Can I get enough folic acid from my diet alone?

Depending on your age and gender, you may be able to get enough folic acid and folate (the two forms of vitamin B9) from the foods and beverages in your usual diet—no supplements needed. According to the Institutes of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board, men (ages 14 and up) and women (ages 50 and up) should aim for 800 micrograms (mcg) daily; women ages 14 to 49 should try to get that much: 400 micrograms from food and another 400 micrograms either from fortified foods or from a supplement. And any woman who could become pregnant (or is pregnant) should really be getting 800 micrograms of folate daily.

If you are eating these foods already, you can probably get all you need from your diet:

  • chicken liver (3.5 ounces has a whopping 770 mcg of folate)
  • breakfast cereals with 100 percent of the daily value in each serving (that is, 400 mcg in a 3/4 cup serving)
  • 1/2 cup black beans (128 mcg)
  • 1/2 cup of cooked spinach (100 mcg)
  • 4 asparagus spears (85 mcg)
  • 3/4 cup orange juice (35 mcg)
  • 1 slice of bread (either whole wheat or white; 25 mcg)

If you don’t think the foods add up (and keep in mind, there are tons more foods that have folate), talk to your doc or a nutritionist for ways to include more folate in your diet. And if you still fall short, add a supplement—it’s a good insurance policy.

Folic acid is present in many foods in the typical diet, including green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and beans and peas. Most people eating a well-balanced diet that includes the foods above will get enough folic acid from diet alone. However, if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you should take additional folic acid supplements every day to prevent specific birth defects.

It is certainly possible, although many Americans still fail to do so. Green leafy vegetables, fruit and liver are some of the best sources of folate, the natural form of the vitamin. Folic acid, the synthetic form used in fortification and supplements, can be found in all fortified grains, breads and cereals. Intake ranges for adults are recommended to be 400-1000mcg/day.

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