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Eat These Foods to Boost Your Folate Levels
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.
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? What Does It Do?
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. (1) It also helps the body use vitamin B12 as well as certain amino acids.
A folate deficiency can have serious consequences, including fatigue, painful mouth sores, and even an increased risk of birth defects like heart problems, spina bifida and anencephaly. (2)
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 United States, for example, fortification of enriched cereal grains with folic acid was fully authorized in 1996 and fully implemented just two years later, in 1998. (3)
Folate is also associated with improved cognitive function and protection against depression and Alzheimer’s disease. (4) It may also help support strong bones, decrease symptoms of restless legs syndrome and promote the health of the nervous system. (5, 6, 7)
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. (8)
However, other evidence shows that the enzyme needed to be able to use synthetic folic acid may not be very efficient, leading to a buildup of unmetabolized folic acid in the plasma and tissues. Some studies have even found that a higher intake of folic acid could be associated with a greater risk of certain types of cancer. (9)
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.
Top Folate and 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...