Our culture is full of health problems. We are stressed, depressed, anxious, nutrient-deficient, and about half of the American population struggles with a chronic health problem. We don’t like to be this way- we all would like to enjoy long healthy happy and energy-filled lives. As a solution, there are band-aid fixes. More and more vaccines are added to the vaccine schedule every generation. Pharmaceutical companies come out with new medications daily. And we’ve started adding things to our food supply.
What’s added to the food supply?
There is controversy in peer-reviewed medical journals about each addition to our food supply. There are always pros and cons to supplementation, but when nearly the entire food supply is fortified (also called enriched) we are no longer evaluating the risks and benefits on an individual basis.
- Iodine is added to table salt
- Vitamin D3 is added to milk
- B vitamins (including folic acid) and iron are added to flour
Today we’re going to talk about folic acid supplementation, and how what you perceive to be a wheat sensitivity may actually be a folic acid sensitivity.
What is the Folic Acid-Wheat Connection?
In the 1996, the US started fortifying (nearly) all wheat flour. The goal was to get enough folic acid in the food supply that neural tube defects would be reduced, which they were (source). But this didn’t come without problems. As the shelf-stable synthetic version of vitamin B9 (folic acid) was added to food, we have seen a huge increase in chronic health problems, including sensitivities to wheat.
Many people spend lots of money on gluten-free alternatives now because standard wheat products off the grocery store shelves have been making them sick. In short, they feel better when avoiding wheat.
But maybe it’s not actually the wheat they need to avoid, but the folic acid that is fortified into nearly every wheat product.
How many people are sensitive to folic acid?
When exposed to enough of it (like in all baked goods!) everyone becomes sensitive. Those that start out with the MTHFR gene-mutation (about 15%) are sensitive to it even in small amounts.
Folic acid is an inexpensive synthetic version of the water-soluble B9 (folate). Some people possess the enzymes needed to get folic acid to do what natural folate does in the body. Some people can turn folic acid into folate at a much reduced rate (source), which puts them at a deficiency even though they are consuming a significant amount of folic acid. The deficiency may not be low enough to cause neural tube defects, but it may present in other ways such as growth trouble, tongue tie, and neurological problems.
Looking for natural folate as a supplement? I like Seeking Health brand (find here).
Over consumption of the form folic acid (not natural folate) can actually turn off the ability to absorb it– even if these people do not have the MTHFR gene mutation. (source)
- People that do not process folic acid well or at all will have a buildup in their bloodstream, yet it is not making it into the cells of the body because the enzyme needed to transport it is lacking.
- People that do not process folic acid well, but are still consuming it, will have trouble getting their body to absorb the needed folate in the usable form of natural folate or methyl-folate because it is confused or backed up trying to process the unusable folic acid.
- Lab tests can show what is in the blood, but if someone’s ability to absorb nutrients from the blood is different than what is considered normal, the data can be incorrectly interpreted easily.
Wait, don’t we need folic acid?
This is been drilled into our heads, because when we don’t have natural folate there are a variety health conditions that come up, most notably neural tube defects in utero- such as anacephaly and spina bifida. Lack of folate also leads to slow growth, and not making enough blood cells.
It’s the folate from real food that is absolutely essential, not folic acid.
Folic acid is bad for people who can’t process it because it ‘plugs’ the receptors on cells that need real folate, causing the body to not be able to access the real folate that does come in through your diet.
It Might Be Wheat
I’m not saying that it’s never the wheat that is causing problems. For my own daughter, I know that she was sensitive to even freshly-ground heirloom organic wheat until we healed leaky gut. But if you have taken steps to heal leaky gut, don’t have celiac disease, or are only mildly bothered by wheat problems it may be worth experimenting with avoiding all fortified flour products and slowly attempting a reintroduction of wheat products.
What is our family doing?
This summer, we started experimenting with unfortified whole grain flours again as well as Bob’s Red Mill Organic unbleached flour, which is not fortified. When purchasing, you’ll want to be careful to double check the ingredients as well as the nutrition facts to make sure that you are only purchasing wheat.
Nearly all baked goods and pastas sold in the grocery store uses enriched/fortified flour. Again, check the ingredients list and the nutrition facts to make sure there is not folic acid or enriched flour anywhere listed.
In general, gluten-free flour is NOT fortified, so when we are going to eat pre-made baked goods or pasta, we usually choose gluten-free even though we don’t seem to be bothered by gluten any longer. Choosing gluten-free is the easiest way to avoid folic acid.
Baked goods include:
We like a long slow rise for our wheat breads, I tend to just keep a bowl of wet bread dough in my fridge and let a few rolls rise for dinner.
Is bread okay to eat?
This is up to the individual. We like to prioritize protein and produce, but I do think that 1-2 servings of grains are okay for my children. We went grain-free to heal leaky gut for years, and have carefully introduced occasional bread and grains like rice and corn back into our diets.
For those who struggle with gaining weight too quickly, you may find that grains provide too many calories and not enough of the micro nutrients that your body needs. For those who could use more calories, bread is an easy (and I’ll admit, delicious!) source of them.