Topic Overview

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is one of the B vitamins your body needs for good health. Getting enough of this vitamin prevents folic acid deficiency anemia. It also prevents certain birth defects.

The vitamin is also called folate, but there is a difference:

  • Folate is the natural form of this vitamin. It's found in food.
  • Folic acidis the man-made form. It's put into vitamin pills and fortified foods, such as fortified breakfast cereals.

Most people just say "folic acid" for either form of this vitamin.

What is the recommended daily amount of folic acid?

Most people can get the amount of folic acid they need by eating a well balanced diet.

Daily recommended folic acid: footnote 1

Category

Age

Daily amount of folic acid


Babies


0-6 months


65 mcg ( micrograms)


7-12 months


80 mcg


Children


1-3 years


150 mcg


4-8 years


200 mcg


9-13 years


300 mcg


Older children and adults


Over 13 years


400 mcg

Do some women need more folic acid?

Although the recommended amount of folic acid for all adults is 400 mcg a day, Health Canada recommends 600 mcg a day for women who are pregnant. This is because folic acid plays a big role in preventing birth defects.

Women who don't get enough folic acid before and during pregnancy are more likely to have a child born with a birth defect, such as:

Here's an odd fact: The man-made form of this vitamin is actually absorbed better by our bodies than the natural form is. So even if a woman eats a well balanced diet, she may not get the extra folic acid she needs to prevent birth defects unless she also takes a supplement.

Experts say that all women who are able to get pregnant should take a daily supplement that has at least 400 mcg of folic acid while continuing to eat foods high in folate.footnote 2

Women who are planning to get pregnant should take a folic acid supplement every day for at least 2 to 3 months before trying to get pregnant.footnote 2 Continue taking folic acid during and after pregnancy. Talk to your doctor or midwife about what is right for you.

Some women need higher doses of folic acid. Women who have a higher risk for certain birth defects need higher doses of folic acid before, during, and after pregnancy.footnote 2 Talk with your doctor or midwife about the amount that is right for you.

Follow your doctor's advice about how to get higher amounts of folic acid. Don't just take more multivitamins. You could get too much of the other substances that are in the multivitamin.

What if you're not planning to get pregnant?

Even if you aren't planning to get pregnant, your doctor may recommend a daily supplement.

Many pregnancies aren't planned. And the birth defects that folic acid can prevent start to form in the first 6 weeks of pregnancy. This is often before a woman even knows she's pregnant.

So you can see why getting enough daily folic acid-even before you get pregnant-is so important. If you are pregnant and you have not been taking a vitamin containing folic acid, begin taking it right away.

What foods contain folate and folic acid?

Foods high in folate or folic acid include cooked dried beans, peas, lentils and edamame (green soybeans), citrus fruits, dark greens like spinach, and fortified breakfast cereals and breads. Look for folic acid in the ingredients list. Folic acid is sometimes listed in the nutrition facts.

Estimates of folate and folic acid in certain foods 

Food

Serving size

Amount


Spinach, raw


1 cup (250 mL)


61 mcg


Split peas, boiled


½ cup (125 mL)


67 mcg


Asparagus, boiled, drained


6 spears


134 mcg


Broccoli, boiled, drained


½ cup (125 mL)


89 mcg


Strawberries, sliced


½ cup (125 mL)


21 mcg


Orange


1 medium


39 mcg


Canned dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained


¾ cup (175 mL)


44 mcg


Canned pinto beans, rinsed and drained


¾ cup (175 mL)


43 mcg


Lentils, boiled


¾ cup (175 mL)


265 mcg


Macaroni, enriched, cooked


½ cup (125 mL)


69 mcg

Folic acid tips

    • Breads, breakfast cereals, and pasta are often fortified with folic acid. Look for folic acid in the ingredients list.
    • Eat vegetables raw or lightly steamed.
    • Multivitamins often contain folic acid.

References

Citations

  1. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine (2012). Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Recommended dietary allowances and adequate intakes, vitamins. In LK Mahan et al., eds., Krause's Food and the Nutrition Care Process, 13th ed. St Louis: Saunders.
  2. Wilson RD, et al. (2015). Pre-conception folic acid and multivitamin supplementation for the primary and secondary prevention of neural tube defects and other folic acid-sensitive congenital anomalies. SOGC Clinical Practice Guideline No. 324. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada 37(6): 534-549. http://sogc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/gui324CPG1505E.pdf. Accessed July 20, 2015.
  3. Health Canada (2008). Nutrient value of some common foods. Ottawa: Health Canada. Also available online: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/fiche-nutri-data/nutrient_value-valeurs_nutritives-eng.php.

Other Works Consulted

  • Finer LB, Henshaw SK (2006). Disparities in rates of unintended pregnancy in the United States, 1994 and 2001. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 38(2): 90-96.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (2012). Nutrient data laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 25. Available online: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov.

Credits

Adaptation Date: 6/5/2018

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Date: 6/5/2018

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC