by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
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:
Too Little Folate
Folate deficiency (too little folate) is common. It can happen for a number of reasons, like:
Groups at Risk of Having Too Little Folate
These groups may be at risk of having too little folate and may need a supplement:
How Low Folate Can Affect Your Health
Low folate may lead to:
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.
Tips to Raise Your Intake
To help get more 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:
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
Dietitians of Canada
Folate. Linus Pauling Institute Oregon State University. Available at:
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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
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