What is folate?

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

  • the naturally occurring folate in foods, and
  • the synthetic form, folic acid, which is added to foods (such as ready-to-eat cereals, enriched grains in bread) 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.)

Family Making Sandwiches
Folate is the natural form of folic acid. “Synthetic folic acid” is a simple, man-made form. Most multivitamins and enriched foods contain this form. The body can’t process folate as easily as folic acid. The typical daily dose of folic acid is 400 micrograms (mcg. or ug.). It’s unknown if the same amount of dietary folate provides these benefits.

Women who can get pregnant should consume 400 daily mcg. of folic acid. They should also consume natural folate in their regular diet. Folate-rich foods include:
  • Leafy, dark green vegetables
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Beans and peas
  • Enriched grain products, like breads and cereals
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Folate is one form of an important vitamin (vitamin B9) that is found in dark green, leafy vegetables, many fortified cereals, beans, wheat bran and other whole grains. The term folate is sometimes used interchangeably with folic acid, but for those of you sticklers for detail out there, here’s a fun fact: folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 -- the form found in foods like oranges, grapefruit, spinach, chicken, and shellfish. Folic acid is the man-made form of the vitamin -- this is the form you will find in fortified cereals (cereals made out of grains that don’t contain folate) as well as in dietary supplements.

Regardless of the form, it is really important for you to get enough of it. Guys who are older than 14 need 800 micrograms a day. Girls and women ages 14-50 need at least 800 micrograms daily; pregnant women should aim for 1,000 micrograms a day. Get about half from food and half from supplements is a common recommendation. Women who are older than 50 need 800 micrograms a day. It’s especially important for pregnant women because getting the right amount of folic acid is necessary to prevent a serious birth defect called spina bifida as well as decrease Junior’s risk of cancer in his early years. There is a risk in too much…more than 1,200 micrograms a day seems to foster the growth of some cancers -- such as some breast cancers, just as too little fosters cancer’s initiation.

Continue Learning about Vitamin B9

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.