Folic Acid Awareness Week is January 5-11, 2020. Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that occurs naturally in food and is essential for health. Folic acid is the man-made form, which is found in vitamin supplements and is added to fortified foods. Folate needs to be consumed as part of a healthful diet. In general, folate is necessary for healthy blood and is very important to women in reducing their risk of having a baby with a serious birth defect. Eat a healthy diet that contains lots of fruits and vegetables and other foods that have folic acid (or folate) in them or added to them. Foods that are natural sources of folate include: oranges and orange juice from concentrate; cooked dry beans and peas; deep green leaves like spinach and mustard greens; broccoli; asparagus; peanuts; almonds; and avocados.
In 1998 the United States began a folic acid fortification program, requiring that folic acid be added to many common grain and cereal products: enriched flours; breads; pastas; crackers; corn grits; cornmeal; rice; macaroni; some breakfast and ready-to-eat-cereals; and other grain products. This has helped to increase consumption of folic acid. Fortified ready-to-eat-cereals, or cold cereals, contain between 100 mcg and 400 mcg of folic acid per serving. Look for folate on the Nutrition Facts labels of food packaging.
Folate’s specific roles in the body include:
• is essential in making and maintaining new body cells.
• is needed to make DNA and RNA, the building blocks of cells.
• helps prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer.
• helps reduce the risk of delivering a baby with neural tube defects.
• combines with vitamin B12 to form hemoglobin in red blood cells.
• helps to prevent anemia.
• may help protect against heart disease and stroke by maintaining normal levels of homocysteine* in the blood.
• helps prevent depression.
• helps reduce risk of macular degeneration, a disease of the eyes that leads to blindness.
*Homocysteine is the amino acid that is emerging as a new risk factor for atherosclerosis and the heart attacks and strokes that result.
How much folate is needed?
Women of Child-Bearing Age: In addition to the folate found naturally in their foods, women ages 14 to 50 should get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily from fortified foods, vitamin supplements, or both. That amount increases to an additional 600 mcg per day for pregnant women and an additional 500 mcg for women who are breast-feeding.
Easy ways to get this extra folic acid are:
• Take a daily vitamin that has folic acid in it or a folic acid pill that reads “400 mcg” or “100%” next to folic acid on the label.
• Eat a daily serving of breakfast cereal that contains 100% of the daily value for folic acid.
Women Above Child-Bearing Age, and Males Age 14 and Above: The Recommended Dietary Allowance for folate is 400 mcg per day from all sources, including fortified foods, vitamin supplements, and the amount occurring naturally in foods.
Children: In children and infants, folate helps with overall growth rate. The following age groups should consume these amounts of folate from food:
• 1 to 3-year-olds, 150 mcg
• 4 to 8-year-olds, 200 mcg
• 9 to13-year-olds, 300 mcg
There is insufficient information on folate to establish a Recommended Dietary Allowance for infants. However, an adequate intake of folate for breastfed infants is 65 mcg for up to six months of age and 80 mcg per day for seven to twelve-month-olds.
For more information, check out factsheet #4068, Folate on Clemson Home and Garden Information Center website at https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/folate/.