10 Ways to Eat Your Way to Better Skin

If you’re tired of spending copious amounts of money on skin products, look no further. Save money by simply changing your diet for the long run to have radiant, soft and glowing skin just by eating a healthy and delicious plant based diet!

Did you know that our skin can often predict our health status and it is linked to the foods we place in our bodies? Free radicals cause damage to our skin and come from unhealthy foods, poor sun exposure, not enough sleep, and smoking. These toxic cells steal electrons from healthy atoms in our bodies and create chaos in our bodies. We can reverse these effects by adding in antioxidant rich foods which donate electrons to create stable atoms and in return, nicer looking skin. Anti-aging really is possible! Stock up on foods bursting with the nutrients listed below to eat your way to better skin.

Iron
Iron is an essential nutrient for reducing oxidative stress caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS). Reactive oxygen species are unstable cells known to cause damage in the body and promote wrinkling. By adding in iron rich foods you can reverse environmental damages that promote reactive oxygen species like ultraviolet (UV) rays, pollution and alcohol. Main food sources of iron include beans, lentils, tofu, dark leafy greens and whole grains. The Wholesome app is a great reference tool for finding which foods are the richest in various nutrients like iron and for allows you to track your micronutrients.

 Wholesome app: Top food sources richest in iron (left), Nutrition tracker (right)

Wholesome app: Top food sources richest in iron (left), Nutrition tracker (right)

Looking for the app on Android? Find out when it releases here.

Vitamin A Derivatives
Beta carotene, a Vitamin A derivative, is found to reduce erythema, a condition where the skin becomes red from dilation of blood vessels. Erythema is often caused by UV rays, medications, pregnancy and multiple medical conditions. Astaxanthin is another Vitamin A derivative that can be found in skin products because of its effect against wrinkling and sagging skin. Looking to add more Vitamin A in your diet? Try incorporating carrots, kale, sweet potatoes, spinach and broccoli.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant filled with skin fighting abilities. Studies have found that people with Vitamin C deficiencies often have higher chances of wrinkled and damaged skin! Dermatologists recommend it due to its role in collagen production in the body which creates elasticity in your skin. Still not convinced this antioxidant is a must have in your daily diet? Vitamin C is also found to help with reducing skin pigmentation changes by donating electrons to help stabilize free radicals in our bodies and prevent further destruction to our cells. Foods containing Vitamin C include strawberries, kiwis, oranges, papayas and bell peppers.

Zinc
This trace mineral is found highly concentrated in our skin and is a key micronutrient for repairing tissue. This mighty mineral is also well known to reduce inflammation, help with skin pigmentation conditions and treat infections. People with severe acne are sometimes prescribed Zinc sulfate as an oral treatment to reduce breakouts. Find an abundance of Zinc in spinach, cashews, pumpkin seeds, beans and mushrooms.

Essential Fatty Acids
Long chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, or PUFA for short, help with creating tissue lipids and reducing inflammation from UV rays. If you’re looking for more subtle skin and reduced wrinkle formation, load up on fatty acids to reduce dryness! Foods high in essential fatty acids include sunflower seeds, walnuts, oils, dark leafy greens and whole grains.

Polyphenols
Often found in proclaimed “super foods”, polyphenols are micronutrients filled with antioxidants that maintain cell survival and fight disease. Resveratrol, a common polyphenol found in wine has anti-aging properties by creating new cells and preventing collagen from breaking and losing our skin’s natural shape. Topical green tea polyphenols contain other skin fighting properties that help with reducing inflammation, erythema and UV damaged edema. Try incorporating cocoa, berries, walnuts, green tea and grapes into your diet for more polyphenols!

Niacin
Niacin, Niacinamide, nictonic acid or B3, there are many names this multiverse vitamin goes by. From strengthening skin to improving dryness and reducing damage you can count on niacin to do all the above! Make sure to stay within the RDI limits however, as overdosed levels can result in reddened skin. Add niacin rich food sources like peanuts, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, peas and avocados to your meals today.

Selenium
If you keep forgetting your sunscreen (although I highly suggest you apply it daily), try integrating the trace element Selenium into your daily routine. Selenium has a photoprotective effect which helps keep our skin from damaging against harmful UV rays. Sunburnt skin results in wrinkling, so make sure to load up on brazil nuts, chia seeds, mushrooms, beans or brown rice for added protection.

Vitamin E
Say hello to Vitamin E, an antioxidant known to neutralize free radicals in our bodies and impair skin. Vitamin E does this by preventing free radicals from causing destruction in lipid cells. When deficient in this vitamin our body can cause edema (swelling due to fluids accumulation), dry skin and depigmentation. Add in Vitamin E rich foods like almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes, wheat germ and sunflower seeds for all the benefits mentioned!

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is known to protect our skin from apoptosis and blocks stress activated protein kinases to stop our skin cells from dying. Studies even suggest that Vitamin D may protect us from skin cancer. If you have wounds, Vitamin D is essential to induce repair and healing. Other than the sun, mushrooms, fortified milks, fortified cereals and oatmeal are other excellent sources to include in your daily diet.

 

Although you can get these nutrients from USP certified supplements, it is always best to eat whole foods due to added health benefits such as fiber and to prevent toxic overdosing. Use the Wholesome App today to determine recipes rich in the top 10 micronutrients listed above or to track your diet to see if you are meeting your daily nutrient requirements!

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The Wholesome App even includes recipes and scores them on how healthy they are so you can be confident knowing the meals you made are nutrient dense. If you notice micronutrient deficiencies or skin problems arising please see a Registered Dietitian, Dermatologist or Doctor for further information.


How to Thrive on a Plant-Based Diet

Whether you are trying to simply improve your health or lose weight, a plant based diet can be a great way to achieve your health goals. While it can seem overwhelming to give up animal products at first, your body will thank you in the long run! The great news is you do not have to do this alone, the Wholesome app can assist with this transition by allowing you to make the best food choices while meeting your vitamin and nutrient needs. Wholesome was created to help those on a plant-based diet spot nutrition gaps and ensure they are getting all the micronutrients their body needs. The app tracks over 90 nutrients including antioxidants and omega3s. You can set your own customized nutrition goals or rely on what the USDA recommends for you. And if you're pregnant the app will adjust your targets for the needs of eating for two.

micronutrient tracking plant based.jpg

What is a plant based diet? There are varying definitions of a plant-based diet, but it is commonly understood to be an eating pattern that emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds [1]. The most popular plant-based diets are vegetarianism and veganism, although there are many others out there to explore and it is important to find the one that works for you. Plant based diets are hugely popular to reduce our impact on the environment and as a way to improve overall health. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, following a vegan or vegetarian diet may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, several types of cancer, and so much more [2]. Below are tips on how to make the most of transitioning to this style of eating:

 

1. Eat a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables

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It may go without saying, but in order to truly follow a plant-based diet, you have to eat plants. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals while being naturally low in calories, making them the cornerstone of any healthy diet. Not only is it important to eat at least 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables each day, but it is also important to eat an assortment of different varieties and colors.  Color is associated with active compounds in our fruits and vegetables which have been suggested to provide healthful properties, so it is important to eat many different colors. The key to getting the most out of healthy eating is variety. 

