What are folate and folic acid?

Folate is a vitamin found naturally in many foods. Folate helps your body make new cells.

Folic acid is the man-made form of folate. It can be taken in vitamin pills. It is also added to many grain products. These include cereals, breads, and flours.

The answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

Folate is a water soluble vitamin. There are two forms of the vitamin folate:

  • the naturally occurring folate in foods, (such as spinach and orange juice) and
  • the synthetic form, folic acid, which is added to foods (such as ready-to-eat cereals and grains) and found in supplements.

(Note: A very small amount of folic acid can occur naturally in foods. But, for practical purposes, folic acid typically refers to the synthetic variety.)

Picture of oranges
Folate -- also called folic acid -- is a B vitamin that protects against arterial aging, aids in the production of red blood cells and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), and helps reduce levels of homocysteine (an amino acid that may raise your risk of heart disease).

Aim to get 700 micrograms (mcg) of folate per day. The average daily diet contains about 300 mcg, so choose a multivitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid to top off your daily dose. Pregnant women as well as people who have cancer, severe burns, or skin diseases may need extra folate to maintain healthy levels.

Don't exceed 1,000 mcg of folic acid per day -- too much could lead to nerve damage or vitamin B12 deficiency.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.