Do you want to be healthy?
Well, that was a rhetorical question, wasn’t it? Of course, we all want to be healthy. So, the question is not if we want to, but if we know what the requirements are.
Exercise, sleep, nutrition and all are fine – but there is one nutrient that is very important (and which doesn’t get much attention) that I am here to talk about – folic acid.
One question – why is it important? Keep reading to find the answers.
Folate – A Brief
Most of us would have probably heard of folate a number of times. But what is it? What has it got to do with our being healthy?
Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin. It is naturally present in some foods, added to certain others, and also available in the form of supplements. This vitamin is vital for cell growth and metabolism (1).
Now, the vital question – we can intake folic acid through supplements, right? Why rely on natural foods? Both are same anyway, isn’t it? Before I answer the question, there is something else you must know.
Folate Vs Folic Acid
We have seen what folate is. But what about folic acid? Well, both are one and the same – except for a distinct difference.
Folate and folic acid are the different forms of vitamin B9. Only that folate is the natural form of vitamin B9. Folic acid, on the other hand, is the synthetic form of vitamin B9. It is used in supplements and added to certain food products like breakfast cereals or flour.
The digestive system converts folate into the biologically active form of vitamin B9, called 5-MTHF. But this is not the case with folic acid. Folic acid is converted into 5-MTHF in the liver or other tissues, and not in the digestive system (2). Which is why the process is not as efficient. Hence, when you take a folic acid supplement, the body takes time to convert it into 5-MTHF (3).
This is where the actual problem arises. Even a small dose of 200 mcg of folic acid a day doesn’t get completely metabolized until the next dose. This results in higher levels of unmetabolized folic acid in the bloodstream, which can cause severe complications.
This is where we answer the question we asked before. When it is folate (naturally occurring), there is no question of it going unmetabolized. Of course, it’s natural. It is metabolized in the digestive system. Hence, no complications.
Now that we have seen which form of folate is better, let’s take a look at the foods that are rich in this vitamin.
Foods Rich In Folate
Serving size – 1 cup chopped (91 g)
A single serving of broccoli contains 57.3 mcg of folate. This meets 14% of the daily value of the vitamin. Apart from this, broccoli is also rich in vitamins A and K.
Vitamin A is vital for maintaining skin and teeth health. It also plays a role in producing pigments in the retina of the eye. Broccoli contains carotenoids that act as antioxidants (4). Vitamin K helps prevent osteoporosis and inflammation (5).
2. Pinto Beans
Serving size – 1 cup (193 g)
One serving of pinto beans contains a whopping 1,013 mcg of folate. It has 670 calories, but negligible saturated fat.
Pinto beans are also rich in potassium. According to a study conducted by Purdue University, USA, optimum potassium consumption is linked to decreased risk of stroke (6).
3. Seeds And Nuts
Serving size for flaxseeds – 1 cup, whole (168 g)
Serving size for sunflower seeds – 1 cup, with hulls (46 g)
Serving size for almonds – 1 cup, ground (95 g)
Seeds like flaxseeds (146 mcg per serving) and sunflower seeds (104 mcg per serving), or nuts like almonds (48 mcg per serving) are rich in folate. You can simply consume these raw or add them to your salad for a healthy dose of folate.
Flaxseeds are also rich in manganese and other vitamins, all of which support your immune and nervous systems, bones, and several other bodily processes (7).
Sunflower seeds and almonds are also rich in vitamin E that promotes healthy skin and eyes (8).
Serving size – 1 cup (134 g)
A single serving of asparagus contains about 70 mcg of folate. It contains just 27 calories, though a large portion of these calories comes from sugars.
Asparagus also is an excellent source of iron and riboflavin. Iron is required to produce hemoglobin, an essential part of the blood cells that sustain life (9). Riboflavin plays a major role in folate metabolism (10).