 

2. Read Labels

Sadly, not everything that is vegan or vegetarian is healthy. This means it is more important than ever to start reading labels and making educated food decisions. The fact that something does not contain animal products, such as dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, or seafood, does not mean it isn’t full of sugar, fat, and added salt. For example, Oreos are vegan because the “cream” is oil and the cookie was made without milk or eggs- but no one would argue an Oreo is good for us. Read labels and compare which products are least processed and contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Remember, the Wholesome App can assist with tracking and making better food choices. 

 

3. Get Your Whole Grains

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Carbohydrates get a bad rap, but the truth is many foods associated with being higher in carbohydrates, such as whole grains, contain important B vitamins, iron, fiber, and so much more. The “Whole” in whole grains means that the seed of the plant is intact and less processed than other foods. Not only are they part of a balanced diet, but dried grains often store well in the pantry, making them a must-have to keep around. There are so many ways to eat whole grains other than just whole wheat bread or pasta. Barley is great in soups and stews, quinoa makes a great cold salad, and of course there is nothing like a hot bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. Brown rice, couscous, popcorn, amaranth, rye, farro, and so many other whole grains are just waiting for you to try them.

 

4. Try New Things

As I have stated, variety is such an important part of any diet, but especially when going plant-based. Challenge yourself to try new things every time you go to the grocery store in order to explore all the different fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes that make up a plant-based diet. Often the foods we don’t like are because we had those foods poorly prepared years ago and have never tried them again. This is your chance to give those foods and even more a chance! Not only will trying new things benefit your health, but it may benefit your wallet. Trying foods in season often means they cost less. As an example, the fresh strawberries you usually buy may be over $5.00 a carton in the winter, but pomegranate is in season and 2 for $5. Of course the availability and exact prices vary by geographic region, but there will always be something new.

 

5. Beans Are Your Friend

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Often times, before beginning a plant based diet the most experience anyone has with beans is the canned baked beans at summer bar-b-ques. Beans, which are a legume, are high in plant based protein, as well as fiber. Depending on the type, beans can also be excellent sources of folate, B Vitamins, copper, iron, manganese, and magnesium. There are a wide variety of beans all with different flavors and uses available to add protein and nutrients to any meal.

Changing your diet can be overwhelming, but use these tips to make the transition a little less daunting. By switching to a plant-based diet you are already making valuable steps to improve your overall health, and with the Wholesome App you can search recipes, tips, and view your personalized nutrient needs to make the process less challenging.  

 

1-     Tuso, P. J., Ismail, M. H., Ha, B. P., & Bartolotto, C. (2013). Nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets. Perm J, 17(2), 61-66. doi:10.7812/TPP/12-085

2-     Melina, V., Craig, W., & Levin, S. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(12), 1970-1980. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.025

 


Tips for Diet and Exercise During the Winter

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Cold weather shouldn’t keep you from achieving your fitness goals. Losing weight and exercising is the number one New Year’s resolution in the United States, but unfortunately that also means it’s the number one broken, lost or forgotten resolution. Don’t let the colder temperatures and earlier sunsets turn you into a statistic. If you’re looking to keep your winter workout going strong, here are three ideas to keep you fit and focused.

Create a Home Gym

If the 5 p.m. darkness or the frigid temperatures make it hard to complete your winter workout, then repeat after me: There’s no place like a home gym. Believe it or not, you don’t need stacks of weights or expensive equipment to start a state-of-the-art home gym. What you need are the tools to help you build lean muscle, techniques to burn calories and space that is accessible and easy to use. Whether you remodel your guest room or carve out a corner in your living room, your home gym can help you meet your fitness milestones during cold weather with:

  • Dumbbells: Add weight to lunges, squats, bicep curls and more to build muscle.
  • High Intensity Interval Training: Alternate high energy workouts, like jumping rope or burpees, with slower-paced activities to boost your heartrate.
  • Yoga: Roll out a yoga mat to work on balance and flexibility, not to mention nearly every pose helps you strengthen your core.
  • Bosu Balance Trainer: Speaking of strengthening your core, not only can using a Bosu ball for exercises like push-ups and squats also work your abs, it’s a lightweight piece of equipment that’s easy to store.
  • Resistance Bands: From chest presses to inner thigh exercises, resistance bands are easy to store and a fun way to add strength training to your fitness routine.

Track Nutrition

If you think low-fat yogurt is helping your waistline, you may want to think again. Many foods marketed as healthy, low-fat or diet are actually part of the weight-gain problem. In addition, everybody processes food differently, so without understanding how certain foods impact your fitness you could be undoing a lot of your hard work. That’s why keeping a food journal and tracking your nutrition can help you make it through the winter workout blues. You can download apps right on your phone, like wholesomeapp.com, which lets you see the breakdown of your meals. Getting an idea of how many carbohydrates, proteins, sugars and fats you eat in a meal will help you fill nutrition gaps. Wondering why that five-mile jog didn’t do much on the scale? Nutrition tracking apps can give you insight into how your diet is impacting your endurance, stamina and weight loss.

Reach for a Goal
One of the best ways to stay motivated during your winter workouts is to keep your eye on the spring horizon. Signing up for a race that kicks off when the weather warms up will motivate you to stick to your training plans. Take a spin class series to help you prepare for a 25-mile bike ride or purchase some cold weather running gear that will keep you warm as you train for a half marathon. You can also shoot for a goal that doesn’t have to wait until spring, but does require determination and commitment. Pick a challenging yoga pose you want to learn, like an arm balance, or a weight goal for the bench press that you can use to measure your progress.

Whether you workout in front of your TV or in a class at the gym, stay motivated during the winter by finding activities that challenge your body and stimulate your mind. Mix it up so you don’t get bored, and watch the winter months pass by much more quickly.

Article by Jason Lewis  http://strongwell.org/ 


4 Easy Ways to Increase Your Magnesium Levels

Are you deficient in Magnesium?

Magnesium is an essential mineral used by the body for over 300 cell functions and is one of the most common mineral deficiencies. Shockingly, 68% of Americans do not consume enough and about 20% are not getting even half the amount that's recommended (1). Low magnesium levels over time can increase the risk of illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes.

Signs you may be low in magnesium include restless legs, fatigue, heart rhythm disorders, trouble sleeping, constipation, and many more. If you're concerned that you may have a Magnesium deficiency ask your doctor to perform a blood test to confirm.  

How to increase your Magnesium levels

Let’s go over some simple ways to increase magnesium levels:

 supplements

1.     Supplements

Supplementing with magnesium can be an easy way for some people to reach their daily quota for magnesium, as well as to increase magnesium levels in someone who is deficient. The choices of the different types of magnesium to take can be dizzying!

Not all of the choices are created equally and choosing the wrong type can leave to making multiple trips to the toilet. If you are looking to increase your magnesium levels steer clear of magnesium citrate since it will cause loose stools. Instead, try taking other forms such as orotate, taurate, or glycinate. All of these are much gentler on your tummy and will not cause loose stools.

If you are going to take a magnesium supplement with the hopes of increasing your blood magnesium levels, then it is important to make sure that you are not taking any citrate forms of any vitamins. Citrate forms of vitamins can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb magnesium.

