What's the Deal About Folate and Folic Acid?
Folate is a type of B vitamin that can be found naturally in foods, added to fortified foods and in supplement form. It serves a crucial role in your body by helping create new cells. In babies, this role is particularly important because they need folate to rapidly develop brain and spinal cord cells. When a mother does not get enough folate in her meal plan, her baby can be born with neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Spina bifida is the incomplete development of the spinal cord. Anencephaly is the underdevelopment of the brain. To prevent these conditions from taking place, doctors recommend women consume dietary sources of folate and its synthetic form, folic acid, found in supplements and fortified foods.
In the United States, there are 3,000 cases of neural tube defects each year. Therefore, it is important for women of childbearing age to meet guidelines for intake of folate. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all women consume at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day and the recommendation increases to 600 mcg during pregnancy.
Women who are pregnant, or could become pregnant, should consume folate and folic acid from a variety of sources including fruits, vegetables, fortified grains, beans, peas and a multivitamin supplement. The following foods are particularly high in folate:
|FOOD||SERVING||FOLATE IN MICROGRAMS (MCG)|
|Peas (chickpeas, black-eyed), cooked||¾ cup||138-263 mcg|
|Beans (pinto, navy, black, lima, kidney), cooked||¾ cup||157-218 mcg|
|Asparagus, boiled||4 spears||89 mcg|
|Enriched spaghetti||½ cup||83 mcg|
|Romaine lettuce||1 cup||64 mcg|
|Avocado, sliced||½ cup||59 mcg|
|Spinach, raw||1 cup||58 mcg|
|Orange, small fresh||1 fruit||29 mcg|
However, keep in mind that the absorption of vitamins and minerals from food can vary. On average, 80% of folate found in food is absorbed by the body, so the best way for women of childbearing age to meet their needs is to consume folate from foods and folic acid from fortified sources and multivitamins.
To learn more information about folate, visit the Office of Dietary Supplements website.