Folate is a very important nutrient that is absolutely essential for a healthy normally functioning body. It’s needed for the formation of DNA and RNA, the formation of neurotransmitters, the metabolism of amino acids, and the proper formation of the nervous system (1). See our previous post “The importance of folate” for more information about folate.
Folate, also known as vitamin B9 is even more important during pregnancy to ensure the health of the unborn baby.
Folate is naturally present in many foods, but there is also a synthetic form, called folic acid, that is added to many enriched foods, as well as available as a dietary supplement.
How do you know if you are getting enough folate?
Folate requirements differ by age and pregnancy and breastfeeding status. Normally adults require 400 mcg DFE per day, with increasing amounts required during pregnancy (600 mcg) and while breastfeeding (500 mcg).
DFE stands for dietary folate equivalent. This term is used because synthetic folic acid has a much higher bioavailability than dietary folate (85% versus 50%). Basically, this means that the body is able to use a lot more folic acid compared to folate (2).
The easiest way to check your folate levels is with our Folate Test from a simple self-collected finger-prick blood sample.
Foods to eat to obtain more natural folate
- Beef liver: A single 3 oz serving can provide 54% of the recommended daily value (DV) for an adult.
- Spinach: An excellent source of folate with one serving providing 33% of an adult’s DV.
- Asparagus and brussels sprouts: Both provide 20-22% of an adult’s DV from one serving.
- Lettuce, avocado, broccoli, mustard greens, and green peas: All provide 12-16% of an adult’s DV from one serving.
- Kidney beans and wheat germ: One serving provides 10-12% of an adult’s DV.
Enriched foods to eat to obtain more folic acid
These foods have had the synthetic form (folic acid) added to them, so they are another very beneficial source of this essential nutrient:
- Rice and pasta: Generally, a single serving contains 19-22% of an adult’s DV.
- Breakfast cereals: Many ready-to-eat breakfast cereals have been enriched with 25% of an adult’s DV in a single serving.
- Bread: Enriched bread provides 13% of an adult’s DV from a single slice.
These folate and folic acid food contents were obtained from Folate, Fact Sheet for Health Professionals (1). The foods shown here are by no means an exclusive list, as there are many other foods that also naturally contain folate.
Folic acid is available as folic acid alone, as well as part of many multivitamins and prenatal vitamins. Usually, these supplements contain 680–1360 mcg DFE for adults, with 340–680 mcg DFE for children’s vitamins. When these supplements are taken with food, about 85% of the folic acid is able to be absorbed and utilized by the body. However, if consumed without food, nearly 100% of the folic acid can be absorbed (1).
1. Folate: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. (2020, June 3). NIH
2. Bailey LB, & Caudill MA. (2012). Folate. In J. W. Erdman, I. A. Macdonald, & S. H. Zeisel, Present Knowledge in Nutrition. Washington, DC: Wiley-Blackwell. 321-342.