Here are some great supplement brands to try:

-        Pure Encapsulations Magnesium (glycinate)

-        CardioMag by AOR (orotate)

-        Cardiovascular Research (taurate)

2.     Epsom Salt Baths

 epsom salt for magnesium

If you need to hit your daily target of magnesium, or increase your magnesium, why not take a relaxing bath while you do it? Epsom salts are a form of magnesium that you can put into your bath water. Your skin is your largest organ and can absorb lots of magnesium quickly, and without the stomach churning effects of some oral supplements available.

For maximum absorption of Epsom salts use 1 cup of salts in your bath water and soak for 45 minutes. Repeat three to four times per week. Do not rinse off in the shower after your bath or you can rinse off some of the magnesium that could be absorbed in the hours following your bath. It’s a better idea to towel dry yourself lightly instead before getting dressed, to keep the magnesium on your skin.

3.     Magnesium Oil Spray

Magnesium oil spray is made from magnesium chloride. Magnesium chloride comes in large flakes and can be dissolved in water forming an oily substance. You can either do this yourself, or purchase one of the many ready-made magnesium oils available on the market. Some people also like to add magnesium flakes to their bath water or foot soak using similar guidelines as they would if they were using Epsom salts.

Most people use magnesium oil in spray form. To use it as a spray, simply spray it on an area of your body (avoiding your nose, mouth or genital area). Then either leave it on, or wash it off after 20 minutes. Some people find that it tingles too much to leave it on their skin. If this happens to you don’t be alarmed! Just rinse it off with cool water and the tingles will stop. Alternatively you can rub the oil on the bottoms of your feet before bed. The tough skin on the bottom of your feet is less likely to be as bothered by the oil and the tingling sensation should be more manageable or non-existent.

4.     Food

Everyone needs to eat food to survive, which is why it makes so much sense to get the nutrients we need by eating nutrient dense foods. Sometimes it can be hard to eat really well everyday and our diets can lack the essential nutrients we need to thrive. 

Wholesome is a great app to help. You can look up any nutrient, like Magnesium, and it will show you the most Magnesium rich foods based on scientific studies.

The app also customizes to you. All you have to do is input your age, gender, and whether you are pregnant and it will set the right daily nutrition targets for you. For a small upgrade fee, you can track toward your daily goals for over 90 macro and micronutrients and even see how much antioxidants you're getting in your diet!

Wholesome can help you avoid deficiencies and point you in the direction of nutrient dense foods.

 Magnesium rich foods in the Wholesome app

Magnesium rich foods in the Wholesome app

Foods that are highest in Magnesium

-        Spinach

-        Buckwheat

-        Pepitas

-        Almond meal

-        Swiss chard

-        Hemp seeds

-        Wheat Germ

-        Tempeh

-        Hulled Barley

-        Sunflower seedx

-        Brazil nuts

Eating is meant to be an enjoyable thing, and using the Wholesome app takes the stress out of finding foods that will help you thrive.

 


The Ultimate Guide to Eating the Rainbow

Every produce stand displays a rainbow of colored fruits and vegetables. Eating the rainbow has taken on a whole new meaning with the discovery of antioxidants, the color compounds in foods. Antioxidants (also known as phytochemicals, phytonutrients, polyphenols, and flavonoids) are made by plants to help ward off predators and protect against radiation (1).  When consumed, antioxidants rid our bodies of free radicals helping to protect against cancer, reduce inflammation, support our body systems, and much more (2). Antioxidants are found in fruits, vegetables, teas, grains, nuts, seeds, and beans.

I recommend using the Wholesome app to view the phytonutrient content of whole foods. The app was created by a cancer survivor whose mission is to encourage eating the rainbow to better one's health. You can look up any nutrient in the app, such as 'Lutein', and it will show you the top foods containing that nutrient. There are over 90 nutrients you can look up to help you find the best foods to meet your nutrition goals. For a small upgrade fee, you can keep a food diary and track your nutrient intake including antioxidants. The app personalizes to you, so if you're pregnant or vegetarian it will help you get enough of the nutrients that you need. It's an easy way be sure you are getting enough of what you need!

The Wholesome App

 The best micronutrient tracker

There are thousands of antioxidants found in red, orange, yellow, green, blue/violet, and white/brown foods. It is generally considered that the richer the color of the food, the more antioxidant power it boasts. 

Red colored foods

 red green colored foods

The red foods contain antioxidants that protect the brain, liver, skin, and heart. Tomatoes, strawberries, grapes, apples, bell peppers, and rhubarb are examples of red foods that contain antioxidants such as lycopene, quercertin, and carotenoids. Lycopene is the most commonly known antioxidant found in tomatoes. Lycopene is best released from tomatoes after cooking, so make a tomato sauce to top your pasta. (1,3)

Orange colored foods

 orange colored whole foods

The orange foods include pumpkin, turmeric, apricot, and sweet potatoes. These foods are high in beta-carotene and carotenoids. Beta-carotene is an important antioxidant that is found across a number of colored food groups (4). It is converted into Vitamin A in the body and helps to support healthy cell growth and immune system function. It is important to cook an orange food if it a high source of fiber to release the beta-carotene into a usable form. (1)

Yellow colored foods

 yellow colored foods

Ginger, corn, pineapple, bananas, and lemons are some of the yellow foods high in lutein. Lutein is another important antioxidant as it promotes brain and heart health. (1)

Green colored foods

 green colored foods

The power of green foods is well known yet most of us don’t eat enough of them. Included in this group is spinach, green apples, avocado, and broccoli. These foods contain chlorophyll, catechins, phytosterols, and glucosinolates, which promote hormonal balance, liver health, and cancer protection (2). Catechins, the antioxidant found in green tea, helps prevent breast cancer. Phytosterols help to reduce cholesterol. Glucosinolates, found in cruciferous vegetables, decrease the risk of breast and uterine cancer. (1)

Blue/Violet colored foods

 purple colored foods

Berries, eggplant, figs, purple rice, and plums are part of the blue/violet group. This group hosts reservatrol and anthocyanidins that promote healthy aging and blood sugar control. Reservatrol is commonly associated with red wine; the red grape skins are an important source. (1)

White/Brown colored foods

 brown and white colored foods

The last color group is white/brown. The foods included in this group are mushrooms, onion, coconut, and garlic. Most grains, nuts, seeds, and beans also fall into this color group as well. Antioxidants of this group include allicin and lignans. Be sure to let chopped garlic sit for at least 10 minutes before using to unleash the powers of allicin. Allicin is used to lower-blood pressure and prevent cancer. (3)

Each color of the rainbow touts numerous benefits. Start tracking with Wholesome today to be sure you don’t miss any!

 nutrition tracking food diary app

Sources:

(1) The Institute of Functional Medicine. 2014. Phytonutrient Spectrum Comprehensive Guide. Retrieved from http://www.thehealthedgepodcast.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Phytonutrient-Spectrum-Comprehensive-Guide.pdf

(2) Percival, M. (1997) Phytonutrients and Detoxification. Clinical Nutrition Insights, 5. Retrieved from http://www.acudoc.com/phytonutrients%20and%20detoxification.PDF

(3) University of Missouri Extension. 2012. Phytonutrients. Retrieved from http://health.mo.gov/living/families/wic/wiclwp/pdf/phytonutrients.pdf

(4) University of Missouri Extension. 2011. Phytonutrients- the power of color. Retrieved from http://health.mo.gov/living/families/wic/wiclwp/pdf/phytonutrientsposter.pdf

 

 


10 Foods for Endless Energy

You’re exercising, getting enough sleep and eating what you think is a healthy diet, but you still feel lethargic throughout the day. A common challenge for most individuals is getting past the 3pm energy slump. Naturally, our energy dips after eating a meal due to the energy required to digest and uptake the nutrients from the foods we most recently consumed.


