From supporting fetal development and growth to preventing cognitive decline and dementia, folate is absolutely essential throughout every stage of life. Getting enough folate and folic acid foods in your diet can keep your heart and bones healthy, prevent birth defects, and even reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
Found in a variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes, it’s surprisingly simple to meet your needs by following a healthy diet rich in whole foods that can provide plenty of folate, plus other important nutrients that your body needs.
What Is Folic Acid?
Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is an important water-soluble vitamin that plays a role in many aspects of health. It aids in cell division and helps make new cells by copying and creating DNA. It also helps the body use vitamin B12 as well as certain amino acids.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is found in most prenatal vitamins, supplements and fortified foods. Folic acid for pregnancy is often recommended by many doctors to help ensure that folate needs are met and to protect against pregnancy-related complications.
In an effort to prevent dangerous birth defects caused by folate deficiency, many countries around the world have strict regulations in place requiring food manufacturers to fortify certain products with folic acid. In the U.S., for example, fortification of enriched cereal grains with folic acid was fully authorized in 1996 and fully implemented just two years later, in 1998.
Folate is also associated with improved cognitive function and protection against depression and Alzheimer’s disease. It may also help support strong bones, decrease symptoms of restless legs syndrome and promote the health of the nervous system.
Folic Acid vs. Folate
So what’s the difference between folate vs. folic acid? Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there are several differences between the two.
Folate is naturally found in food sources like fruits, vegetables and legumes. Folic acid, on the other hand, is the synthetic form of folate and can be taken in supplement form or found in fortified foods like enriched flour, pasta, cereal, bread and rice.
Interestingly enough, some studies have found that folic acid is actually more well-absorbed than folate from food sources. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the folate found in food is about 78 percent as bioavailable as folic acid.
Filling your plate with foods rich in folate is the best option to meet your daily needs, as these foods are also high in other essential nutrients that are important to health. While folic acid supplementation may be a useful tool for preventing deficiency in some, incorporating plenty of nutrient-dense folate and folic acid foods can help most people meet their daily folate requirements while also supplying an array of other crucial vitamins and minerals.
Best Folic Acid Foods
If you’re looking to get more folate into your diet, upping your intake of a few folate and folic acid foods is key.
For reference, adults need about 400 micrograms of folate daily. For women who are pregnant or lactating, that number jumps up to 600 micrograms and 500 micrograms, respectively. Fortunately, by incorporating a few folate-rich foods into your meals, it’s easy to meet your daily needs.
Here are some of the top sources of folate and folic acid, according to the National Institutes of Health: (9)
2. Beef liver
One cup of cooked broccoli (156 grams) contains approximately 168 mcg of folate (42% DV).
4. Wheat germ
One half-cup of wheat germ (58 grams) contains approximately 161 mcg of folate (40% DV).
8. Fortified grains
One cup of protein-fortified, cooked, enriched spaghetti (140 grams) contains approximately 115 mcg of folate (29% DV).
9. Brussels sprouts
A cup of boiled Brussels sprouts (156 grams) provides approximately 94 mcg of folate (23% DV).
10. Durian fruit
One large orange (184 grams) contains approximately 55 mcg of folate (14% DV).
One cup of raw spinach (30 grams) contains approximately 58 mcg of folate (15% DV).
Two large eggs contains approximately 48 mcg of folate (12% DV).
Folate deficiency can contribute to many negative symptoms, such as weakness, fatigue, headaches and irritability. It can also sometimes indicate that there may be other underlying nutrient deficiencies as well, since it often occurs alongside other vitamin deficiencies. If you believe that you may have a folate deficiency, talk to your doctor about having your folate levels tested.
Getting your folate from whole foods like fruits, vegetables and legumes is the best way to meet your folate needs without the risk of adverse side effects. However, if you do decide to add folic acid from fortified folic acid foods or supplements into your diet, be mindful about how much you’re consuming. Keep your intake under 1,000 micrograms daily to avoid adverse side effects and potential negative effects on health.
- Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin found naturally in many different foods. Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate found in supplement form and added to fortified foods.
- Liver, green vegetables and legumes are good sources of folate. Folic acid is found in enriched cereal grains such as rice, pasta and bread.
- Most people are able to meet their folate needs through whole food sources. Not only do these foods contain plenty of folate, but they are also rich in other nutrients that are important to health as well.