Folic Acid

Esta guía en Español Young men's version of this guide

vitaminFolic acid is one of the B vitamins that is important for metabolism and used to make healthy new cells in the body. Getting enough folic acid is especially important during growth spurts and during pregnancy.

Why is folic acid so important for women?

All women of childbearing age (women who get a period) should get the recommended amount of folic acid. Even if you’re not planning on getting pregnant, your body needs folic acid to make new cells every day. Most importantly, getting enough folic acid lessens your chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect. Neural tube defects (NTDs) are a type of birth defect that involve the brain and spinal cord, and can cause serious lifelong problems for a baby.

What is the difference between folic acid and folate?

Folic acid and folate are different forms of vitamin B-9. Folic acid is the man-made type of vitamin B-9 that is used in vitamin supplements and added to certain foods (called enriched or fortified foods). Folate is the natural type of vitamin B-9 that’s found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, peas, and nuts. The biggest difference between folic acid and folate is that the body uses folic acid more easily than folate. Since folic acid is used more efficiently by the body, this form of the B vitamin is most often talked about.

How much folic acid do I need? Where can I find it?

Folic acid is measured in micrograms (mcg). For women of childbearing age, the recommendation is 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. Folic acid is added to many foods to help make sure individuals have enough in their diet. Foods with added folic acid include fortified breakfast cereals, rice, flours, and enriched breads and pastas. Many of these products provide 100% of the daily value (recommended amount) of folic acid. Taking a quick look at the nutrition label on your favorite breakfast cereal will let you know if folic acid was added.

The natural form of vitamin B-6, folate, is found in green leafy vegetables, some citrus fruits (such as oranges), beans, peas, nuts, avocado, and eggs. Since cooking can make it harder for folate in food to be absorbed, try eating some green vegetables and other folate foods raw or lightly cooked instead of boiled.

Teens who don’t eat fortified breakfast cereals, enriched flours, fruits, or fresh vegetables, as well as those who skip meals may not get enough folic acid or folate. For those teens, multivitamins or folic acid supplements that have 400 micrograms of folic acid are a good option. Don’t worry about getting too much folate from food, but don’t take more than 1000 mcg of folic acid in a supplement each day unless prescribed by your doctor.

How can I make sure I am getting enough folic acid?

  1. Eat more foods naturally rich in folate:
    • Lentils
    • Dark leafy greens (spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens)
    • Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, asparagus, romaine lettuce, and cabbage
    • Beans (pinto, garbanzo, black, navy, kidney, lima)
    • Fruit (oranges, cantaloupe, pineapple, raspberries, papaya, avocado, and banana)
    • Beets
    • Peanuts
  2. Eat one serving a day of a breakfast cereal fortified with 100% of the recommended daily amount of folic acid (check the nutrition facts label for the serving size) such as:
    • 3/4 cup of Kashi Heart-to-Heart Honey Toasted Oat®
    • 3/4 cup of Total®
    • 1 cup of Quaker Oatmeal Squares®
    • 1 cup of Special K®
    • 3/4 cup of Life®
  3. Take a vitamin supplement with 300-400 mcg of folic acid daily such as:
    • Centrum Women®
    • One-A-Day Women’s®
    • One-A-Day Women’s Multi VitaCraves Gummies®
    • Any pharmacy or generic brand with 400 mcg of folic acid
  4. Eat more foods fortified with folic acid (look for the words fortified or enriched on the label):
    • Enriched breads
    • Enriched pasta
    • Enriched rice
Remember, eating enough folate is particularly important for pregnancy – women need adequate levels of folate in their diets prior to conception to have all the benefits of this vitamin. Consuming enough folate can easily be done by eating enriched foods, taking care to pick whole foods naturally high in folate and, if necessary, taking a daily vitamin supplement.