5 Best Natural Folic Acid Prenatal Supplements with Folate - MTHFR support

Did you know that not all folic acid supplements are safe? Most prenatal vitamins on the market contain a type of Folic acid that is hard to metabolize and can result in a build up of toxic chemicals. Find out how to avoid these and what to look for in your prenatal vitamin for the safest and healthiest pregnancy.


Wholesome App Helps Pregnant Moms Track Nutrients from Natural Foods

Maintaining the right diet is extremely important during pregnancy. According to articles from the BBC and Time Magazine, it can impact a baby’s heart risk and help mitigate a lifetime of cancer risk. The Wholesome app is the best tool to monitor your intake of key nutrients during your pregnancy.


How to find out if you have a MTHFR genetic variant using 23andme

 MTHFR genetic variants

MTHFR genetic variants affect up to half of the population and may reduce your ability to process folic acid and turn it into folate. If you can't convert enough folic acid into folate, you may have low folate levels. Low folate levels has been proven to contribute to birth defects and can cause high levels of homocysteine in your body which may lead to cardiovascular problems. If you're a woman of childbearing age, it is especially important to check for the variants and keep track of your folate levels.

Additionally, if your diet is rich in folic acid from supplements and fortified foods and you have the variants that make it difficult for you to metabolize it, folic acid may build up in your body and cause you harm. Some studies have found that too much folic acid contributes to breast, lung, and prostate cancer. Learn more about folic acid and folate in my post here.

The easiest way to find out if you are affected by a variant (no doctor required):

Step 1. Order a 23andme DNA kit to have your DNA sequenced. When the results come back sign into your 23andme account. 23andme does not include MTHFR variants in your summary report because they feel that the health implications are inconclusive at this time (1). To find out if you have the variants, you will need to dig into your raw genomic data on 23andme by  looking up at positions rs1801131 and rs1801133 in your genetic code. Luckily there is an easy way to do this.

Step 2. Check your DNA for MTHFR A1298C variant

To do this, go here: https://www.23andme.com/you/explorer/snp/?snp_name=rs1801131 to look at SNP rs1801131. If you see T/T on the right where is says "Your Genotype", you do not have the variant and this is the best case scenario. If you see G/G you are homozygous for the MTHFR A1298C variant and this results in 40% loss of function in processing folic acid. If you see G/T (as shown below) you are heterozygous for MTHFR A1298C and this results in 20% loss of function in processing folic acid (2). For more information about this piece of DNA visit: https://snpedia.com/index.php/Rs1801131

 23andme MTHFR gene

Step 3. Check your DNA for the MTHFR C677T variants

Next click on this link: https://www.23andme.com/you/explorer/snp/?snp_name=rs1801133 to look at SNP rs1801133. If you see G/G on the right where is says "Your Genotype", you do not have the variant for MTHFR A1298C and this is the best case scenario. If you see A/A you are homozygous for the MTHFR A1298C variant and this results in 70% loss of function in processing folic acid. If you see A/G (as shown below) you are heterozygous for MTHFR C677T and it is unknown how much loss of function this causes (3). For more information about this piece of DNA visit: https://snpedia.com/index.php/Rs1801133

 23andme MTHFR gene

If you are heterozygous for both A1298C and C677T as shown in the example above, this is called "compound heterozygous" and results in a 50% loss of function in processing folic acid. This happens in about 20% of the population (4).

Step 4. If you have found a variant and have reduced ability to process folic acid, I suggest reading this post I wrote on what to do about it.

You can learn more about the MTHFR gene at the National Institute of Health: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/MTHFR

About the author

Jessica Glago is the CoFounder of the Wholesome App. After having two different cancers in  her childhood she developed the app with the help of her husband to get more healthfulness out of her diet. To date, Wholesome for iOS has had over 250,000 downloads and over 1.5 million whole foods tracked. The app has been featured on BuzzFeed, LikeHacker, CultofMac, and The Seattle Times. 

 Micronutrient tracking for folate and vitamins using the Wholesome app

Top 25 high folate foods for pregnancy

Folate (usually referred to as 'Folic Acid' or Vitamin B9) is essential for a healthy pregnancy because it protects against neural tube defects. According to the National Institute of Health, if you are pregnant or trying to conceive, your daily folate requirement increases from 400 mcg to 600 mcg (source: NIH).

Few know that it is best to avoid synthetic folic acid supplements and instead eat a diet rich in natural folate instead. Why is that? Folic acid is actually the synthetic, man-made form of folate, which can be found abundantly in whole foods. A subset of the population has trouble metabolizing folic acid. For these people it can stay in the body and even do harm, a process that several studies have linked to cancer. Folate, in contrast and even in excess, is perfectly safe - for more information, read more here

The 25 best folate rich plant-based whole foods:

100% = 600mcg of folate (what you need daily before and during your pregnancy)

 High folate folic acid foods app

1. Asparagus 1 cup has 45%

2. Edamame 1/2 cup has 40%

3. Chickpea Flour 1/2 cup has 34% 

4. Lentils 1/2 cup cooked has 30%

5. Black eyed peas 1/2 cup cooked 30% 

6. Turnip Greens 1 cup broiled has 28%

7. Broccoli 1 cup cooked has 28%

8. Avocado 1 whole avocado has 27% 

9. Wheat Germ 1/2 cup has 27%

10. Mung Beans 1/2 cup cooked has 27% 

11. Pinto Beans 1/2 cup cooked has 25%

12. Chickpeas 1/2 cup cooked has 24%

13. Adzuki beans 1/2 cup cooked has 23%

14. Beets 1 cup cooked has 23% 

15. Black beans 1/2 cup cooked has 21%

16. Broccoli rabe 1 cup cooked has 11%

17. Kidney beans 1/2 cup cooked has 19%

18. Green soybeans 1/2 cup cooked has 17%

19. Brussels Sprouts 1 cup cooked has 16%

20. Kale 1 cup raw has 16%

21. Parsnip 1 whole parsnip has 23%

22. Parsley 1 cup raw has 15%

23. Great northern beans 1/2 cup cooked has 15%

24. Fava beans 1/2 cup cooked has 15%

25. Peanuts 1/4 cup raw has 15%

Source: Wholesome sources it's data from the USDA

 Wholesome Nutrition tracker micronutrients app

Are you getting enough folate from your diet for a healthy pregnancy?

The Wholesome app can help you get what you need from your diet and visualize your progress tracking toward your 600 mcg goal.  Simply update your profile to 'pregnant' and the app and it will set your goal to 600 mcg per day. You can also customize your goal higher should you desire to do so.

An easy way to calculate the folate in your recipe

 Calculate the nutrition and calories of recipe app

Want to know how much folate is in your recipe? You can add the recipe to Wholesome and it will analyze it for 90 nutrients. It also generates a score out of a possible 10 points to give you a sense for how nutritious and healthy the recipe is per the calories.

