Dear Mark: Folate Retention in Beans, Seeds, and Greens, Blended Liver Folate, No Vegetable/Fruit Full Study

Dear_Mark_Inline_PhotoFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions. You guys had more questions about folate. Since it’s such an important vitamin, I answer those first. Then I discuss the study mentioned in last week’s Dear Mark in which removing polyphenol-rich fruits and vegetables from the diet improved oxidative stress markers instead of worsening them. I got my hands on the full study, so I have more to say on the subject.

Let’s go:

First, Tiffany asked:

What about the folate in sunflower seeds and leafy greens? How much does cooking affect those?

“Cooked” sunflower seeds are roasted sunflower seeds. According to USDA nutritional data, both roasted and raw sunflower seeds have the same amount of folate. You’re probably safe there.

For greens, how much folate you retain depends on how you cook them.

Boiling spinach or broccoli causes about 50% folate loss. Steamed spinach or broccoli lose almost zero folate. For what it’s worth, potato folate is impervious to boiling.

Another study found similar results: Cooking in water causes leafy green folate loss.

Overall, folate loss from vegetables is primarily due to leaching (into cooking water) rather than degradation by heat.

Even though you didn’t mention them, legumes is where it gets interesting.

In one study, cooking beans without soaking retained 60% of folate. A quick pre-soak (boiled for 2 minutes, covered for an hour, then drained) followed by 20 minutes of cooking retained 18% folate; followed by 90 minutes of cooking, 31%. A long soak (16 hours in water overnight) followed by 20 minutes of cooking retained 35% folate; followed by 90 minutes of cooking, 42%. Oddly, how you soaked the beans didn’t matter when you cooked the beans for 150 minutes. A quick soak retained 41%, a long soak 44%. I suspect the longer cooking times give the folate more time to be re-absorbed.

Another study found that pressure cooking was better for folate retention than boiling, and that chickpea folate was more resilient than field pea folate.

Steph Windmill asked:

For some years now I’ve been whizzing Ox Liver up in the blender and then adding it to vats of chilli or bolognaise. It gives an additional meaty taste, but I’ve been mostly (and smugly!) doing it for the nutrition. Based on the idea that pan-frying depletes folate, is the 2+ hours of cooking time I’m giving this dish going to make adding the liver completely redundant on the nutrition front?!

Wet cooking will deplete folate, but as in the case of beans, it ends up in the cooking water. Since you’re consuming the cooking liquid, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Still, if you want to be really sure, I have a solution. Classic bolognese sauce recipes call for chopped or pureed liver to be added in the last ten minutes of cooking, not right away. Try that instead of dropping it in at the beginning. Liver cooks really quickly, so ten minutes is plenty of time.

Time Traveler swooped in with assistance:

Hey Mark, here’s the link to the full smokers study, if you wish analyze thoroughly. It took me 2 seconds to find (-:

Great, thanks.

Very interesting. The full paper clears up a lot of questions I had.

The fruit and vegetable-free diet was decent, as lab diets go, drawn from standard Danish foods:

  • Cheese
  • Fermented milk
  • Rye bread (traditionally fermented in Denmark)
  • Cheese sauce
  • Brown sauce (Danish brown sauce is butter, broth, flour, vinegar, sherry)
  • Broth/stock
  • Butter
  • Tuna salad
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Ham
  • Meat patties (with or without green tea added)
  • Pasta
  • Rice

Is it Primal? Not exactly, but you could definitely cobble together a nice Primal diet by removing some foods. And everything is “real,” not processed or overly refined.

They do point to other studies in which removal of fruits and vegetables had the effect of increasing oxidative stress, so the effect is equivocal.

The 16 subjects of the study were young, lean, and—besides half of them smoking—quite healthy males. If you’ve ever fit that category, it’s a good time to be alive. You don’t worry about much. You’re focused on the day at hand. You have very low stress levels. You’re living for the moment. Old enough to reap the benefits of adulthood, young enough to avoid the consequences.

I’ve always maintained that polyphenols and other phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables are most critical for people undergoing significant oxidative stress. These include the obese and overweight, the diabetic, the old and sedentary, the chronically stressed. The overworked athlete who needs an edge for recovery.

And one big reason I emphasize produce and even sell a powerful antioxidant/mineral/vitamin supplement is that most people come to this site to improve their health. Many of us got into Primal because we were trying to fix something broken in us. We were starting from a health deficit. We needed (and still need) extra help.

The subjects in this study weren’t really the target audience for phytonutrients. What really throws me for a loop is that their oxidative stress markers were worse on the habitual diet with more polyphenols. It wasn’t that removing polyphenols had no effect. It actually improved their oxidative status.

Here’s a thought that could explain it: Denmark isn’t known for its natural bounty of high-polyphenol plant foods. We know from previous posts that our genetic ancestry can partially determine our nutrient requirements and how we respond to foods. If these were ethnic Danes (as of 2017, 86% of the country is ethnically Danish; the study was in 2002, so Denmark was probably even more homogeneous), and ethnic Danes have a genetic adaptation to the historically lower levels of dietary phytonutrients available in the area, this could explain the results.

Interesting study to hypothesize about. Maybe I should pursue this ancestry angle further—thoughts?

That’s it for me, folks. Thanks for reading, thanks for writing in, and be sure to keep it going down below!


About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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23 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Folate Retention in Beans, Seeds, and Greens, Blended Liver Folate, No Vegetable/Fruit Full Study”

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  1. Increase the folate by 400 to 600% by sprouting those chickpeas… make sure you do a 4-day sprout to optimize folate.

    Wife is awesome enough to sprout chickpeas for tribe. Then, she turns half of the batch into the best homemade hummus in the world.

