What is the difference between folate and folic acid?

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

Folate and folic acid are both a type of B vitamin (vitamin B9). Folate is the natural form of the nutrient, found in foods like spinach, lentils and asparagus. Folic acid is the synthetic (man-made) version that's used in supplements and added to fortified cereal, bread and other foods.

The body uses folate to grow new tissue and protect against anemia. It also lowers the risk of birth defects in babies. Men and non-pregnant women ages 14 and older need 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate a day. Pregnant women need 600 mcg daily; breastfeeding women need 500 mcg. Some women may require more, based on medical and family history.

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

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

  • The naturally occurring folate in foods (such as spinach, lettuce, and orange juice)
  • 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.)

Your body absorbs the synthetic folic acid more easily than it absorbs naturally occurring folate. In fact, synthetic folic acid is absorbed 1.7 times more efficiently than most folate that is found naturally in foods. Because of this, your folate needs are measured in dietary folate equivalents. Most adults should consume 400 micrograms DFE of folate daily.

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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.