View and track 90 nutrients in your foods and recipes

Wholesome tracks a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, omega 3's and 6's:

Macronutrients and the usuals: Protein, Fat, Carbohydrate, Sugars, Fiber, Water, calories

Vitamins: Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, Retinol, Vitamin B6, Folate (Vitamin B9), Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Choline, Pantothenic Acid, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin.

Minerals: Calcium, Iron, Iodine, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Selenium.

Omega 3's and 6's: Linoleic Acid, α-Linolenic Acid, EPA, DPA, DHA. 

Sterols: Phytosterol, Stigmasterol, Cholesterol.

Carotenoids (antioxidants): β-Carotene, α-Carotene, β-Cryptoxanthin, Lycopene, Lutein.

Tocopherols (antioxidants): β-Tocopherol, γ-Tocopherol, δ-Tocopherol, α-Tocotrienol, β-Tocotrienol, δ-Tocotrienol, γ-Tocotrienol.

Flavanoids (antioxidants): Cyanidin, Petunidin, Delphinidin, Malvidin, Pelargonidin, Peonidin, Catechin, EGC, Epicatechin, ECG, EGCG, Gallocatechin, Eriodictyol, Hesperitin, Naringenin, Apigenin, Luteolin, Isorhamnetin, Keampferol, Myricetin, Quercetin, Daidzein, Genistein, Glycitein, Isoflavones, Proanthocyanidins, Gingerol, Glucosinolates, Pterostilbene, Diallyl Disulfide, Molybdenum.

Other: Cysteine, Betaine, Curcumin, L-DOPA, Resveratrol.

 Wholesome app set nutrition goals

How to set Wholesome app to pregnant setting

Click on the menu icon on the top left, then click on "My Profile". Change the setting to Pregnant as shown on the right. The app will auto-adjust your nutrients goals for the recommend amounts for pregnancy, such as 600 mcg of folate per day and 27 mg of iron per day. To customize your goals further, click on the 'daily goals' tab and click 'edit goals'.

What is the difference between folate and folic acid?

Folic acid is the synthetic form whereas folate is the natural form commonly found in whole foods. After ingesting the synthetic form, it must go through a complex metabolic pathway in order to turn it into the useable form, folate. But not everyone is able to process folic acid properly. Read more in my post about the differences between folate and folic acid. I also recommend that you find out whether you have any genetic variants in your MTHFR gene that would impact your ability to process folic acid - find out an easy way to check for the variant in my post here.

About the author

Jessica Glago is the CoFounder of the Wholesome App. After having two different cancers in  her childhood she developed the app with the help of her husband to get more healthfulness out of her diet. To date, Wholesome for iOS has had over 250,000 downloads and over 1.5 million whole foods tracked. The app has been featured on BuzzFeed, LikeHacker, CultofMac, and The Seattle Times. 


Top 25 folate rich whole foods - nutrition analysis

 Folate rich foods Wholesome app

Top plant-based whole foods that are rich in natural folate

DV = Daily value. If you are pregnant you will need to adjust your daily goals higher.

1. Asparagus - 1 cup has 67% DV

2. Edamame - 1/2 cup has 60% DV

3. Chickpea Flour - 1/2 cup has 50% DV 

4. Lentils - 1/2 cup cooked has 45% DV

5. Black eyed peas - 1/2 cup cooked has 45% DV

6. Turnip Greens - 1 cup broiled has 43% DV

7. Broccoli - 1 cup cooked has 42% DV

8. Avocado - 1 whole avocado has 41% DV

9. Wheat Germ - 1/2 cup has 40% DV

10. Mung Beans - 1/2 cup cooked has 40% DV

11. Pinto Beans - 1/2 cup cooked has 37% DV

12. Chickpeas - 1/2 cup cooked has 35% DV

13. Adzuki beans - 1/2 cup cooked has 35% DV

14. Beets - 1 cup cooked has 34% DV 

15. Black beans - 1/2 cup cooked has 32% DV

16. Broccoli rabe - 1 cup cooked has 31% DV

17. Kidney beans - 1/2 cup cooked has 29% DV

18. Green soybeans - 1/2 cup cooked has 25% DV

19. Brussels Sprouts - 1 cup cooked has 24% DV

20. Kale - 1 cup raw has 24% DV

21. Parsnip - 1 whole parsnip has 23% DV

22. Parsley - 1 cup raw has 23% DV

23. Great northern beans - 1/2 cup cooked has 23% DV

24. Fava beans - 1/2 cup cooked has 22% DV

25. Peanuts - 1/4 cup raw has 22% DV

Source: Wholesome sources it's data from the USDA

How much folate do you need each day?

According to the National Institute of Health, 100% DV = 400 mcg per day. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant you will need need to increase the amount of folate in your diet from 400 mcg to 600 mcg (source: NIH). In the Wholesome app settings, simply update your profile to 'pregnant' and the app will set your goal to 600 mcg per day instead of 400 mcg.

What is the difference between folate and folic acid?

Both are termed Vitamin B9 but folic acid is the synthetic form whereas folate is the natural form commonly found in whole foods. After ingesting the synthetic form, it must go through a complex metabolic pathway in order to turn it into the useable form, folate. But not everyone is able to process folic acid properly. Read more in my post about the differences between folate and folic acid.

An easy way to calculate the folate in your recipe

Wholesome analyzes 80 nutrients in your recipe and then generates a score out of a possible 10 points for how healthy the recipe is. You can track foods and recipes and monitor your progress against your folate and other nutrient goals.

 Recipe nutrition and tracking micronutrients on the Wholesome app

About the author

Jessica Glago is the CoFounder of the Wholesome App. After having two different cancers in  her childhood she developed the app with the help of her husband to get more healthfulness out of her diet. To date, Wholesome for iOS has had over 250,000 downloads and over 1.5 million whole foods tracked. The app has been featured on BuzzFeed, LikeHacker, CultofMac, and The Seattle Times. 

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
— Hippocrates

Top 25 high protein foods for vegetarians

 Vegetarian Protein rich foods app

Foods to get the most protein out of a vegetarian diet

100% GOAL= 70g PROTEIN per day

1. Tempeh - 1 cup cooked 66%

2. Tofu - 1/2 cup raw has 44%

3. Muenster cheese - 1/2 cup diced has 34% 

4. Soybeans- 1/2 cup cooked has 30% 

5. Cottage Cheese - 1/2 cup cooked has 45% 

6. Wheat germ - 1/2 cup 29% 

7. Yogurt - 1 cup plain, low fat has 28% 

8. Mozzarella - 1/2 cup shredded has 27%

9. Almond meal - 1/2 cup has 26%

10. Hulled Barley - 1/2 cup raw has 25%

11. Buckwheat - 1/2 cup has 24% 

12. Green soybeans - 1/2 cup cooked has 24% 

13. Chickpea flour - 1/2 cup has 22%

14. Parmesan cheese - 1 oz has 22% 

15. Spinach - 1 bunch raw 21% 

16. Peanuts - 1/4 cup raw has 20% 

17. Lentils - 1/2 cup cooked has 19% 

18. Pepitas - 1/4 cup roasted has 19%

19. Canellini beans - 1/2 cup cooked 19% 

20. Adzuki beans - 1/2 cup cooked has 19% 

21. Edamame  - 1/2 cup cooked has 18% 

22. Green split peas - 1/2 cup cooked has 18%

23. Pinto beans - 1/2 cup cooked has 17%

24. Kidney beans - 1/2 cup cooked has 17%

25. Black beans - 1/2 cup cooked has 17%

 Micronutrient counter app

Source: Wholesome app sources it's data from the USDA

Are you getting enough protein in your diet?

