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.
|Age group (in years)||Recommended Dietary Allowance|
|1 - 3||150 mcg||150 mcg|
|4 - 8||200 mcg||200 mcg|
|9 - 13||300 mcg||300 mcg|
|14 - 18||400 mcg||400 mcg|
|Pregnancy, ages 14-18||600 mcg||n/a|
|Lactation, ages 14-18||500 mcg||n/a|
|19+||400 mcg||400 mcg|
|Pregnancy, ages 19+||600 mcg||n/a|
|Lactation, ages 19+||500 mcg||n/a|
Major Food Sources
Foods with the high amounts of folate include:
Tips For Increasing Your Folate Intake
To help increase your intake of folate:
Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
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.
Folate. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional. Updated April 20, 2016. Accessed May 18, 2016.
Folate deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 13, 2014. Accessed May 18, 2016.
Folic acid. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/index.html. Updated January 11, 2016. Accessed May 18, 2016.
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 May 18, 2016.
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.
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 May 2016 by Michael Woods, MD