5. Yeast Extract Spread
Serving size – 1 tsp (6 g)
One serving of yeast extract spread has 60.6 mcg of folate. Though high in sodium, it contains just about 9 calories. You can use it with toast, crackers, or even sandwiches. Use just a little of the spread as it has a strong taste.
Another major compound the yeast extract spread contains is niacin, which, according to an American study, has shown to lower the levels of bad cholesterol (11).
Serving size – 28 g
If you are a non-vegetarian, this could be great news for you. Both beef liver (81.2 mcg per serving) and chicken liver (165 mcg per serving) contain good amounts of folate.
They are also are excellent sources of selenium, which has been found to prevent various types of cancer and muscle and heart disorders (12). But one thing has to be kept in mind – eat liver in moderation as it also contains trans fat and cholesterol.
Serving size for rosemary – 1 tbsp (2 g)
Serving size for basil – 2 tbsp, chopped (5 g)
Certain herbs like rosemary and basil are good sources of folate. One serving of rosemary and basil provides 1.6 mcg and 3.6 mcg of folate respectively.
A study conducted in Jammu and Kashmir, India, states the efficacy of herbs, especially basil, in treating hypertension (13).
Serving size – 1 cup, cubes (150 g)
Who wouldn’t love to binge on an avocado! A single serving of the fruit offers about 122 mcg of folate. Additionally, avocados are also rich in vitamin C that displays cardioprotective properties in smokers and obese or overweight individuals (14). Also, the phytochemicals in avocados pack a powerful punch.
Serving size – 1 cup (186-256 g)
Mature soybean seeds contain 697 mcg of folate while green soybeans 422 mcg of folate per serving. They are high in calories – one serving of soybeans contains 376 calories.
Soybeans are also an excellent source of protein. As per a study conducted by the University of South Carolina, soybean protein reduces the concentrations of bad cholesterol (15). It also positively influences the bone and calcium balance in postmenopausal women.
Serving size – 1 leaf (2 g)
One serving of arugula contains 1.9 mcg of folate. This food is extremely low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Being a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and potassium, it is replete with numerous benefits.
11. Black-Eyed Peas
Serving size – 1 cup (172 g)
One serving of black-eyed peas contains about 358 mcg of folate. In addition, the food is also low in cholesterol, saturated fat, and sodium.
Serving size – 1 cup, mashed (225 g)
A serving of banana contains 45 mcg of folate, which is 11% of the daily value of the vitamin. Bananas are also rich sources of vitamin B6, which helps the body prepare antibodies to fight numerous diseases (16). The vitamin also helps maintain normal nerve function and keeps the blood sugar within normal limits.
Serving size – 1 cup (149 g)
One serving of tomatoes contains about 22 mcg of folate. Tomatoes are also low in saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol. They are excellent sources of carotenoids, like beta-carotene and lycopene, which exhibit antioxidant and antitumor properties (17).
14. Chilli Powder
Serving size – 1 tbsp (8 g)
For us Indians, our food probably is incomplete without a dash of chilli powder. Which is good in a way, as one tablespoon of chilli powder contains 7.5 mcg of folate. Chilli powder has other benefits as well – it stimulates circulation and enhances digestion and metabolism (18).
Serving size – 1 cup, cubes (140 g)
A single serving of papaya contains about 53 mcg of folate. It also is a very good source of vitamins A and C. The fruit is used to treat and prevent gastrointestinal tract disorders and intestinal infections (19).
16. Citrus Fruits
Serving size for oranges – 1 cup (180 g)
Serving size for strawberries – 1 cup (152 g)
Serving size for grapefruit – 1 cup, with juice (230 g)
Our mothers and grandmothers have only sung praises of citrus fruits right from our childhood. Of course, there was a very good reason for that. Citrus fruits, like oranges (54 mcg per serving), strawberries (36.5 mcg per serving), and grapefruit (29.9 mcg per serving), contain good amounts of folate.
