Folate is another name for B9, one of the eight B vitamins. It occurs naturally in a wide range of foods. A synthetic version of the vitamin, known as folic acid, is often added to fortified cereals and vitamins. You can also find folic acid supplements. The human body absorbs folic acid more easily than it does natural folate, but you can get all the folate you need from your diet.
Like other B vitamins, folate plays an important role in protein metabolism and helps to form DNA. It’s also necessary for the production of healthy red blood cells. Folate is an important nutrient. While it’s particularly important for pregnant women, everyone needs it for their overall health and wellness.
Why You Need Folate
Folate, like other B vitamins, is water-soluble, meaning that, rather than storing it, your body excretes any excess through your urine. Since your body doesn’t store it, you need to make sure you’re getting enough every day.
The daily recommended intake of folate for teens and adults is 400mcg. Pregnant women need at least 600mcg per day, and breastfeeding women need 500mcg.
Insufficient folate intake can lead to a deficiency. Too little of the vitamin can lead to megaloblastic anemia, which has symptoms such as:
In addition to preventing a deficiency, getting enough folate is necessary for many reasons:
While folate is important for everyone, it’s especially important for women who are pregnant. Getting enough before and during early pregnancy helps to prevent neural tube defects such as anencephaly and spina bifida. The CDC recommends that all women get at least 400mcg of folate a day, whether or not they plan on becoming pregnant. Some studies suggest that sufficient folate intake may also help to prevent autism spectrum disorder, but there isn’t enough research out there to say for certain.
Both folate and vitamin B12 play an essential role in converting homocysteine, an amino acid in your blood, into methionine, which is one of the essential building blocks of new proteins. Without enough folate, the process becomes inefficient, which leads to increased homocysteine in the blood and an increased risk of heart disease.
Reduced Cancer Risk
High homocysteine levels and low folate levels are also associated with an increased risk of cancer. Large amounts of the vitamin after a cancer diagnosis, however, may speed up the progression of the disease, so those with cancer should be careful about taking folic acid supplements.
Too little folate could lead to an increased risk of depression. People with depression and low folate levels may also not respond as well to antidepressants as people with adequate levels of the vitamin in their blood. Some studies show that increasing folate (or taking a folic acid supplement) in addition to an antidepressant may help to increase the effectiveness of the medication.
Foods with Folate
Many foods, particularly dark, leafy greens, are full of folate, which helps to make it easy to get all of the vitamin B9 you need from your diet. You can also find fortified cereals that contain the vitamin. Some of the foods with the most folate include:
1. Beef Liver
Most meats are low in folate. Beef liver, however, is one of the most concentrated sources available. In addition to providing 215mcg of folate per 3-ounce serving, beef liver also provides a decent amount of protein and more than 100% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A, vitamin B12, and copper.
2. Dark, Leafy Greens
Many types of dark, leafy greens have high concentrations of folate. Spinach, a powerhouse of nutrients, provides 58mcg in a 1-cup serving of raw leaves and 131mcg in a half-cup serving of cooked. A half-cup of boiled mustard greens has 52mcg. A cup of raw collards has 46.4mcg.
Legumes, which include beans, peas, and lentils, are an excellent source of plant protein, as well as fiber, iron, magnesium, and antioxidants. They’re also high in folate, with different varieties providing different amounts. A half-cup of kidney beans has 46mcg and black-eyed peas have 105mcg. A half-cup of peas has 47mcg.
Asparagus is high in many important nutrients, including folate. Four spears have 89mcg. The vegetable also provides anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Like many other vegetables, broccoli is high in many essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, vitamin K, and vitamin A. A 1-cup serving of raw broccoli has 57mcg of folate. The folate content is even higher when you cook broccoli, with a half-cup serving providing 84mcg.
Oranges, and other citrus fruits, are most well-known for their vitamin C content. They also contain a decent amount of folate. One small fresh orange provides 39mcg of the vitamin.
Bananas are typically known best for their potassium content. They’re high in carbohydrates, and they’re easily digestible. Add the fact that they’re highly portable, and they’re a perfect pre-workout snack. One medium banana also contains 24mcg of folate.
Eggs are a common breakfast food, high in many essential vitamins and minerals. Along with protein, selenium, riboflavin, and vitamin B12, one hardboiled egg contains 22mcg of folate. While eggs are generally considered healthy, the yolks are high in cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol or heart disease, or you’re trying to watch your cholesterol intake, you may want to limit the number of eggs you eat per week.