Folate vs Folic Acid for Pregnancy

If you’re pregnant or preparing your body for pregnancy than you probably have been told that folic acid and folate are very important for the health of your baby.

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What’s the Difference Between Folate and Folic Acid?

Folate and Folic Acid are often used interchangeably but they are very different.  Although they are both B9, they are different forms of B9 and they have a different effect on the body. Medical professionals, nutrition experts, and health practitioners frequently mix them up simply because the terms are quite often used interchangeably.

What is Folate?

Folate is the naturally-occurring form of vitamin B9 and it’s name comes from the Latin word "folium," which means leaf. Which make sense since leafy vegetables are among the best dietary sources of folate.Folate is actually a generic name for a group of related compounds with similar nutritional properties.

Low folate levels in pregnant women have been linked to birth abnormalities, such as neural tube defects (3).-2.png

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid is a synthetic form of vitamin B9. It’s used in supplements and added to processed food products, such as flour and breakfast cereals.

For women past childbearing age, and for men in general, excessive doses of the synthetic form of this nutrient are not necessary, and may even be harmful as high levels of un-metabolized folic acid have been associated with several health problems. (11, 12, 13).

For many years, folic acid was thought to be much better absorbed than naturally-occurring folate but recently research has proved that a diet containing a variety of folate-rich, whole foods has been shown to be almost as effective (7).

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The Best B9

It is best to get vitamin B9 from whole foods.

High-folate foods include;

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  • lentils

  • asparagus

  • avocados

  • brussel sprouts

  • broccoli

  • cauliflower

  • beets

  • calf’s liver

  • chicken liver

  • leafy greens such as spinach, arugula and kale.

But here’s the thing, supplementation of folate (not folic acid) may be required to make sure a new mom is getting enough folate.

Some supplements contain 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF), which is considered a healthier alternative to folic acid. Studies have shown that 5-MTHF is equal to or even better than folic acid (19, 20, 21, 22, 23).

In Summary

  • Folate and folic acid are definitely different.

  • Folate occurs naturally in foods, folic acid is synthetic. The human body doesn't seem to handle folic acid very well, and has trouble converting it into the active form of vitamin B9.

  • This can cause un-metabolized folic acid to build up, which may have negative health effects. Luckily, there are many alternatives to folic acid

  • These include methyl folate supplements and a huge variety of healthy, whole foods.

How Much Folate Do You Need?

Make sure to increase your folate consumption starting at least six months before pregnancy and it’s also important for nursing moms.  Depending how much folate you are getting from food but somewhere between 800 and 1200 mcg of folate per day is recommended. Unless you’re consuming chicken or calf’s liver and substantial amounts of leafy greens on a regular basis, it’s difficult to obtain this amount from diet alone.

Additional Reading:

Folate vs Folic Acid,

Folic Acid Vs Folate - What’s the Difference,