 Nutrition goal calculator app

Nutrition goal calculator app

Take the guesswork out of knowing if you are getting enough protein. Using the Wholesome app you can track toward your protein and other nutrition goals. Wholesome tells you if you have had too much sodium or sugar.

Set your personalized protein goal

By default, Wholesome sets protein goals to 15% of your calorie intake. For adult men the goal is set to 81g protein and for adult women the goal is 70g protein per day. For a pregnant woman in her 2nd and 3rd trimester, the default goals are 83g and 87g respectively. You can also customize your goal if you wish to get extra protein.

 

The easiest way to calculate & track protein in your recipe

 Recipe micronutrient calculator

Want to know how much protein is in your recipe? You can add it to Wholesome and it will analyze it for 80 nutrients. It also generates a score out of a possible 10 points to give you a sense for how nutritious and healthy the recipe is for the calories.

About the author

Jessica Glago is the CoFounder of the Wholesome App. After having two different cancers in  her childhood she developed the app with the help of her husband to get more healthfulness out of her diet. To date, Wholesome for iOS has had over 250,000 downloads and over 1.5 million whole foods tracked. The app has been featured on BuzzFeed, LikeHacker, CultofMac, and The Seattle Times. 

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
— Hippocrates

Anemia diet - top 25 vegetarian iron sources

According to the NIH, adult men need 8 mg of iron per day, women need 18 mg per day, and pregnant women need 27 mg per day.  Adding 50 mg of vitamin C to an iron-rich meal may make it possible to double or triple the absorption of iron.

Warning: Iron supplements represent one of the most common poisoning risks in children.

Top plant-based natural sources of iron

100% pER DAY = 18 mg 

 Foods rich in iron app

Foods rich in iron app

1. Tofu - 1 cup raw 74%

2. Spinach - 1 bunch raw 51%

3. Guava nectar - 1 cup 44%

4. Baking chocolate - 1oz 28%

5. Soybeans - 1/2 cup cooked 25%

5. Hemp seeds - 1/4 cup 23%

6. Sesame seeds - 1oz roasted 23%

7. Swiss chard - 1 cup cooked 22%

8. Coconut milk - 1/2 cup 21%

9. Parsley - 1 cup raw 21%

10. Wheat germ - 1/2 cup 20%

11. Tempeh - 1 cup cooked 20%

12. Dark Chocolate - 1oz 80% Cacao 19%

13. Canellini beans - 1/2 cup cooked 18%

14. Hulled barley - 1/2 cup raw 18%

15. Lentils - 1/2 cup cooked

16. Beet greens - 1 cup boiled 15%

17. Lemon grass - 1/2 cup raw 15%

18. White mushrooms - 1 cup boiled 15%

19. Seaweed - 6 tbsp irishmoss, raw 15%

20. Black turtle beans - 1/1 cup cooked 15%

21. Mulberries - 1 cup raw 14%

22. Teff - 1/2 cup cooked 14%

23. Amaranth - 1.2 cup cooked 14%

24. Pepitas - 1/4 cup roasted 13%

25. Chickpeas - 1/2 cup cooked 13%

Source: Wholesome sources it's data from the USDA

 Nutrition goal calculator for pregnancy

How to set Wholesome app to pregnant setting

Click on the menu icon on the top left, then click on "My Profile". Change the setting to Pregnant as shown on the right and then recalculate your goals. The app will auto-adjust your nutrients goals for the recommend amounts for pregnancy, such as 600 mcg of folate per day and 27 mg of iron per day. To customize your goals further, click on the 'daily goals' tab and click 'edit goals'.

An easy way to calculate the iron in your recipe

Wholesome analyzes 80 nutrients in foods and recipes including micronutrients, phytonutrients, omega 3s (like DHA), and antioxidants. You can track what you eat and monitor your progress against your nutrient goals. The app also has healthy recipes and scores them out of a possible 10 points for how healthy it is. You can add your own recipes or pin them from the web to get nutrition information. 

 Food diary and nutrition tracker for pregnancy

About the author

Jessica Glago is the CoFounder of the Wholesome App. After having two different cancers in  her childhood she developed the app with the help of her husband to get more healthfulness out of her diet. To date, Wholesome for iOS has had over 250,000 downloads and over 1.5 million whole foods tracked. The app has been featured on BuzzFeed, LikeHacker, CultofMac, and The Seattle Times. 


How the Wholesome app Personalizes Your Nutrition Goals

We've had many questions about how Wholesome personalize's your nutrition goals and why the %'s in Wholesome don't always match up to the %'s on nutrition labels. We're going to explain exactly how it works in this post. 

In order to print the daily value for each nutrient on a nutrition label, the food industry has to standardize the recommended amounts. The problem is that we all have different nutritional needs depending on personal factors. For example, women are recommended by the USDA to have 2x more iron than men each day and pregnant women are recommended to have 3x more iron than men each day.

Recommended Dietary Allowances for Iron [5]:

 iron nutrition recommendations

From: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/

The food industry sets 18mg of iron as 100% across all nutrition labels (since they only have space to print one value on the label). But adult men only need 8mg per day, while a pregnant woman needs 27mg per day. So if an adult man was to get 100% of the nutrition label, he would actually be getting more than double what is recommended. While the pregnant woman would only be getting 2/3s of what she is recommended to have.

Wholesome takes all your personal factors into consideration and tailors your daily goals according to the USDA recommended daily allowances recommended for you. All you have to do is enter in your profile information within settings. 

Here is another example. The food industry sets 100% Vitamin B6 as 2mg on nutrition labels. 

But in reality only a breastfeeding mother needs that much in a given day. Here are the real recommended amounts by age, gender, and pregnancy status:

Recommended Dietary Allowances for Vitamin B6 [1]:

 Vitamin B6 nutrition recommendations NIH

From: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB6-HealthProfessional/

Because Wholesome is a digital experience (instead of a static nutrition label), Wholesome can adjust your daily goal for each nutrient based on any your age, gender, and pregnancy status. 

ENTERING CUSTOM FOODS

Let's assume you are entering a Vitamin B6 supplement into Wholesome as a custom food. The nutrition label says that 100% daily value for Vitamin B6 is 2mg and you enter that into Wholesome. 

Wholesome already knows that 100% is 2mg based on this table provided by NIH:

Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling, Based on a 2,000 Calorie Intake, for Adults and Children 4 or More Years of Age

Because Wholesome is more precise based on your age and gender, it knows that you only really need 1.3mg. Thus, Wholesome will show the Vitamin B6 supplement that you entered as 154% of your daily Vitamin B6 for that day because it is based on your personalized target rather than showing 100% which is the non-personalized industry standard. 

QUESTIONS?

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What foods should I eat to get the ideal Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio?

