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Here's Why Folate Is Good for You

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Folate, also known as folic acid, is a B vitamin that is essential for good health. Folic acid plays an extremely important role in preventing birth defects. Low blood levels of folate during pregnancy can cause neural tube defects—anencephaly and spina bifida. Because these defects occur in the first month of pregnancy, before a woman knows she is pregnant, it is important for any woman of childbearing age to get 400 mcg (micrograms) of folic acid daily. Pairing folate with iron may reduce the number of infants born with low birth weight and reduce infant mortality.

Folate deficiency can also result in megaloblastic anemia. This is due to the role that folic acid plays in the DNA synthesis and red blood cell division. Without folic acid new red blood cells can’t divide and thus stay large and immature.

Recommended Intake

Age group (in years)Recommended Dietary Allowance
FemalesMales
1 - 3150 mcg150 mcg
4 - 8200 mcg200 mcg
9 - 13300 mcg300 mcg
14 - 18400 mcg400 mcg
Pregnancy, ages 14-18600 mcgn/a
Lactation, ages 14-18500 mcgn/a
19+400 mcg400 mcg
Pregnancy, ages 19+600 mcgn/a
Lactation, ages 19+500 mcgn/a
Here's How You Can Get Folate

Major Food Sources

Foods with the high amounts of folate include:

  • Fortified breakfast cereal
  • Beef liver
  • Lentils
  • Spinach
  • Egg noodles
  • Great Northern beans
  • Asparagus
  • Macaroni
  • Rice
  • Avocado
  • Papaya
  • Corn
  • Broccoli

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.

RESOURCES:

ChooseMyPlate.gov—US Department of Agriculture
http://www.choosemyplate.gov

EatRight.org—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
http://www.eatright.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

References:

Folate. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional. Accessed August 28, 2012.

Folate deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 15, 2012. Accessed August 28, 2012.

Folic acid. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/index.html. Updated July 14, 2014. Accessed July 23, 2014.

Hankey GJ. Is plasma homocysteine a modifiable risk factor for stroke? Nat Clin Pract Neurol. 2006;2(review):26-33.

Herrmann W. Significance of hyperhomocysteinemia. Clin Lab. 2006;52(review):367-374.

Micronutrient needs during pregnancy and lactation. Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute website. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/lifestages/pregnancyandlactation/index.html. Updated July 2011. Accessed July 23, 2014.

Roth C, Magnus P, Schjolberg S, et al. Folic acid supplements in pregnancy and severe language delay in children. JAMA. 2011 Oct 12;306(14):1566-73.

Toole J, Malinow R, Chambless L, et al. Lowering homocysteine in patients with ischemic stroke to prevent recurrent stroke, myocardial infarction, and death: the Vitamin Intervention for Stroke Prevention (VISP) randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2004;291:565-575.

11/6/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Christian P, Stewart CP, LeClerq SC, et al. Antenatal and postnatal iron supplementation and childhood mortality in rural Nepal: a prospective follow-up in a randomized, controlled community trial. Am J Epidemiol. 2009;170:1127-1136.
Christian P, Khatry SK, Katz J, et al. Effects of alternative maternal micronutrient supplements on low birth weight in rural Nepal: double blind randomised community trial. BMJ. 2003;326(7389):571.

10/21/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Roth C, Magnus P, Schjølberg S, et al. Folic acid supplements in pregnancy and severe language delay in children. JAMA. 2011;306(14):1566-1573.



Last reviewed July 2014 by Michael Woods, MD

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 medical condition.

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