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.
The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for folate from dietary sources and supplements combined is 1,000 mcg in adults. The upper limit is lower in children (double the recommended daily amount for each age). Folate itself is essentially nontoxic. Large doses of folate can mask symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Although folate supplementation will alleviate the megaloblastic anemia caused by the B12 deficiency, the neurologic damage caused by the B12 deficiency will continue undetected.
Major Food Sources
There is a variety of foods that contain folate. Some foods, like cereal, rice, flour, and cornmeal 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 medications (see
above)—Certain medications can interfere with the body's ability to use folate. Check with your doctor about supplementation if you are on a medication that may affect your folate status.
People with 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.
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
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a