What Is Folate?
Folate, also known as Vitamin B9, is a water-soluble vitamin that is important for healthy brain function. It also supports fetal development and prevents neurological defects during pregnancy. “Folate” is the generic term for both naturally occurring folate in food and folic acid, which is the synthetic form, and is used in supplements and added to fortified foods like bread and cereal.
Since folate is water-soluble, it is not stored in the body in large quantities and must be consumed through foods. Depending on your health needs, supplementation may be recommended if you are not getting enough folate from food. It is important to get enough folate, especially if you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant. Folate is naturally present in a variety of foods, including beans, brewer’s yeast, fruits and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, peas, and animal products such as milk and dairy products, egg yolk, and liver. Spinach, brussels sprouts, asparagus, and liver have some of the highest amounts of folate.
Unfortunately, folate in food is unstable, susceptible to oxidation, and can lose much of its bioavailability during processing, manufacturing, storage, and preparation. This loss is compounded by the cooking process. Fresh leafy vegetables stored at room temperature may lose up to 70% of their folate activity within three days. Cooking these vegetables in water can increase the loss to 95%. Consuming fresh, minimally cooked produce and other foods containing folate can help maximize the vitamin’s effect.
The Daily Value (DV) for folate is 400 mcg for adults and children aged 4 and older. Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered to be high sources of folate. It is important to note that the FDA does not require food labels to list folate content unless the food has been fortified with it. This means that many fruits and vegetables which may be high in folate are not labeled as such.
Am I Deficient in Folate?
Folate deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies, although it usually coexists with other nutrient deficiencies. Certain health conditions and circumstances can cause folate deficiency, including pregnancy, lactation, liver disease, and drug interactions.
Folate deficiency can cause health problems including macrocytic anemia, cardiovascular diseases, and carcinogenesis. It can also produce soreness and shallow ulcerations in the tongue and oral cavity, as well as changes in skin, hair, or fingernail pigmentation. Furthermore, folate deficiency is associated with elevated levels of homocysteine, cerebrovascular and neurological diseases, and mood disorders. Pregnant women who don’t get enough folate have an increased risk of giving birth to infants with neural tube defects (NTDs). Inadequate folate consumption during pregnancy is also associated with low infant birth weight, preterm delivery, and fetal growth retardation.
Foods with Folate
What Foods Contain Folate?
Spinach and other green leafy vegetables provide naturally occurring folate. One cup of raw spinach contains 58 mcg of folate (15% DV). Careful preparation of spinach can ensure that the folate activity is preserved. Steaming can result in much greater folate retention than blanching does. Blanching spinach can result in a 40% loss of folate activity, compared to only a 1% loss with steaming.
The freshness of the spinach also makes a difference in its folate availability. Canned spinach may not be as beneficial as fresh spinach. Spinach can lose 50% of its total folate activity during canning and another 10% after being stored for three months. As much as 14% of the lost folate ends up in the liquid of the can. This amount increases to 18% after three months of storage. While you still may get some folate from canned spinach, fresh spinach would provide much more folate, and even more so if it is steamed rather than blanches.
Like spinach, brussels sprouts provide some of the highest amounts of folate in food. Half a cup of brussels sprouts provides 78 mcg of folate per serving (20% DV). As with any food containing folate, it is important to consider how it is prepared in order to retain the folate activity. Steaming preserves the most amount of folate, while longer cooking methods such as roasting may result in greater losses of folate.
Asparagus is also a great source of folate. Just four spears of asparagus provides 89 mcg of folate per serving (22% DV). Asparagus can be steamed and served alongside other leafy green vegetables to pack an even bigger punch.
Legumes, like beans, peas, and lentils are a great source of natural folate. The exact amount of folate within the food depends on which type of legume it is. Kidney beans, for example, contain 131 mcg of folate in one cup, which is about 33% of the DV. Furthermore, one cup of cooked lentils has 358 mcg of folate, which is almost all of one’s daily needs (90% DV). While legumes are high in folate, they are also great sources of protein, fiber, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, and iron. Legumes are a great addition to your diet if you are looking to increase your intake of any of those nutrients.
Eggs contain many essential nutrients, including folate. One large egg contains 23.5 mcg of folate, or 6% of the DV. They also contain protein, selenium, riboflavin, and vitamin B12.
Beets are a vegetable rich in nutrients. In one serving of beets, you can get your daily intake of manganese, potassium, and vitamin C. Additionally, one cup of raw beets contains 148 mcg of folate, which is about 37% of the DV. Because they are high in nitrates, beets are overall a huge health-booster.
Citrus fruits, like oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes, are quite rich in folate. For example, one large orange contains 55 mcg of folate, which is about 14% of the DV. Their folate concentration mixed with their high vitamin C dose makes citrus fruits a great addition to your diet.
Broccoli is well-known for all of its health benefits, and one of those is its high folate content. Just one cup of raw broccoli contains about 57 mcg of folate, which is about 14% of the DV. Cooked broccoli has even more, with each half-cup containing 84 mcg, or 21% of the DV.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a great snack packed with various nutrients. Nuts and seeds are not only filled with protein, fiber, and many vitamins and minerals, but contain a good amount of folate. The amount of folate in nuts and seeds varies based on what type of nut or seed you are eating. For example, one ounce of walnuts contains about 28 mcg of folate, which is about 7% of the DV. One ounce of flax seeds contains about 24 mcg of folate, or about 6% of the DV.
Wheat germ, or the embryo of the wheat kernel, supplies a good amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, including folate. Wheat kernel is commonly removed during the milling process, but when it is left alone it provides 78.7 mcg of folate per ounce, which is about 20% of the DV. It also contains a lot of fiber, providing 16% of the DV in a single ounce.
Avocados are a fruit rich in nutrients like potassium, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and folate. In one-half of a raw avocado there is 82 mcg of folate, which is about 21% of the DV. Additionally, they are rich in monounsaturated fats, which may protect against heart-related diseases.
Liver has some of the highest amounts of folate of any food source. A 3 oz serving of liver contains 215 mcg of folate (54% DV). While the metallic taste of liver may be unappealing to some, soaking livers in milk prior to cooking can help improve the flavor. If you really want to have a meal full of folate, try pairing the liver with some dark green vegetables such as spinach, brussels sprouts, or asparagus.
Perhaps a surprising source of folate is actually your breakfast cereal. Most cereals are fortified with folate in the form of folic acid. Many brands are fortified with 100 mcg of folate (25 DV%). In January 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring manufacturing companies to fortify breads, cereals, flours, corn meals, pastas, rice, and other grain products with folic acid. Cereals and grains are widely consumed in the United States, making these products common sources of folic acid. Since it is likely breakfast cereal is apart of your diet, this is one way you may be getting folate and not even know it. As a bonus, you don’t even have to cook it.
Do I Need a Folate Supplement?
If you’re pregnant or not getting enough folate in your diet, you may need a folate supplement. This nutrient is available in multivitamins, prenatal vitamins, in supplements containing other B-complex vitamins, and as a stand-alone supplement. This nutrient is frequently available at a dose of 400 mcg (100% DV). When taken with food, about 85% of folic acid from supplements is bioavailable. When taken without food, nearly 100% of folic acid from supplements is bioavailable.
Interested in learning whether folate supplementation is right for you? Take the Vitality DNA test today to find out exactly which nutrients your body needs.