Folic acid may sound a little scary, but you’ll find it included in virtually every multivitamin formula on the market… especially women’s multivitamins. It’s a crucial, water-soluble member of the B vitamin family — a form of vitamin B9 to be exact — that plays a major role in cellular production.
Folic acid is a key ingredient in the making of the nucleic acids that form our basic genetic material. In short, without folic acid we wouldn’t here. Our bodies wouldn’t be able to generate healthy new cells. Adult men and women both need about 400 micrograms of folic acid per day to maintain normal function, but women who are pregnant or are trying to conceive should up their daily intake to 600 mcg. Depending on your age and health concerns, your daily folic acid intake may range from 400 to 1,000 micrograms.1
Folic acid is sometimes confused with folate, but the terms are really just two different names for essentially the same nutrient. As the National Institutes of Health explains, “Folate, formerly known as folacin, is the generic term for both naturally occurring food folate and folic acid, the fully oxidized monoglutamate form of the vitamin that is used in dietary supplements and fortified foods.”1
Top Folic Acid Benefits
- Red Blood Cell Formation — Adequate folic acid intake is crucial for healthy red blood cell formation. A folic acid deficiency can, in rare cases, lead to certain blood health concerns and cause weakness and fatigue, plus other mood and respiratory health changes.
- Healthy Fetal Development —Folic acid is one of the most important micronutrients for early fetal development in the womb. Women of childbearing age are encouraged to consume up to 600 mcg of folic acid even in the weeks and months leading up to pregnancy to help support fetal development.2
- Heart Health — Researchers are taking a closer look at how folic acid affects homocysteine levels since homocysteine levels have been associated with cardiovascular concerns. Since folate and other B vitamins are involved in homocysteine metabolism, researchers have hypothesized that they may help with some cardiovascular concerns by lowering homocysteine levels.”1
- Mood — Several studies have shown that individuals with mood concerns are also low in folic acid levels. While additional research is needed to study what effect, if any, folic acid supplementation may have for these individuals, researchers do believe folic acid may be welcome addition to current methods to help with mood concerns.
- Vision Health — There seems to be a link between folic acid intake (and B vitamins in general) and eye health support. One seven-year study found that folic acid and other B vitamins may support vision and eye health.3
Folic Acid and Pregnancy
For women wishing to start a family or have additional children, it is widely recommended that they supplement their daily diets with extra vitamins and minerals that have been shown to be beneficial to fetal development. Folic acid is perhaps the most highly recommended supplement for women both before and during the first several weeks of pregnancy, as research has shown it supports fetal development.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a women should consume about 400 micrograms of folic acid daily before and during pregnancy: “Women can do this by taking a vitamin supplement containing the recommended amount of folic acid or eating enough food that is fortified with folic acid.”2 Folic acid’s role in building new cells is why it’s such an important nutrient for expectant mothers. Thus, most doctors strongly urge women who are trying to conceive to start taking folic acid supplements as soon as possible.
Foods Rich in Folic Acid (aka Folate)
Folate, the form of folic acid found naturally in foods, is readily available in much of the food you’re likely already placing into your shopping cart. Vegetables (especially the dark green leafy kind), fruits, nuts, beans, dairy products, beef, pork, poultry, eggs, seafood and grains are all natural sources of folate. Here’s a longer list of specific items to add to your next grocery list.
- Spinach: ½ cup boiled = 131 mcg
- Fortified breakfast cereal: approx. 100 mcg
- Asparagus: 4 spears = 89 mcg
- Black-eyed peas: ½ cup = 105 mcg
- Beef liver: 3 oz = 215 mcg
- Brussels sprouts: ½ cup = 78 mcg
- Avocado: ½ cup = 59 mcg
- Peas: ½ cup = 47 mcg
- Orange: one whole orange = 29 mcg
- Banana: one whole banana = 24 mcg
- Peanuts: 1 oz = 41 mcg
- Egg: one hard boiled egg = 22 mcg
- Milk: 1%, 1 cup = 12 mcg
- Halibut: 3 oz = 12 mcg
- Ground beef: 3 oz = 7 mcg
- Chicken: ½ breast = 3 mcg
See Top Foods that Promote Eye Health for more on ways to support your vision and eye health with your diet and macular carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin. Learn more about B vitamins in Your Complete Guide to B Vitamins.
About Amy Sunderman, MS, RD
Registered Dietitian, Swanson Health Products
Amy is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author with over 17 years of experience in the supplement industry. Amy is passionate about dietary supplements and the health benefits they offer. She enjoys working to find novel nutritional ingredients with strong clinical research behind them to drive innovation and provide health-promoting products to consumers.
1Folate: Dietary Supplement Facts Sheet: National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/ (Accessed 11/27/2017)
2FAQs: Folic Acid. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/faqs.html (Access 11/27/2017)3Folic Acid, Pyridoxine, and Cyanocobalamin Combination Treatment and Age-Related Macular Degeneration in Women: The Journal of the American Medical Association. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/414817 (Accessed 01/08/2017)