The best foods for Omega 3's and 6's

 Omega 3 ALA rich foods app

Foods high in Omega 3 ALA:

(100% is the recommended amount per day)

  • flax seed oil - 1 tbsp 660% DV
  • chia seeds - 1 oz 469% DV
  • flax seeds - 1 tbsp 255% DV
  • walnuts - 1/4 cup english 241% DV
  • hemp seeds - 1/4 cup 213% DV

Foods high in EPA, DPA, & DHA:

  • fish and fish oils

Foods high in Omega 6 linoleic acid:

  • walnuts
  • sunflower seeds
  • hemp seeds
  • pepitas

Download the Wholesome app for free to reference this list and more details for these nutrients.  

How do you use Wholesome to know if you're getting enough Omega 3s?

The Wholesome App doesn't have a single field for "Omega 3s" because there are many different types. Wholesome tracks each type individually and the data is sourced directly from the USDA. The types of Omega 3s are: a-Linoleic acid (ALA), EPA, DHA, DPA. Note that linoleic acid is an Omega 6. 

What's the difference between Omega 3s and Omega 6s?

They are both fatty acids. While both are considered healthy, they do compete for the same enzymes and so it's important not to consume too many Omega 6s that may inhibit the benefits of Omega 3s. 

Several sources of information suggest that human beings evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) of approximately 1 whereas in Western diets the ratio is 15 to 1.
— The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, DC

It is important to get the right ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s (ideally 1 to 1). Most of us have far too much Omega 6s with the average western diet having 15 to 1. Try to reduce the amount of vegetable oil and eat more chia and hemp seeds. A lower ratio is also thought to help with chronic disease:

"The lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio in women with breast cancer was associated with decreased risk. A ratio of 2-3/1 suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and a ratio of 5/1 had a beneficial effect on patients with asthma, whereas a ratio of 10/1 had adverse consequences."
- The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, DC
 Omega 3 nutrition tracker DHA app

How it works in the app

To track your intake of Omega 3s, simply add the foods that you eat and go to the My Nutrition page. Look for the section called "Steroids & Omega Fatty Acids".

ALA and linoleic acid both have recommended amounts set by the USDA and so they show as a percent so that you can track toward your daily goal. 

EPA, DPA, & DHA do not have pre-determined goals set by the USDA and so they are shown in exact grams rather than percent form.

Why do Flaxseeds not show Omega 3s DHA and EPA in the app?

Flaxseeds contain the omega 3 fatty acid ALA (listed in the app). When consumed, it can be broken down into DHA and EPA by the body but there is controversy around how much converts. Flaxseed oil, on the other hand, has ALA in the ready form, likely due to processing. source:usda 

Whfoods.org has fantastic information on this topic: 

There is considerable scientific debate about our ability to get optimal amounts of EPA and DHA by relying exclusively on ALA-containing foods. That's because our body's ability to make EPA and DHA from ALA can become compromised under a variety of common circumstances.
... our body cannot do an effective job of converting ALA into EPA and DHA without a satisfactory supply of certain nutrients. These nutrients include vitamin B3, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and the minerals zinc and magnesium. If we are deficient in one or more of these nutrients, our bodies may not be able to provide us with optimal amounts of EPA and DHA, even when our ALA intake is sufficient.

Currently, Wholesome provides the data for pre-digestion and does not guess on bio-availability amounts. If you want to ensure you are getting EPA and DHA it is suggested that you eat it directly in it's natural form by consuming fish. EPA and DHA are especially considered to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. So if you're a vegetarian, you might consider talking to your doctor about supplementation. This information comes from whfoods.org.

Why does Wholesome show that almonds contain ALA and linoleic acid but almond butter does not?

The USDA provides data that almonds contain both linoleic acid (18:2 n-6, c, c) and ALA (18:3 n-3, c, c, c). However, almond butter shows only as the "undifferentiated" form which doesn't qualify as LA and ALA. It doesn't mean that it doesn't contain them though its just not explicitly mentioned by the USDA. It is possible that the LA/ALA content is altered during commercial processing.  Sometimes the source data is not straight forward, unfortunately.

About the author

Jessica Glago is the CoFounder of the Wholesome App. After having two different cancers in  her childhood she developed the app with the help of her husband to get more healthfulness out of her diet. To date, the Wholesome app has had over 250,000 downloads and over 1.5 million whole foods tracked. The app has been featured on BuzzFeed, LikeHacker, CultofMac, and The Seattle Times. 


Folate vs. Folic Acid: What your doctor isn't telling you

 Folate foods vs Folic Acid supplements

If you're a woman of childbearing age you know that every medical appointment includes a recommendation that you take folic acid supplements. The reason for this is simple, too little folic acid has been proven to cause severe neural tube defects in a developing fetus. While all doctors know that too little folic acid is harmful, they generally do not know that too much folic acid may also have toxic effects as well. Luckily, there is a safer alternative: folate.

Folic acid vs. Folate - what's the difference?

Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate that is found in supplements and fortified foods, whereas folate is the natural form commonly found in whole foods. Both folic acid and folate go through their own metabolic pathway to turn them into the bioavailable 'final' form of folate, called methylfolate (5-MTHF). Ultimately, methylfolate (5-MTHF) is what your body needs to be healthy.

 The 5-MTHF folate pathway

MTHFR mutations reduce conversion to methylfolate

A large subset of the population with certain variations in the MTHFR gene are unable to fully breakdown both folic acid and folate into its final state, methylfolate (5-MTHF). That means you may not be getting enough methylfolate even when you're taking the recommended amount in your supplement because your body cannot process it properly.

The easiest way to find out if you have a MTHFR mutation is to ask your doctor to run a panel or to do it on your own have your DNA sequenced by 23andme and then follow these instructions. I recently did both and found out that I have a compound heterozygous mutation in this gene which simply means that I have a 50% reduction in my ability to break down folic acid into methylfolate. 

 MTHFR mutation in the folate pathway

Here's why folic acid (the synthetic form) is harmful

When you ingest large amounts of synthetic folic acid found in supplements and fortified foods, some of it may not be metabolized into methylfolate and it may run free in your body. The un-metabolized folic acid (called 'UMFAs') may be toxic as some studies have found that theycontribute to the development of several types of cancer. While too much synthetic folic acid results in UMFAs, too much folate from whole foods does not create UMFAs and is not harmful to your health. Thus, folate is the safer alternative.

 UMFAs folic acid pathway

The research is ongoing and not fully proven yet but there is compelling evidence building that UMFAs are harmful. In one study, supplementation with folic acid was found to be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer (1). Another study found a higher rate of prostate cancer in those supplementing with folic acid (2). In 2012, a study found a correlation between the childhood eye cancer called Retinoblastoma with folic acid intake of the child's parents. Mothers who took folic acid supplements while pregnant and had the genetic MTHFR mutation in which they could not turn folic acid into folate, were 4 times more likely to have a child with Retinoblastoma than the control. The study found that “both insufficient folate intake and increased folic acid intake have been associated with the development of carcinomas in adults and with the promotion of neoplastic lesions and genetic damage in rodent models" (3).

The metabolic pathway: folic acid vs. dietary folate

In sum, your body's goal is to convert both folic acid and dietary folate into methylfolate (5-MTHF) which is the form that can be used by your cells. Unmetabolized folic acid (UMFAs) is a product of folic acid ingestion through supplementation and food fortification that may result in potential toxic effects. A better alternative is dietary folate (through foods and supplements made from whole foods), which is safe even in excess amounts. Both folic acid and folate are affected by MTHFR mutations and may reduce the conversion to methylfolate (5-MTHF).

folate pathway.jpg

If you have a MTHFR mutation it is best to increase your dietary folate. You may also consider taking a supplement directly in the form of methylfolate. In this article, find out which of the 5 best folate supplements will work best for your situation.

