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 neural tube birth defects in babies.
Folate's functions include:
|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, 14 - 18||600 mcg||n/a|
|Lactation, 14 - 18||500 mcg||n/a|
|19+||400 mcg||400 mcg|
|Pregnancy, 19+||600 mcg||n/a|
|Lactation, 19+||500 mcg||n/a|
Folate deficiency is a common vitamin deficiency. It can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
Signs or symptoms of folate deficiency include:
Large doses of folate can cause symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency to appear. Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in older adults. Although folate supplementation will alleviate the anemia caused by the B12 deficiency, the nervous system damage caused by the B12 deficiency will continue. This is why it is important that you talk to your doctor before you take a folate supplement. It may be necessary for you to take vitamin B12 supplements along with the folate.
There is no upper limit for ingesting folate found naturally in foods. However, there are tolerable upper intake levels for folate consumed from fortified foods and supplements:
|Age||Micrograms (mcg) per day|
|1-3 years||300 mcg|
|4-8 years||400 mcg|
|9-13 years||600 mcg|
|14-18 years||800 mcg|
|Pregnant or nursing women up to 18 years||800 mcg|
|19 years and older||1,000 mcg|
|Pregnant or nursing women 19 years and older||1,000 mcg|
There is a variety of foods that contain folate. Some foods, like cereal, rice, and flour, are fortified with folate. Here is a list of major food sources and their folate content.
|Chicken liver, simmered||3.5 ounces||770|
|Fortified breakfast cereal||3/4 cup||
(check Nutrition Facts label)
|Soy flour||1 cup||260|
|Beef liver, braised||3.5 ounces||217|
|Chickpeas, canned||1 cup||160|
|Pinto beans, canned||1 cup||144|
|Spinach, boiled||1/2 cup||131|
|Lima beans, canned||1 cup||121|
|Wheat germ, toasted||1/4 cup||102|
|Asparagus, boiled||4 spears||85|
|Orange juice, fresh||8 fluid ounces||75|
|Spinach, raw||1/2 cup||54|
|Whole wheat flour||1 cup||53|
|Green peas, boiled||1/2 cup||50|
|White rice, long-grain||1/2 cup||45|
|Orange, navel||1 medium||44|
|Peanuts, dry roasted||1 oz||41|
|Wheat flour||1 cup||40|
|Broccoli, boiled||1/2 cup||39|
|Tomatoes, sun-dried||1 cup||37|
|Tomato juice, canned||6 oz||35|
|Peanut butter, crunchy||2 tablespoons||29|
|Cashews, dry roasted||1 ounce||20|
|Bread, whole wheat||1 slice||15|
The following populations may be at risk of folate deficiency and may require a supplement:
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 spina bifida and anencephaly.
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.
To help increase your intake of folate:
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
US Department of Agriculture
Dietitians of Canada
Duyff RL. The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food & Nutrition Guide. 3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.; 2006.
Folate. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/. Accessed June 28, 2012.
Folate deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 15, 2010. Accessed June 28, 2012.
Folic acid. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 14, 2011. Accessed June 28, 2012.
Garrison R, Somer E. The Nutrition Desk Reference. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing; 1995.
Last reviewed June 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 6/28/2012