When I was a dietetic intern at WIC, a common question women would ask is what is the difference between folic acid and folate? Often times these two nutrients are commonly used interchangeably by doctors making it a little confusing.

Folic Acid & Folate…What’s the Difference?

  • Folate is a water soluble B vitamin found in a variety of foods
  • Folic Acid is the synthetic form of this nutrient
  • Folate and folic acid can be found in the form of a dietary supplement

What does Folate do in the Body?

Folate helps prevent neural tube defects (for instance spinal cord development outside on the back of the fetus or absence of a brain) in the developing fetus. Even if you aren’t pregnant, you still need folate from the food you eat. Folate is responsible for making DNA and for cell division.

Are you Getting Enough Folate?

Teens to adults require 400 mcg (micrograms) of folate everyday. Pregnant teens and women need more, 600 mcg and breastfeeding moms need 500 mcg daily. In the United States, many people are already getting enough folate, but there are groups of people who are at risk for a deficiency:

  • Teen girls
  • Women before and during pregnancy aging 14-30 years
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • People with alcoholism

What are a Good Sources of Folate?

It’s easy to get enough folate in your diet because it’s in many variety of foods. Folate can be found in leafy green vegetables, fruits and juices, beans, dairy products, meats (especially organ meats), seafood, eggs, and grains. The top food food sources of folate are:

  • Beef liver
  • Cooked spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts

If you are more of a “carbo-holic,” folate can be found in breads, cereals, flour, pastas, rice and other grain products. Food manufactures started to add folate into these foods after the FDA mandated they do so in the 90s (1). If you are taking a multivitamin, prenatal multivitamin, or B Vitamin Complex dietary supplement, folic acid is probably already added to it. The usual dose is 400 mcg of folic acid per serving of multivitamin.

Points to Take Home:

  • Before taking a folic acid supplement check with your health care professional because it can interact with many different medications
  • It is possible to get too much folic acid. Too much could resemble symptoms a Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Eat a wide variety of healthy foods to eat enough folate before taking a folic acid dietary supplement
  • Getting your vitamins from foods are ALWAYS best!

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References:

(1) U.S. Food and Drug Administration (1996). Food standards: amendment of standards of identity for enriched grain products to require addition of folic acidexternal link disclaimer. Federal Register 61(44).