Are You Eating Enough Methyl Donor Foods?

Scientists are beginning to better understand which foods help us metabolize our DNA
By Deborah Mitchell,
February 21, 2019 Updated: March 19, 2019

A few questions likely come to mind when you see the question, “are you eating methyl donor foods?” Like “what are methyl donor foods?” Or, “is there a specific reason why you should be eating them?”

You may have noticed stories about MTHFR gene mutations and methylation but few people know how methyl donor foods to tie it all together. It will take a little organic and biochemistry to explain it.

What Does the Term ‘Methyl’ Mean?

“Methyl” refers to nutrients that are involved in a biochemical process called methylation. During methylation, a process that is critical for healthy bodily functioning, chemicals are added to and bond with proteins, DNA, or other molecules. Methyl donors are composed of a carbon atom attached to three hydrogen atoms, signified as CH3.

Why Are Methyl Donor Foods Important?

Although experts have not yet completely identified how methylation works, it is known that it is intimately involved in the metabolism of DNA and lipids and appears to help prevent the expression of cancer genes and thus the development of cancer. In fact, methyl-related nutrients have been associated with a reduced risk of pancreatic, colon, and breast cancers.

(AP Photo/

It’s suspected that the ability of the body to perform methylation declines with age, which means eating plenty of methyl donor foods could be beneficial in helping prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Methyl donors also assist in the production of several brain chemicals (e.g., dopamine, epinephrine) that are involved in energy, alertness, concentration, mood, and visual clarity. These, subsequently, are important to manage in order to avoid depression and dementia.

Methyl donor foods contain nutrients such as vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, choline, and methionine, an essential amino acid that is used in the production of proteins. Other nutrients involved in methylation include N-dimethyl glycine (DMG), S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e), and dimethyl-amino-ethanol (DMAE).

Which Foods Are Good Methyl Donors?

Kale smoothie
Kale smoothie (Lecic/iStock)

Finding foods that are good sources of methyl donors isn’t difficult because there are so many.

  • Folate: chickpeas, lentils, pinto beans, leafy greens (e.g., spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, bok choy), strawberries, and citrus (e.g., grapefruit, oranges, lemons)
  • Vitamin B6: beef, pistachios, pinto beans, avocado, blackstrap molasses, tuna, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds
  • Vitamin B12: fish, organic meats, seaweed (laver and nori), eggs
  • Nori
    Nori seaweed is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-12, and vitamin C.
  • Methionine: Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, roasted soybeans, parmesan cheese, tuna, eggs, and white beans
  • Choline: beets, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, liver, eggs, raw cauliflower, cooked beet greens, cooked asparagus
  • DMG: beans, brown rice, pumpkin seeds
  • Rice Cereal. (Photo by: MediaForMedical/UIG via Getty Images)
    (MediaForMedical/UIG via Getty Images)
  • DMAE: anchovies, salmon, sardines

A good balance of methyl donor foods, as part of a natural foods diet, can help promote and support proper methylation. In addition, getting a sufficient amount of probiotics (beneficial bacteria, which help produce and absorb B vitamins) as well as zinc and magnesium (which support methylation) can be good for your health.
Deborah Mitchell is a freelance health writer who is passionate about animals and the environment. She has authored, co-authored, and written more than 50 books and thousands of articles. This article was originally published on