As per a Chinese study, citrus fruits work great for the heart, brain, and liver health (20). They also exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that allow one to enjoy the best of health.
17. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Serving size for spinach – 1 cup (30 g)
Serving size for kale – 1 cup, chopped (67 g)
There is no way we wouldn’t have heard of the importance of dark green leafy vegetables in our diet. They are basic for health – irrespective of where or how we live.
Dark greens, especially spinach and kale, have good amounts of folic acid. A serving of spinach contains 58.2 mcg of folate, and a serving of kale has about 19 mcg of folate.
Apart from folate content, dark greens are beneficial in numerous other ways. Acording to a study, one must have half of the plate filled with fruits and vegetables, with dark greens playing a dominant role. Dark greens are rich in carotenoids and various other compounds that offer great health and vitality (21).
18. Fortified Cereals
Serving size – 1 packet (28 g)
Fortified cereals are becoming popular by the day. A single serving of fortified cereals contains 80.1 mcg of folate. And as per an American study, fortified cereals play a major role in reducing nutrient deficiency (22).
Serving size – 1 cup (192 g)
Another excellent source of folate, a single serving of lentils contains a whopping 920 mcg of the vitamin. Lentils are also rich in potassium that helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels (23). They are a good source of protein too, and you can consider them if you are a vegetarian and can’t rely on meat or poultry (24).
Serving size – 1 cup (100 g)
One serving of okra contains 88 mcg of folate. In addition, okra comes with numerous other benefits. It is rich in fiber, vitamin C, and is a good source of potassium and calcium (25). It is extremely rich in antioxidants that promote overall health and well-being. Okra can also be used as a good source of protein (26).
21. Brussels Sprouts
Serving size – 1 cup (88 g)
Though not very appetizing in terms of taste, Brussels sprouts are rich in folate. One serving of Brussels sprouts contains 53.7 mcg of the vitamin. There are other ways Brussels sprouts can benefit you. They are rich sources of other vitamins, minerals, and fiber and support your immune system, boost bone health, etc. In fact, after kale and spinach, Brussels sprouts contain the highest amount of antioxidants (27).
Serving size – 1 cup (100 g)
A serving of cauliflower offers you 57 mcg of folate, which accounts for 14% of your daily value. Cauliflowers are nutrient-dense and have been found to prevent serious diseases like cancer (28).
Serving size – 1 cup (136 g)
One serving of beets contains 148 mcg of folate. Beets have also been found to reduce blood pressure, prevent oxidative stress, and treat inflammation (29).
Serving size – 1 cup (166 g)
One of our favorite snacks, isn’t it? A serving of this vegetable contains about 32 mcg of folate. Corn is also rich in manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, copper, and zinc – all of which offer various health benefits (30), (31), (32), (33).
Serving size – 1 cup, chopped (128 g)
A single serving of carrots contains 24.3 mcg of folate. Being a popular vegetable, it can be included in most vegetable and rice preparations. Carrots are also a rich source of beta-carotene, fiber, and several other micronutrients (34).
These are the foods rich in folate. They are natural, inexpensive, and the best part – they come with other benefits as well that help you stay in the best of your health.
Now comes another important question. Are you getting enough of folate? Because there is a difference between just knowing about folate and actually enjoying its benefits, right?
Are You Getting Enough Of Folate?
Getting the optimum amount of folate on a regular basis is not rocket science. A balanced diet would help you do so. Simple.
Following is the table that talks about the recommended daily amount of folate as per the age.
In general, one must know the amount of folic acid (s)he must consume. Which we have already seen. But how about the dosage when someone is suffering from a specific health condition?
Which is what we are now going to look at.
