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
Aiding in the conversion of
Large doses of folate can cause symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency to appear. Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in older adults. Although folate supplementation will alleviate the anemia caused by the B12 deficiency, the nervous system damage caused by the B12 deficiency will continue. This is why it is important that you talk to your doctor before you take a folate supplement. It may be necessary for you to take vitamin B12 supplements along with the folate.
There is no upper limit for ingesting folate found naturally in foods. However, there are tolerable upper intake levels for folate consumed from fortified foods and supplements:
Micrograms (mcg) per day
Pregnant or nursing women up to 18 years
19 years and older
Pregnant or nursing women 19 years and older
Major Food Sources
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, simmered
Fortified breakfast cereal
(check Nutrition Facts label)
Beef liver, braised
Pinto beans, canned
Lima beans, canned
Wheat germ, toasted
Orange juice, fresh
8 fluid ounces
Whole wheat flour
Green peas, boiled
White rice, long-grain
Peanuts, dry roasted
Tomato juice, canned
Peanut butter, crunchy
Cashews, dry roasted
Bread, whole wheat
Populations at Risk of Folate Deficiency
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—Folate deficiency has been observed in
alcoholics. 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 medicines—Certain medicines can interfere with the body's ability to use folate. Check with your doctor about supplementation if you are on medicine that may affect your folate levels.
The elderly—Many elderly have low blood levels of folate, which can occur from low intake of the vitamin or problems with absorption.
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.
Tips for Increasing Your Folate Intake:
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.
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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
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