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October 2020

Folate Could Safeguard Your Health and Your Baby's

Folate, a type of B vitamin, helps the body make new red blood cells. Not getting enough folate is a serious issue, as it can lead to anemia and other health problems. 

For women specifically, folate deficiency can increase the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects—when the brain or spine don’t form properly. By getting enough folate before and during pregnancy, moms can help protect their babies against these serious birth defects. 

Here’s what you need to know about folate and where to find it.

Recommendations and shortfalls

The government recommends that all adult men and most women get 400 micrograms of dietary folate equivalents (DFEs) per day. Pregnant women need 600 micrograms, and women who are breastfeeding need 500 micrograms.

Most people in the U.S. meet these recommendations. But certain groups are more likely than others to have trouble getting enough folate each day:

  • Women ages 19 to 30 years old

  • African American women

  • Hispanic women

Choose folate-rich foods

With a little effort, you can avoid folate deficiency. Folate can be found in many foods: vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, peas, seafood, eggs, dairy products, meat, poultry, and fortified grains.

Some of the best food sources, and the amount of DFEs they contain, include:

  • 3 ounces of beef liver, braised—215 micrograms

  • 4 spears of asparagus, boiled—89 micrograms

  • ½ cup of frozen Brussels sprouts, boiled—78 micrograms

  • ½ cup of spinach, boiled—131 micrograms; 1 cup of spinach, raw—58 micrograms

Look at the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts labels to find out if a food has folate and how much is in each serving. These labels might also list the amount of folic acid, a form of folate used in fortified foods and dietary supplements.

Consider supplements

If you don’t get enough folate from diet alone, you can take a folic acid supplement. For women who could become pregnant, experts recommend using folic acid supplements, fortified foods, or a combination of both to reach 400 micrograms of folate daily. This is in addition to the folate they get naturally from food.

Thinking about starting a supplement? Talk with your healthcare provider first about which form of folate is right for you. He or she will make sure it won’t interact with your other medicines or interfere with how your body processes nutrients.

Online Medical Reviewer: Nelda Mercer, MS, RD, FADA
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2020
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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