Finding FolateEn Español (Spanish Version)
The B vitamin folate, also called folic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin. Water-soluble vitamins are stored in the body in very limited amounts and are excreted through the urine. Therefore, it is a good idea to have them in your daily diet. Folate is considered a crucial vitamin before and during pregnancy. Research has shown that folate deficiencies during pregnancy can lead to
birth defects in babies.
Folate's functions include:
- Helping amino acid metabolism and conversion
- Producing and maintaining new cells
- Making DNA and RNA, the building blocks of cells
- Preventing changes to DNA that may lead to cancer
Making red blood cells, preventing
- Assisting in the creation of neurotransmitters (chemicals that regulate sleep, pain, and mood)
Age Group (in Years)Recommended Dietary AllowanceFemalesMales1 - 3150 mcg150 mcg4 - 8200 mcg200 mcg9 - 13300 mcg300 mcg14 - 18400 mcg400 mcgPregnancy, 14 - 18600 mcgn/aLactation, 14 - 18500 mcgn/a19+400 mcg400 mcgPregnancy, 19+600 mcgn/aLactation, 19+500 mcgn/a
Folate deficiency is a common vitamin deficiency that can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
- Increased need, as with pregnancy, without increased intake
- Low levels of folate containing foods in diet
- Abnormally high levels of folate passing out of the body
Medication that interferes with the body's ability to use folate such as:
- Anti-convulsant mediations
The following populations may be at risk of folate deficiency and may require a supplement:
- Pregnant women—Folate is critical for the production and maintenance of new cells. This is especially important during pregnancy—a period of rapid cell division.
People who consume excessive amounts of
—Alcohol interferes with the absorption of folate and increases excretion by the kidneys. In addition, many alcoholics tend to have diets low in essential nutrients, like folate.
- People on certain medications—Certain medications can interfere with the body's ability to use folate. Check with your doctor about supplementation if you are on medication that may affect your folate levels.
inflammatory bowel diseases
—Malabsorption of folate can occur with inflammatory bowel diseases.
- The elderly—Many elderly have low blood levels of folate, which can occur from low intake of the vitamin or problems with absorption.
Folate deficiency may lead to:
- Megaloblastic anemia (abnormally large red blood cells)
- Irritability, hostility
- Weight loss
- Apathy, forgetfulness
, loss of appetite
- Sore tongue, glossitis (inflammation of tongue)
- Heart palpitations
- Paranoid behavior
In 1991, a landmark study found a relationship between folate and birth defects. Subsequent research has supported the finding that adequate folate intake during the period before and just after conception protects against a number of neural tube defects, including
The crucial period is before and very early after conception—a time when most women do not know they are pregnant. Therefore, the recommendation is that all women of childbearing age make sure they have a folate intake of at least 400 mcg.
There is a variety of foods that contain folate. Some foods, like cereal, rice, and flour, are fortified with folate. Here is a list of major food sources and their folate content.
Chicken liver, simmered3.5 ounces770Fortified breakfast cereal3/4 cup
(check Nutrition Facts label)
Soy flour1 cup260Beef liver, braised3 ounces215Chickpeas, cooked1 cup282Pinto beans, cooked1 cup291Spinach, boiled1 cup263Lima beans, cooked1 cup156Papaya1 medium112Avocado1 ounce25Wheat germ, toasted1/4 cup100Asparagus, boiled1 cup243Orange juice, fresh8 fluid ounces74Spinach, raw1 cup58Whole wheat flour1 cup53Green peas, boiled1/2 cup50White rice, long-grain1/2 cup45Orange, navel1 medium44Peanuts, dry roasted1 ounce41Wheat flour, whole grain1 cup53Broccoli, boiled1 spear40Tomatoes, sun-dried1 cup32Tomato juice, canned1 cup49Peanut butter, crunchy2 tablespoons30Banana1 cup30Cashews, dry roasted1 ounce20Bread, whole wheat1 slice14
To help increase your intake of folate:
- Spread a little avocado on your sandwich in place of mayonnaise.
- Drink a glass of orange juice or tomato juice in the morning.
- Add spinach to your scrambled eggs.
- Slice a banana on top of your breakfast cereal.
- Sprinkle some toasted wheat germ on top of pasta or a stir-fry.
- Throw some chickpeas or kidney beans into a salad.
- If you take a vitamin supplement, make sure it contains folate.
There can be too much of a good thing. While there is no upper limit for ingesting folate found naturally in foods, but there are recommended intake limits for folate consumed from fortified foods and supplements:
AgeMicrograms (mcg) per day1-3 years300 mcg4-8 years400 mcg9-13 years600 mcg14-18 years800 mcgPregnant or nursing women up to 18 years800 mcg19 years and older1,000 mcgPregnant or nursing women 19 years and older1,000 mcg
Large doses of folate can mask symptoms of a different type of vitamin deficiency called
. A B12 deficiency causes some similar symptoms as folate deficiency, but it can also cause damage to the nervous system. Folate supplementation will mask the B12 deficiency by relieving the anemia-associated symptoms but not decreasing damage to the nervous system. This is why it is important that you talk to your doctor before you take a folate supplement. A blood test will help determine if your folate and vitamin B12 levels are appropriate or low. It may be necessary for you to take vitamin B12 supplements along with the folate. Talk to your doctor before starting any vitamin supplement to make sure it is appropriate for you.
Choose My Plate.gov—US Department of Agriculture
Eat Right.org—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Duyff RL. The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food & Nutrition Guide. 3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.; 2006.
Folate. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional. Updated December 14, 2012. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Folate, DFE (µg) content of selected foods per common measure, sorted by nutrient content. USDA national nutritional database for standard reference, release 25. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Data/SR25/nutrlist/sr25w435.pdf. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Folate deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 16, 2013. Accessed March 6, 2014.
Folic acid. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 28, 2013. Accessed March 6, 2014.
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Last Reviewed March 2014