Dear Alice,

What foods contain folic acid?

— The Bee

Dear The Bee,

Great question. There are a number of tasty choices for foods rich in folic acid. First, let's look at why it may be important to pay attention to folic acid intake.

Folic acid, also known as folate or folacin, is an important B vitamin that significantly lowers the risk of serious birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. Folic acid is important in the synthesis of DNA, which controls cell function and heredity as well as tissue growth. In addition, folate acts with vitamin B-12 to produce red blood cells. Preliminary studies also suggest that folacin may be helpful in preventing cervical cancer.

Most people get an adequate amount of folic acid from the foods they eat. Pregnant women, people taking certain medications, and alcoholic individuals may be at higher risk for folate deficiency. Women of childbearing age (approximately fifteen to forty-five years) are recommended to include 400 micrograms of folic acid in their diets, particularly important before and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects.

The U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folate is 180 to 200 micrograms (mcg). Rich dietary sources of folate are recommended over supplements. They include:

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Lightly cooked beans and peas
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Sprouts
  • Oranges and grapefruits
  • Liver and other organ meats
  • Poultry
  • Fortified breakfast cereals and enriched grain products

One cup (8oz) of orange juice provides half the RDA for folate, underscoring how easy a nutrient it is to consume. Keep in mind that processing food destroys 50 percent to 90 percent of the folate, as it is very susceptible to heat. It is really important to eat raw foods and lightly cooked vegetables as they retain their nutrient value the best when cooked minimally in water — through steaming, stir-frying, or microwaving. Because folic acid is so important during pregnancy, some pregnant women take a multivitamin or supplement with folic acid. However, taking too much folic acid could mask a vitamin B-12 deficiency, which could be dangerous, meaning that pregnant women should discuss their diet, whether they need folic acid supplementation, and the best potential sources of folic acid for their situation with a health care provider.

Hope this helps you fill your plate with folate!


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