate (5-MTHF) supplements are rapidly gaining in popularity because they work. However, there is a lot of confusion out there as to whether people low in L-methylfolate can get L-methylfolate from food. Food scientists unequivocally find that food is an excellent source of active 5-MTHF. If you’re eating a lot of the right types of folate-rich food, L-methylfolate supplementation is likely unnecessary. If you have MTHFR gene mutations, eating fresh folate-rich foods becomes even more important. That said, popping a pill to get 1,000 or more micrograms in one swallow is a lot easier than eating fresh greens and fresh or frozen berries every day. Even so, in the long run you will be healthiest and happiest if you eat high-folate foods every day.

Effects of food processing on folate

Folate (L-methylfolate included) is relatively fragile and degrades when food is processed, so it is important to buy fresh green vegetables (primarily leafy greens and cruciferous) from the fresh produce department. Local and organic greens likely have more folate. Berries seem to last frozen for months without losing folate. Eat vegetables raw for best folate availability, or gently steam your veggies (5 minutes or less) to preserve the folate in the food. Boiling causes the folate to leech into the water, so avoid boiling greens unless you add them to a liquid you’ll consume (such as a soup) in the last few minutes of simmering. Green smoothies with raw spinach or kale and organic strawberries is a folate powerhouse. Vitamin C in food powerfully protects folate from breaking down. Hence, foods with both folate and vitamin C (such as broccoli and citrus) are super sources of L-methylfolate.

Are you eating your fresh greens and berries?

As mentioned above, L-methylfolate is essential for brain health. For most people, eating raw or lightly cooked dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and other fresh vegetables is required if you want to have a happy, healthy brain.

References

Indrawati, C. Arroqui, I. Messagie, M. T. Nguyen, A. Van Loey, M. Hendrickx. Comparative Study on Pressure and Temperature Stability of 5-Methyltetrahydrofolic Acid in Model Systems and in Food Products. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2004, 52, 485−492

Paul M. Finglas & Anthony J.A. Wright.  Folate bioavailability and health. Phytochemistry Reviews 1: 189–198, 2002.

Shohag MJ, Wei Y, Yang X. Changes of folate and other potential health-promoting phytochemicals in legume seeds as affected by germination. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Sep 12;60(36):9137-43. doi: 10.1021/jf302403t. Epub 2012 Aug 27. PubMed PMID: 22906127.

Iyer R, Tomar SK. Folate: a functional food constituent. J Food Sci. 2009 Nov-Dec;74(9):R114-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2009.01359.x. Review. PubMed PMID: 20492126.

Johan D. M. Patring, Sofia B. Hjortmo, Jelena A. Jastrebova, Ulla K. Svensson, Thomas A. Andlid, I. Margaretha Ja ̈gerstad. Characterization and quantification of folates produced by yeast strains isolated from kefir granules. Eur Food Res Technol (2005).

Cornelia M. Witthoft, Karin Forsskn, Lena Johannesson and Margaretha Jagerstad. Folates – food sources, analyses, retention and bioavailability. Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition/Naringsforskning Vol 43:138-146, 1999.

About Nicholas Hundley, MS, CNS

Nicholas Hundley is a nutritional biochemist and certified nutrition specialist. He is the main author for the MindWhale blog at MindWhale.com. He practices nutrition and can be found at NicholasHundley.com

19 thoughts on “Food Sources of L-Methylfolate”

  1. Thank you so much for this post. It is one of very few that goes into detail with regard to the content of folate in food delineated by chemical form.

  2. Question: In multiple locations, I’ve seen Brewer’s Yeast cited as a source for folate. Yet every quality brand I look at lists folic acid on the nutrition label. What brand/type do you recommend for natural folate?

    • Hi Jenny. I’ve noticed the same thing on Brewer’s yeast. Unfortunately, I don’t know how much folate brewer’s yeast naturally contains, so I can’t recommend any particular Brewer’s yeast.

  3. it seems you are one of the only articles on the internet which claims l-methylfolate can be consumed through food

    there is a biochemical process of converting non-methylated folate and folic acid into l-mtfh

    are you sure it is actually l-mtfh in the foods you list and not just non-methylated folate which can be converted by the body to l-mthf?

    can you provide links which clearly state that l-mtfh is present in the foods listed?

  4. Hi,

    I am wondering how/where I could find the methylfolate vs folate ratios in the vegetables and legumes listed in this article

  5. Thanks for the informative article as I have this MTHFR gene mutation and needed a clear understanding of what this all means and your article helped me. Thanks

  6. Hi, I just found this article. Wondering what happens with the drying process? For instance, some of the powdered green formulas that are gaining popularity now… usually drink/smoothie mixes. Also, I was wondering if you have any insight on why so often when I consume even a moderate amount of these items I end up with an amazing headache, mostly involving my trigeminal nerve (above eye and in that same side’s sinus…sometimes even my jaw)? If you have any insight, I would appreciate it. Thank you!

    • Thanks for the comment Irene. I’m not familiar with what happens in the dying process. My guess would be that most folate would still be usable if it’s dried gently, but it will likely not be as active (may not be as reduced and methylated). I highly recommend you see an ear nose and throat (ENT) specialist and/or primary care practitioner for your headaches.

    • Hi any news on this I have the same.. I still don’t understand will eating to much green also cause you the methyl state yes or no

  7. This is an exceptional bit of information. It’s a shame that L-methylfolate is SO expensive in the supplemental form, meaning some need prescriptions for a variety of reasons. That said, I have recently discovered dried seaweed, re-hydrated to be quite delicious. Asian markets carry it. While likely high in sodium, I don’t add extra salt to the dish when I am using it in a salad, or tossing it into soups, etc… Give it a try. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/health/sdut-seaweed-provides-vitamins-minerals-and-2012sep25-story.html#.

  8. Doctor Hundley thank you very much for your article. I am learning the issue of l-methylfolate for 4 days and this article was the clearest writing for the general public that I have found so far. The topic of the concentrations of methylfolate in legumes and on bean sprouts has been really enlightening, Thank you very much for your contribution. Sorry for my bad english.

  9. Please, please, please, do you know if the folate extracted from lemon peel (like the new whole food folate supplement) has the l-methylated form?? It would be amazing since there are new supplements that are all natural folate and they come just right from the lemon peel.

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