Folic acid, also known as folate or Vitamin B9, is an essential vitamin that enables our bodies to create energy from the foods we eat, our nervous system to function properly, our skin and nails to grow, and to replicate our DNA.
Folic acid also aids in the control of homocysteine blood levels. High homocysteine levels have been linked with increased risk of developing heart disease and strokes. Folic acid, along with Vitamin B6 and B12, helps to turn homocysteine into another amino acid, methionine, therefore decreasing overall blood levels and reducing the risks.
Folic acid is vital for pregnant women to support their baby’s rapidly growing cells and prevent birth defects. For this reason, most refined grains are now fortified, or enhanced, with folic acid. Folic acid is provided in most multi-vitamins and supplementation is often encouraged in those with high homocysteine levels, low dietary intake, of maternal age, or with certain malabsorption issues.
How much Folic Acid?
The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) develops Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), which are broken down into Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), Adequate Intake (AI), and Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL).
We use these established DRIs to know how much of a nutrient to include in our diet daily for optimal health.
The Adequate Intake (AI) for folic acid has been set at 400mcg for men and women over the age of 19 years. This AI has been set for food sources of folic acid; it does not take into account any folic acid coming from forms of supplementation or fortified foods. The body easily absorbs folic acid taken in these forms and therefore the AI for folic acid dietary supplements/fortified foods has been set at 200mcg for males and females over the age of 19 years.
The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for folic acid only includes folic acid from fortified foods and supplements as the body so easily absorbs these forms. The UL for these forms of folic acid is 1000mcg. There is no UL set for folic acid from food sources.
Too little folic acid?
Being solely deficient in folic acid is rare, a deficiency is usually secondary to malabsorption issues, high alcohol intake, pregnancy, or overall poor diet. Megaloblastic anemia is usually seen in those deficient in folic acid or vitamin B12.
People with a deficiency may also suffer from tongue and oral ulcerations, changes in the pigmentation of hair, skin or nails, and, as previously discussed, increases in homocysteine levels.
Too much folic acid?
Folic acid is excreted in the urine when consumed in excess from natural food sources. However, because fortified folic acid (those found in grains) and supplemental forms of folic acid are so readily available to our bodies, taking in too much folic acid is a risk when these forms are consumed in excess.
The major concern for too much folic acid is that it may mask a vitamin B12 deficiency. A vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to serious neurological effects that may be irreversible if hidden behind excess folic acid in the body making it harder to diagnose.
How to include folic acid every day
Obtaining needed nutrients in your diet is always preferable to supplements. Luckily, folic acid-rich foods are abundant. Generally speaking fruits and vegetables, beans, grains, and fortified foods are the best sources.
Add these foods to your cart to make sure you are getting enough folic acid in your diet each day.
- Turkey breast
- Chicken giblets
- Feta Cheese
- Greek Yogurt
- 1% Milk
- Canned blue crab
- Split-pea soup
- Naan bread
- Enriched white rice
- Ready-to-eat cereal
- Enriched pasta
- Orange juice
- Pomegranate juice
- Cooked spinach
- White potatoes
- Green peas
- Red peppers
Folic acid supplementation is considered safe at appropriate levels. Be aware of the supplement dosage and the amount of folic acid you are consuming through fortified foods. Ensuring adequate folic acid intake to counteract homocysteine levels is just one dietary move you can make to reduce heart disease risk.
See more helpful articles:
Folic Acid and Heart Disease
Vitamin B12: A HealthCentral Explainer