Wellness Blog

Folate or Folic Acid

Posted on January 15, 2017 at 3:40 PM

Folate or Folic Acid: Is there a difference? Dianna Richardson, ND

Each year the second week in January is set aside to emphasize the importance of folic acid in the diet. While many people use the terms folic acid and folate interchangeably, this is not correct. So, what is folate and why is it important?

Folate is an essential B-vitamin (B-9). There are several major roles folate plays in the body. Three of the most important are the following. First, folate is needed for red blood cell production. Red blood cells are needed for many functions in the body ranging from oxygen transportation to preventing anemia. Preventing anemia helps to keep energy levels higher.

Secondly, folate is needed to reduce homocysteine levels in the blood. According to research, high levels of homocysteine can cause artery wall damage, increase risk of blood clots, and is associated with heart attacks and stroke. New studies have also suggested a link between low folate and development of some cancers and Alzheimer’s. For people with a genetic condition known as MTHFR it is extremely important to distinguish between synthetic folic acid and folate. Those with this condition should never use products containing added folic acid or supplements with folic acid. Only folate (naturally found in food) is safe with MTHFR.

The third, and best-known, use of folate, is to prevent birth defects. Young woman and women of child-bearing age are encouraged to eat a diet rich in folate to prevent neural tube defects. Unfortunately, unless you are planning a pregnancy, most women will not know they are pregnant until the first month of pregnancy. If the diet has not contained enough folate prior to conception, there is a high risk for birth defect.

So what foods are rich in folate? Black beans, lentils, nuts (peanuts, almonds), sunflower seeds, eggs, leafy greens, Romaine lettuce, rice, oranges, melons, and strawberries are good sources. One of the best sources is asparagus. Broccoli and avocado also provide needed folate. Summer and winter squash along with green peas will help make daily needs an ease.

Is it difficult to get all the folate you need from food? No. Most people eating a variety of plant foods will easily get the average 400 mcg daily recommended for adults. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need 600 and 500 mcg. Children’s needs vary by age. Here is a tasty, quick and simple recipe packed with a daily allowance of folate (low calorie too)!

Salsa Lentil Soup—serves 8

2 tablespoons cooking oil

2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped

½ teaspoon garlic powder

5 cups water

1 (16 oz.) jar salsa

1 cup lentils, uncooked

1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce

½ cup instant brown rice, uncooked

1 cup shredded carrots

1 medium green pepper, finely chopped


In a large saucepan, heat oil. Add onions and garlic powder. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3-5 minutes or until tender. Add the water, salsa, lentils and tomato sauce; mix well. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 35 minutes. Add the rice. Turn the heat to medium-high until the mixture boils. Cover. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add carrots and green pepper. Let stand for five minutes.

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