Folate is a B vitamin. It is also called folic acid. Folate is stored in the body in very small amounts and leaves the body through the urine. Getting enough folate in your diet is a good thing. Folate is a key vitamin, especially before and during pregnancy. Not getting enough during this time can lead to birth defects in babies.
What Folate Does
Folate plays a role in:
- Helping the body break down and use the amino acids that make up proteins
- Making new cells and keeping them healthy
- Making DNA and RNA, the building blocks of cells
- Blocking changes to DNA that may lead to cancer
- Making red blood cells and preventing low levels of red blood cells called anemia
- Helping to make chemicals that affect sleep, pain, and mood
|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|
Too Little Folate
Folate deficiency (too little folate) is common. It can happen for a number of reasons, like:
- Higher need, as with pregnancy
- Not eating enough foods with folate
- Very high levels of folate passing out of the body
- Medicine that makes it hard for the body to use folate, such as anti-seizure medicine
Groups at Risk of Having Too Little Folate
These groups may be at risk of having too little folate and may need a supplement:
- Pregnant women: Folate plays a big role in the making and upkeep of new cells.
- People who drink too much alcohol: Alcohol makes it hard for the body to absorb folate. It also makes the kidneys get rid of folate too quickly. Also, people who drink too much tend to have diets low in folate.
- People on certain medicine: Some medicine can make it hard for the body to use folate.
- People with inflammatory bowel diseases: These can make it hard for the body to absorb folate.
- Older adults: Many older adults have low blood levels of folate. This can be because they do not get enough in their diet or because their body cannot absorb it.
How Low Folate Can Affect Your Health
Low folate may lead to:
- Lack of hunger and weight loss
- Memory problems
- Tongue soreness or swelling
- Mood problems
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Megaloblastic anemia (red blood cells that are very large)
- Believing things that are not based on reality
The risk of birth defects is lower in people who get enough folate before and just after getting pregnant. Many women do not yet know they are pregnant during this time. For this reason, all women of childbearing age should make sure they get at least 400 mcg per day.
Major Food Sources
Many types of foods have folate. It is also added to some foods, like cereal, rice, and flour. Here is a list of major food sources and their folate content.
|Fortified breakfast cereal||3/4 cup||
(check Nutrition Facts label)
|Soy flour||1 cup||260|
|Beef liver||3 ounces||215|
|Lima beans||1 cup||156|
|Papaya, raw||1 cup||54|
|Wheat germ||2 tablespoons||40|
|Orange juice, fresh||¾ cup||35|
|Green peas||1/2 cup||47|
|White rice, medium-grain||1 cup||90|
|Orange, navel||1 small||29|
|Tomato juice||1 cup||49|
|Peanut butter, crunchy||2 tablespoons||30|
|Enriched bread||1 slice||84|
Tips to Raise Your Intake
To help get more folate:
- Spread a little avocado on your sandwich in place of mayo.
- Drink a glass of orange juice or tomato juice.
- Add spinach to your scrambled eggs.
- Slice a banana on top of your cereal.
- Sprinkle some toasted wheat germ on top of pasta or a stir-fry.
- Throw some chickpeas or kidney beans into a salad.
- Make sure your vitamin contains folate.
Too Much Folate
There can be too much of a good thing. There is no upper limit for taking in folate found naturally in foods. However, there are recommended limits for the amount of folate you get from fortified foods and supplements:
|Age||Micrograms (mcg) per day|
|1 to 3 years||300 mcg|
|4 to 8 years||400 mcg|
|9 to 13 years||600 mcg|
|14 to 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|
Large doses of folate can make it hard to spot symptoms of low vitamin B12 (B12 deficiency). This can look a lot like having too little folate. But too little B12 can also cause damage to the nervous system. Folate supplements will help the symptoms of anemia caused by too little vitamin B12, but they will not stop damage to the nervous system. A blood test will help find out if your folate and vitamin B12 levels are low. You may need to take vitamin B12 supplements along with the folate. Talk to your doctor before you take any supplement.
Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Folate. Linus Pauling Institute Oregon State University. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/folate. Accessed June 10, 2021.
Folate. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health website. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional. Accessed June 10, 2021.
Folate deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/folate-deficiency. Accessed June 10, 2021.
Folate, DFE (µg) content of selected foods per common measure, sorted by nutrient content. USDA national nutritional database for standard reference, release 28. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/docs/Foundation_Foods_Documentation_Apr2021.pdf. Accessed June 10, 2021.
Folic acid. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/drug-monograph/folic-acid. Accessed June 10, 2021.
Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 6/10/2021