Folic Acid Dosage For Specific Health Conditions
The dosages mentioned below are based on expert opinions, scientific research and studies, and publications. We have mentioned the health condition, the stipulated dosage, and the results the vitamin has produced.
|Anemia, caused by folate deficiency||1-5 milligrams taken orally||Positive|
|Bipolar disorder||200 IU taken orally daily for 52 weeks (for patients stabilized on lithium)||Positive|
|Cancer (general)||0.2-40 milligrams taken orally daily for 3-8 years||Mixed|
|Colorectal cancer||0.5-5 milligrams taken orally daily for 3-8 years||Mixed|
|Chronic kidney disease||2-15 milligrams taken orally daily, or thrice in a week, for 1-3.6 years||Positive|
|Depression||0.5-3 milligrams taken orally for 3-52 weeks||Positive|
|Diabetes||5 milligrams taken orally for 1-6 months||Positive|
|Folate deficiency||250-1,000 micrograms taken orally daily; in the case of severe folate deficiency, 1-5 milligrams taken orally daily until blood levels are corrected||Positive|
|Fragile X syndrome||10-250 milligrams taken orally daily for 2-8 months||Neutral|
|Heart disease||0.8-40 milligrams taken orally daily for 3-88 months||Positive|
|High homocysteine levels||0.2-5 milligrams taken orally daily for 21-168 days||Positive|
|High blood pressure||5-10 milligrams taken orally daily for 2-16 weeks||Positive|
|Methotrexate toxicity||1.2-5 milligrams taken orally daily or weekly for 12 weeks||Positive|
|Prevention of birth defects||0.36-5 milligrams taken orally daily||Positive|
|Prevention of pregnancy complications||0.25-5 milligrams taken orally daily for 12-24 weeks||Positive|
|Stroke||0.5-40 milligrams taken orally daily for 6-88 months||Positive|
|Vein clots||5 milligrams taken orally daily during pregnancy||Positive|
|Vitiligo||5 milligrams taken orally twice daily||Positive|
|Gum overgrowth caused by phenytoin||Applied to the gum||Positive|
|Pregnancy-related gum disease||Applied to the gum||Positive|
Folic acid has also been used for general health maintenance in children. The dosage was 0.005-15 milligrams, taken orally daily for 2 weeks to 18 months. The results were mixed.
The results and values seen above, as already discussed, are based on expert opinions, research, and other publications. However, we strongly recommend you to not simply go by what they say. Consult with your doctor regarding the usage or dosage of folic acid for any specific health condition you might be suffering from. The same condition might be different for different individuals, and a doctor’s advice is indispensable.
Folic Acid Supplements
Touching the point we discussed in the very beginning (if you can remember), yes, folate in its natural form is always the best. But when there is a deficiency, supplements have their own role to play. They cater to the emergency.
A few important pointers to keep in mind if you are using folic acid supplements:
- If you had ever had an allergic reaction to folic acid, you should not use the supplements.
- Before taking the supplement, let your doctor know if you have kidney disease, an infection, a type of anemia not diagnosed by a doctor (but confirmed by lab tests), or if you are an alcoholic.
Folic acid supplementation has its own benefits and risks. The benefits it has for pregnancy are enormous. But beyond pregnancy is where the speculation arises (36).
Folic acid is an essential vitamin that is responsible for metabolism and optimal functioning of the human body. The foods that you eat every day are rich in this vitamin – you only have to eat them in adequate quantities.
Let us now look a few frequently asked questions.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
How much of folic acid is too much?
Though there is no upper limit for folate taken through foods, the upper limit for folic acid supplements is 1,000 mcg per day.
Why is folic acid important to health?
The human body uses folic acid to produce cells (that include the red blood cells). Folic acid has also shown to prevent up to 70 percent of birth defects involving the brain and spinal cord. Folic acid might also prevent certain types of cancer.
Does taking folic acid prevent all neural tube defects?
Yes, 70% of the time. But there are cases where neural tube defects could be caused due to reasons other than folic acid deficiency.
Which foods rich in folic acid are good for pregnancy?
Broccoli, peas, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, chickpeas, and brown rice.
Tell us how this post has helped you. Do comment in the box below.
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