Your doctor is clueless about folic acid vs. folate

Don't be surprised that your doctor does not know about the dangers of folic acid nor that there is a simple and safe alternative: folate. The vast majority of doctors do not receive nutrition education in medical school, so they never learn the difference between folic acid and folate. After explaining to one of my doctors the reasons why I would not take folic acid supplements, he responded saying "I need to learn more about nutrition". 

What your doctor learned in medical school (which is true) is that too little folic acid can cause terrible birth defects and that's why they push the folic acid supplements. They are generally not aware that too much folic acid may have serious consequences, especially for those with a MTHFR mutation. So the next time your doctor recommends taking folic acid, take folate instead. Remember they both are converted into methylfolate (5-MTHF) so it's the same thing, just safer. You can get folate by eating whole foods (the Wholesome app ranks which foods are the most rich in folate) or by taking a whole food supplement. After doing heavy research into supplements, here are the 5 best folate supplements that I recommend.

Folic acid is in fortified foods, not just supplements

Unfortunately saying no to folic acid supplements is not enough to avoid it. If you eat any breads, pastas, rice, cereals, or flours, they are all fortified heavily with folic acid. Since 1998 the FDA has been fortifying with folic acid mandatory with the goal of reducing birth defects. But it is likely that too much folic acid in our diets is causing harm especially if you are eating these things everyday (4). A 2009 study looked at colon cancer in Chile before and after the start of the flour fortification program with folic acid and found that "fortification programs could be associated with an additional risk of colon cancer" (5).

What you can do

So what do you do when too little folate causes birth defects and too much folic acid may increase your risk of cancer? 

 Top folate foods in the Wholesome app

1. Avoid folic acid and get as much folate from whole foods as you can. There is no danger in eating too much natural folate like there is with folic acid. Folate helps the development of red blood cells, reduces levels of homocysteine in the blood which supports cardiovascular health, and it supports nervous system function. 

The Wholesome app can help you get know if you're getting enough folate in your diet. It allows you to track toward the USDA's recommended goal based on your age and gender. It also has an easy access list of the foods with the most folate.

If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant you will need need to increase the amount of folate in your diet from 400mcg to 600mcg (source: NIH). In the Wholesome app settings, simply update your profile to 'pregnant' and the app will set your goal to 600mcg per day. If you have a MTFHR mutation, you should set your goal higher as not all of the folate that you eat will be absorbed. 

2. Have a blood test performed by your doctor to measure your actual level of folate. I had this done recently and found out mine were way above the recommended amount (finally some validation that I don’t need those pills!). Your doctor may also run your homocysteine level which is an amino acid that can be elevated when you are deficient in folate. High homocysteine levels can put you at risk for cardiovascular disease (source).

3. Find a better folate supplement. If your levels of folate are low or you are trying to get pregnant find a supplement that says 'folate', '5-methyltetrahydrofolate', or  '5-MTHF' on the label and avoid anything that says 'folic acid'. After doing my own research, I have found that these are the 5 best folate (prenatal) supplements. Before you buy, read the nutrition label because most multivitamins contain folic acid.

4. Assuming you are getting enough folate, avoid packaged goods with folic acid listed on the label – that probably means less cereal and energy bars. Sometimes the labels are confusing, for example, cliff energy bars list “folate” under vitamins but then in the ingredients it says “folic acid”. Eat whole foods instead. 

5. Find out if you have a MTHFR mutation that can impact your ability to metabolize folic acid and puts you more at risk.

Here is an easy way to find out if you have a MTHFR mutation. 

At a minimum, do your best to get natural folate from whole foods rather than simply relying on folic acid supplementation.

About the author

Jessica Glago is the CoFounder of the Wholesome App. After having two different cancers in  her childhood she developed the app with the help of her husband to get more healthfulness out of her diet. To date, Wholesome for iOS has had over 250,000 downloads and over 1.5 million whole foods tracked. The app has been featured on BuzzFeed, LikeHacker, CultofMac, and The Seattle Times. 

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
— Hippocrates

 

Image sources: 'Asparagus' by Liz West and ‘Pills’ by Grumpy Puddin


Healthy Recipes Coming to Wholesome

What’s been happening with Wholesome? This summer we released user-added foods and we’ve now had over 8,000 user contributed foods added to the Wholesome app! 

What’s next? You asked for it: Recipes! We’re putting the finishing touches on what’s been a few months of intensive designing and coding. We're also going live with a brand new website.

Want to help us try out the app before launch? Email us at wholesomeapp[at]gmail.com for access to the private beta.

Happy eating!

-Jessica


The Best Micronutrient Nutrition Tracker App

 Folate rich foods app nutrition tracker

Much more than just calorie counting and macros

With a focus on complete nutrition over calorie counting, ‘Wholesome’ is a fresh approach to tracking what you eat. Unlike other nutrition trackers that only focus on macros, Wholesome also let’s you track vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Based on what you're eating, the app identifies gaps in your nutrition and gives whole food suggestions to help improve your diet. Wholesome warns you when you've had too much sugar, sodium, or fat. It also syncs with Health kit and Apple health app. The app has already attracted over 250,000 health conscious people, mostly millennials. 

The 90 nutrients that Wholesome tracks:

Macronutrients and the usuals: Protein, Fat, Carbohydrate, Sugars, Fiber, Water, calories

Vitamins: Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, Retinol, Vitamin B6, Folate (Vitamin B9), Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Choline, Pantothenic Acid, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin.

Minerals: Calcium, Iron, Iodine, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Selenium.

Omega 3's and 6's: Linoleic Acid, α-Linolenic Acid, EPA, DPA, DHA. 

Sterols: Phytosterol, Stigmasterol, Cholesterol.

Carotenoids (antioxidants): β-Carotene, α-Carotene, β-Cryptoxanthin, Lycopene, Lutein.

Tocopherols (antioxidants): β-Tocopherol, γ-Tocopherol, δ-Tocopherol, α-Tocotrienol, β-Tocotrienol, δ-Tocotrienol, γ-Tocotrienol.

Flavanoids (antioxidants): Cyanidin, Petunidin, Delphinidin, Malvidin, Pelargonidin, Peonidin, Catechin, EGC, Epicatechin, ECG, EGCG, Gallocatechin, Eriodictyol, Hesperitin, Naringenin, Apigenin, Luteolin, Isorhamnetin, Keampferol, Myricetin, Quercetin, Daidzein, Genistein, Glycitein, Isoflavones, Proanthocyanidins, Gingerol, Glucosinolates, Pterostilbene, Diallyl Disulfide, Molybdenum.

Other: Cysteine, Betaine, Curcumin, L-DOPA, Resveratrol.

Personalized nutrient goals

Did you know that women are recommended to have 2x as much iron as men and pregnant women need 3x as much? Just set your profile and the app will adjust and set your goals according to the USDA guidelines based on your personalized needs. Want to get extra protein or set your sodium goal lower? You can customize your own nutrient targets.