Center for Young Women's Health

Folic Acid

 

Remember

  • Folic acid is man-made type of vitamin B-9 that you get from enriched foods or a vitamin supplement.
  • Folate is a natural type of vitamin B-9 you get from green leafy veggies, citrus fruits, beans, peas, and nuts.

What is folic acid? Why do I need to get enough of it?

Folic acid is one of the B vitamins used by your body and is used to make healthy new cells. Getting enough folic acid is especially important during growth spurts and during pregnancy.

 

Why is folic acid so important during pregnancy?

Getting enough folic acid lessens your chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect. Neural tube defects (NTDs) are a type of birth defect that involve the brain and spinal cord, and can cause serious lifelong problems for a baby. All women of childbearing age (women who get a period) should get the recommended amount of folic acid. Even if you're not planning on getting pregnant, your body needs folic acid to make new cells every day.

 

What is the difference between folic acid and folate?

Folic acid and folate are different words for vitamin B-9. Folic acid is the man-made type of vitamin B-9 that is used in vitamin supplements and added to certain foods (called enriched or fortified foods). Folate is the natural type of vitamin B-9 that's found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, peas, and nuts. The biggest difference between folic acid and folate is that folic acid is used more easily by the body than folate. Because folic acid is used more efficiently by the body, people usually talk more about this type of the B vitamin.

 

How much folic acid do I need? Where can I find it?

Folic acid is measured in micrograms (mcg). For women of childbearing age, the recommendation is 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. Fortified breakfast cereals that provide 100% of the daily value of folic acid are the best food source of folic acid. Green leafy vegetables, some citrus fruits, beans, peas, and nuts are rich sources of folate. Teens who don't eat breakfast cereals, fruits, vegetables, or those who skip meals may not get enough folic acid or folate. For those teens, multivitamins or folic acid supplements that have 400 micrograms of folic acid are a good option. Don't worry about getting too much of it from food, but don't take more than 1000 mcg of folic acid in a supplement each day unless prescribed by your doctor.

 

How can I make sure I am getting enough folic acid?

Follow all of these steps:

 

1. Take a vitamin supplement with 300-400 mcg of folic acid daily such as:

2. Eat one serving a day of a breakfast cereal fortified with 100% of the recommended daily amount of folic acid (check the nutrition facts label for the serving size) such as:

3. Eat more foods naturally rich in folate:

4. Eat more foods fortified with folic acid (look for the words fortified or enriched on the label):

Remember, your best bet is to get folic acid from enriched foods and/or a daily vitamin supplement, and to eat foods naturally rich in this very important B vitamin. It's never too early to get enough folic acid!

 

Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital

 

Updated: 10/17/2013

 

Related Guides:

Nutrition Facts Label

The Nutrition Facts Label tells you what nutrients (components of food your body needs to grow and stay healthy) and how much of those nutrients are in found in one serving of the food. It is located on the outside of most food packages, but isn't on most fresh foods (such as fruits and vegetables or meats)...

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