      1. LOL. Wife actually makes amazing bone soups… dries the knuckle bones in the oven and scoops out fragments of the epiphysis / spongy bone to top our kimchi-avocado salads. These parts are a kin to croutons but way, way better in taste and nutrition. I call these “bone crumbs” and I’ve been trying to convince her to sell a line… in that case, she would ship!

        1. Keep encouraging her. There are so many pseudo keto/primal/paleo foods on the market right now trying to hit the spike in popularity. It would be nice to see a real food join those offerings.

  2. I’ve always liked the thought that ancestry should affect our diets. In the most basic sense, people who’s ancestry are from northern climates should eat more cold water fish. People who are from the tropics can handle more pineapple and mangoes.

    Kind of related to the blood type diet I guess.

    1. For one, the world doesn’t divide into the topics and northern territories and many pineapples and mangoes didn’t naturally grow in every warm climate. There is also a conception that the eating of meat and fats were limited to very cold climates. But archeology tells us otherwise; like in the amazing finds in Israel (a place with hot climate from 200 thousands years ago – huge dig that turned a verity of animal bones that were consumed by the dwellers at the time. And for the blood type diet it’s baseless.

  3. Since folate in veggies is mostly degraded by leaching into water rather than heat, I’m thinking that sautéing them in avocado oil might be the best solution. They’ll taste way better than boiled veggies anyway.

    1. Maybe veggie soup is nutritious because you don’t lose any of the nutrients other than what is destroyed by heat?

      1. Healthy Hombre good point! And if you use bone broth you’re getting all of that goodness too. Now I just need someone to make me some…I have a busy week lol

        1. Soups and stews are both good as you do not discard the cooking liquid.

  4. I prefer the texture and taste of raw veggies and nuts to cooked. Great article.

  5. Happy my questions were answered, thank you. I’m glad to know that it is retained in the cooking water. Totally forgot about beans for folate! I assume it’s similar with lentils (I don’t soak lentils before cooking).

  6. I would LOVE more info on the ancestry angle. I went primal 3 years ago and have finally arrived at the conclusion that I feel best when my carb intake is moderate. I have also learned that I need to include some rice, oatmeal and legumes for optimal digestion (1/2c-1c a day) Always wondered about the appropriateness of keto/low carb for south Asians as it absolutely does not work for me and my ancestors ate pretty high carb. Would love to hear your thoughts on this!

  7. I’d love to hear more about the effects of ancestry, particularly because standard healthy diets such as primal rely heavily on foods which do not grow in Scandinavia, such as avocados. Consequently these foods are expensive and of low quality here – and I have found the health effects doubtful so far. Maybe ancestry would be able to give some more hints for healthy eating in cold climates?

    1. On that note ~ Any ideas about what to replace avocado with? It has become a staple in our household, but certain times of year, they are exceptionally expensive, even in California! I find us gravitating towards nuts and seeds when avocados are in short(er) supply. Thanks!

  8. “If these were ethnic Danes (as of 2017, 86% of the country is ethnically Danish; the study was in 2002, so Denmark was probably even more homogeneous), and ethnic Danes have a genetic adaptation to the historically lower levels of dietary phytonutrients available in the area, this could explain the results.”

    Hi Mark,

    How likely are genetic adaptations? I don’t know this field of science well at all, but my assumptions would be that these adaptations would be rare indeed. I’ve heard that Northern Europeans are well adapted to milk protein, or that Asians have a predominant intolerance for alcohol, but surely these adaptations are very much exceptional? Or are they more common-place that we usually think?

  9. I, too, am very interested in how ancestry affects one’s adaptations to food. I’ve been doing some DNA ancestry tests and tracing our family’s ancestors, and I often wonder if I should adapt my foods accordingly. My problem is that I have ancestors from both the Mediterranean region and Central/Eastern Europe. My diet would be quite a mish-mash. 🙂

    1. It’s not a problem but a gift, as you can benefit from eating the foods of all your ancestors

  10. Thank you, Mark. I can’t envision how removing healthy plants and fruits would improve oxidative stress levels. The study is interesting; even if I believed it, I may still shy away because I love the polyphenols.

  11. I think your line of reasoning about the Dannish ancestry relies on too many assumptions.

    It may be that instead of adaptation to low levels of polyphenols in the Dannis, the initial adaptation to polyphenols as a dynamic in ROS homeostasis happened in hunter-gatherers hanging around the Equator…

    I don’t think the human body has any notion of good or bad; it just thrives in what’s most chemically functional at any given moment based on many nonlinear cascades. Evolution surely plays its part, but I think the case of the oxidative status in a polyphenol-free diet is trial-and-error rather than theoretical territory.

  12. Mark, thanks for deciphering the smokers study!

    I think that Ancestral diets hold a big premise – eat what your ancestors ate and what you’re DNA is best adopted and you’ll be healthy. But isn’t it also romantic to think this way, unless we lived in the same place for a thousand of years and didn’t deviate much from our diet, by more than a few generations? And how many among us can make this claim? Certainly after we’ve been exposed to new foods that were brought over by travelers in old times (tomatoes, eggplants, beans, avocado and bananas to name a few, that didn’t exist in many parts of the world until around 500 years ago), or now that we can order anything wish for from across the glob, at a click of a button? As individuals in the same family, we are also different and while one can adopted better to the diet of his forefathers, the other may not, due to the fact that there is a DNA change with every new sibling (also why one may have an enzyme deficiency and not the other), even thought all new born get’s 50% of their DNA from the mother and 50% from the mother, provided they are from the same parents…… Obviously, I don’t have a finite answer and instead I have even more questions.