Folate primarily helps the body make new cells, specifically by playing a role in copying and synthesizing DNA.
It also helps the body utilize vitamin B12 and amino acids. A folate deficiency will cause anemia (poorly formed red blood cells), poor immune function, and poor digestion.
For pregnant women a deficiency in folate can lead to neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
People most at risk of a folate deficiency include:
- Pregnant women
- Breast feeding mothers
- People with liver disease
- Those on kidney dialysis
- People on medications for diabetes, diuretics, and methotrexate
In order to prevent neural tube defects the FDA supplements many processed grains with folate. The RDA for folate is 400 mcg. The Daily Value is 400 mcg.
To address any possible folate deficiencies make sure to add these 10 high folate foods into your diet.
Top 10 Folate Rich Foods
1) Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
½ cup: 557 mcg (over 100% DV)
3 oz: 221 mcg (55% DV)
3) Pinto beans
½ cup: 146 mcg (37% DV)
½ cup: 179 mcg (45% DV)
1 cup: 56 mcg (14% DV)
½ cup: 134 mcg (33% DV)
½ cup: 61 mcg (15% DV)
½ cup: 68 mcg (17% DV)
9) Black eyed peas
½ cup: 112 mcg (28% DV)
1 cup: 57 mcg (14% DV)
Top Health Benefits of Folate
Adequate intakes of folate help reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida or anencephaly. A folate deficiency can also cause other birth defects such as heart and limb malformations. Folate is needed for DNA replication, therefore without folate the fetus’ cells are unable to grow properly. Folate is known as possibly the most critical vitamin for a healthy pregnancy.
Fortification of foods with folate by the FDA has decreased the risk for neural tube defects by 26%. It is critical to have adequate levels of blood folate before getting pregnant as the fastest cell replication happens in the early stages. Women should also take a prenatal vitamin during pregnancy to ensure they are meeting their folate needs.
Cancer is caused by DNA damage in individual cells. Since folate plays a role in ensuring proper DNA replication, it can also prevent DNA from becoming damaged and for damaged cells to continue to replicate.
Low blood folate levels are associated with an increased risk of cervical, breast, colon, brain, and lung cancer. The best way to get adequate folate is to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables, especially of the green-leafy variety.
In one study, people who consumed adequate folate were found to have a 55% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who did not.
Folate, of all the B-vitamins, plays the most critical role to reduce the levels of homocysteine in the blood, a compound that has been linked with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Blood homocysteine levels have declined since the FDA started requiring folate fortification in many foods.