Nutrient Breakdown: Folate (Folic Acid)

What is the differences between folate and folic acid?

Folic Acid is the synthetic form of folate, one of the B vitamins (B9). Folate is found naturally in foods whereas folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin added to foods that we already eat or taken in supplements. Countries across the world, including the US, use folic acid to fortify foods in an effort to prevent folate deficiencies.

Foods high in Folate: asparagus, greens, okra, avocados, liver, lentils, beans, and edamame

  • 50-90% of folate is destroyed in food processing and preparation.

 Foods high in Folic Acid: breakfast cereal, pasta, breads, and other grain products

  • 100% of the folic acid that is eaten is absorbed.

What does Folate Do?

Folate is one of the vitamins that our body uses to make new cells and is essential for our health. Folate is needed to make RNA, DNA and to metabolize amino acids. In fact, individuals that take Methotrexate, a drug the decreases DNA synthesis, follow a high folate diet or take a folic acid supplement since their folate metabolism can be interfered with by this drug.

How Much Do You Needs?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults is 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate per day. This can be done by eating foods high in folate and folic acid. Getting enough folate is especially important for women who may become pregnant. The CDC recommend the ALL women ages 15 to 45 consume a folic acid daily since half of all pregnancies are unexpected.

Too Little?

It’s possible to get too little folate by not eating enough folate or by not absorbing what is being eaten. Folate can help prevent major birth defects of a baby’s brain and spine (spina bifida and anencephaly) by 50-70%. Since these birth defects develop within the first few weeks of pregnancy, it is very important that women get adequate amounts of folate one month before their pregnancy and throughout their pregnancy. Folate is also needed to make red blood cells and not getting enough can cause anemia. This type of anemia is called megaloblastic anemia because the red blood cells are larger than normal, however there are less of them and they have a shorter life.

Too Much?

It takes more than 1,000 mcg of folic acid per day to get too much folate. This mostly only occurs with folic acid, not folate, since absorption is much higher. Too much folic acid can mask a vitamin B-12 deficiency.

Bottom Line:

  • Eat a healthy diet with a variety of food high in both folate and folic acid.
  • If there is any chance that you may get pregnant, take a folic acid supplement.

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